John Singer Sargent
Sargent is one of those painters that I've always liked, but didn't realize his skill until I started painting myself. The often loose-looking application of paint that still indicates the form of the subject is far more masterful than many tightly rendered pieces I've seen. It takes a great deal of knowledge to dab a bit of paint on that suddenly looks like an eye--more knowledge than it would take to draw a perfectly outlined eye.
It's all about indication and capturing the moment.
In this painting I've shown above (click here for a closer look) the author Robert Louis Stevenson is pictured with his wife. Stevenson had a habit of writing for a bit at his desk, then nervously jumping up and pacing around the room until he had the next bit of prose worked out in his mind. In this portrait, you can see that even though Stevenson looks thin and slight, his energy fills the large open space, and his wife (looking mildly exasperated) is gazing in the opposite direction, cut off on the edge. The open door to the stairway makes it seem as if the energetic Stevenson might bolt out of the room. And it's all rendered very simply, without the polish of many other Sargent paintings.
At the school I was at in Encinitas, many students tried to copy Sargent's paintings, but were only successful with his more smooth, highly rendered works. His simpler paintings are almost impossible to duplicate.
He was also a master of light:
This painting, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, is one of the loveliest examples of Sargent's handing of light. The twilight and the soft lantern glow are both examples of difficult-to-capture lighting, but are here depicted perfectly. Read more about it here.
Sargent was also capable of handing tragedy and implied violence, as we can see by this next painting, one of his most famous: Gassed.
This picture, like most of Sargent's works, included much preparation.
During the horror of World War I, Sargent visited a casualty station and saw a line of soldiers who had been blinded by mustard gas, leaning on each other to find a way to medical help. From this inspiration, he created this image of suffering that became one of the best-known pieces of art to come out of the war. Click here for images and sketches as well as a large image of this painting.
Many people know of Sargent, but he is the one who most often comes into the conversation when I talk with illustrators I know out here. He's one of the most inspirational painters I know.
Next week: further back in time for a look at one of my all-time favorite portrait artists.