Sunday, April 7, 2019

Sitting for a Sargent Charcoal Portrait

In his book "John Singer Sargent: A Conversation Piece", Martin Birnbaum describes his lively conversation with Sargent while the artist drew a charcoal portrait of him. To start out, they compared notes about Adolph Menzel, William Blake, and Winslow Homer. And they joked around. Sargent said how he didn't like "ba-NA-nas."

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Portrait of Ernest Schelling 
1910, Charcoal on paper. 24 3/8 x 18 3/4 inches (620 x 475 mm)
They chattered on and on, but Sargent was already at work. Birnbaum continues: "While talking, Sargent had been drawing rapidly, examining my features closely, at a distance of only three or four feet. Watching him at work, I was reminded of Paul Manship's little daughter Pauline, who on seeing Sargent make a pencil drawing of the sculptor, ran to Mrs. Manship and exclaimed, 'Mamma, Mr. Sargent is making a picture of father just like you would write a letter.' That exactly described his fluency and authority.

"Suddenly he stopped talking and showed me the charcoal drawing. He did not seem satisfied with it, — 'not very flattering, — a trifle unnatural, and rather Mephistophelian,' he commented. I, on the contrary, thought it was unduly youthful and complimentary and it showed that I had tried, without success, to look serious on this unique occasion. The scrutiny of the artist at such close range was more than I could stand, and I think he enjoyed catching my vain endeavor to be solemn.

John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Quincy Adams Shaw, Jr.
"He liked always a friend or two to be in to break the spell of a settled gloom in my countenance by their Sargent likes animated, sympathetic, beautiful, talkative friends to do, in order to correct by their presence too lugubrious expressions."
Previously: What it was like to sit for Sargent
John Singer Sargent: A Conversation Piece


A Colonel of Truth said...

A monster of talent.

Iva K said...

Even Sargent was unhappy with his work, not only a master to forever look up to but also so relatable!

Peter Drubetskoy said...

Would be interesting to see this portrait, but apparently it is "UNLOCATED"?

James Gurney said...

Thanks for tracking that down, Peter. I had to illustrate his story using other portraits, and was wondering where the Birnbaum one ended up.