Sunday, January 1, 2023

Sargent and Spain

Sargent and Spain is an exhibition and catalog focusing on the artwork that John Singer Sargent produced in Spain over many decades of his career. 

In the late 19th century, Spain was a somewhat exotic country whose rail system had just begun to open up to European travelers.

Sargent's excursions to Spain were a welcome escape from his career as a portrait painter. He always brought his sketching supplies with him, and the works in the exhibition / catalog include everything from oil portraits and landscapes, watercolors, pencil drawings, pen and ink sketches, to even bas-relief sculptures.

He always had a goal or objective in mind for each of his seven excursions to Spain. The exhibition is organized according to these thematic studies. The first goal was to capture the spirit of the flamenco dance in the big Salon painting El Jaleo. 

The original painting, now at the Gardiner Art Museum in Boston, did not travel to Washington, DC for the show, but it appears prominently in the catalog.

Sargent managed to capture fleeting expressions of fast-moving figures in dim light.

Sargent would undertake some impressively difficult perspective challenges, or scenes with complex layers of details. His precise pencil preliminary drawings underlie even casual looking sketches.

Spanish Fountain, 1912, watercolor and gouache over pencil

It's interesting to see how Sargent wove white gouache into his watercolor practice. The sprays of water coming out of the fountain are a thin drybrush line over previously painted passages.

Also, the caustic reflections on the underside of the bowl of the fountain are accomplished with opaque passages of gouache.

The catalog is lavishly illustrated in color with all of the 120+ artworks, plus other related photos and paintings by other artists. The text explores what it was like to travel in Spain during Sargent's era, and how his interest in Velazquez informed his approach to painting, and how he incorporated church iconography into his Boston murals.

The exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington will be on view through tomorrow, and then it continues at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor (February 11–May 14, 2023)

If you visit the National Gallery, don't miss the eight additional Sargents in the American galleries, including several of his full size portraits.


Seidai Tamura said...

Thanks for letting us know about the exhibition coming to the S.F. Legion of Honor, James. I'll have to check it out for sure!

Michaelangelo Reina said...

I saw it two weeks ago, I thought it was fantastic. I also left with a few impression about his work there that I'd like to try in my own paintings.

TommyD said...

Its a first-class show - beautiful art with photos and history describing supporting Sargents work

Stephen Berry said...

Super excited that this is coming to SF!!!!! YES! What a great opportunity to see a show like that. Sounds wonderful.

Unknown said...

I would have never seen this if you hadn't mentioned it in your blog! Can't believe I didn't hear about this.

I've seen El Jaleo in Boston (wish that was down here, too!), but it was a real treat to see supporting/related work, and (of course) buy the Americans in Spain book at the gift shop. Always great to have an excuse to visit DC, and it was really packed today so I know I wasn't the only one enjoying it.