Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Limited Pallette.

One thing I thought I would explore is Sargent use of a limited pallette.
I’ve chosen five works by Sargent: two portraits and three paintings from Italy that show just what can be done with a limited pallette.
As we have seen in an earlier post rather than the academic method taught in most of the ateliers in Paris, Sargent was introduced to a more direct painting method by Carlos Duran. As you can see in these paintings, he used bold brushwork and simplified and abstracted the descriptions of form. The paintings are full of bravado passages of direct strokes of paint with glowing touches of light and shadow producing painterly effects with lots of lost and found edges. To pull this off he had to be able to draw with the brush, for every brushstroke is put down and left. In many of his studies and some of his formal portraits, Sargent employs a very limited palette in these paintings I’ve selected..
Yellow Ochre (or possibly mars yellow)
Burnt Sienna ( iron oxide red or again a mars red, )
Ivory Black
White (Flake White)

The first painting "A Spanish Woman" was painted in 1879 and that of "Antonio Mancini" in1898. Both portraits are quick studies. The one of Mancini (a friend of Sargent} was painted in little more than an hour using heavy impasto. Both paintings show the importance of understanding that everything is either in the light or in the shadow. Sargent was able to use strong contrasts of value because of the lack of contrasting colour. You have to decide on one or the other.

A Spanish Woman

Antonio Mancini
"Street in Venice"
Sargent was 26 years old when he visited Venice in 1882. In this painting we can see how a limited pallette harmonises a painting while the dramatic use of black has been used to build the story and the composition. Notice that none of the shapes within the buildings are repeated and the individual elements including the negative spaces are abstracted. This is probably a very accurate depiction of local Viennese life in 1882, the year after Billy the Kid was shot dead by Pat Garret!

Venice 1882

 "Interior of Dodge's Palace" 1898
Again the same limited pallette with plenty of black. What can you say? Look how Sargent has depicted, Tintoretto's Paradise along the far wall and the oval ceiling painting by Paolo Veronese "Triumph of Venice"

Interior of Dodge's Palace

  "Corner of the Church of San Stae" 1913
Sargent could do so much with so little, this painting has a phenomenal colour unity with no discordant notes because of the limited pallette. The church has been given a restrained dignity and elegance despite the dilapidation of it’s facade.
Again the lights are so well handled with highlights, core shadows and reflected light giving a strong sense of the third dimension.
You will notice that the core shadows appear on the two columns where the sunlight hits them but disappear again in the shadows, this is a very important thing to understand.
And once again we see the importance of things are either in the light or in the shadow. Sargent never jumped the light. Also note the abstraction of shapes and the avoidance of any repetitive painting of the individual elements.

Corner of the Church of San Stae

Detail of the above Church.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

June Mendoza

Continuing with contemporary painters I thought I would explore the work of June Mendoza who is a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.
She is best known for her commissioned work of the great and good ranging from the immediate Royal Family to personalities from the Arts, Music, Church, Government, Business and the professions.
But she also does a lot of noncommissioned work for her own enjoyment and it’s this work that I’ve chosen.

Elliet and the Portobello Road Coat
Elliet is June’s eldest daughter who is a marvellously exciting musician who I first saw playing fiddle with Kangaroo Moon, if you ever get the chance to see her playing make sure you go!

Kangaroo Moon at the Half Moon Putney
Kangaroo Moon is still touring so if you get the chance go and see them, also if you can find any of their CDs give yourself a treat you wont be disappointed. Live they are like an opera with themes running throughout the evening.

Yellow Cello and Kim
Kim is another daughter and also a professional musician.

Madeline Bell
So keeping up the theme of musicians this is another portrait of a person who excited June Mendoza, Madeline Bell the jazz singer who June met on the street and wanted to paint!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Contemporary Portrait Painter

Thought I would start an occasional series featuring contemporary painters who’s work I like.
First up Maria Kreyn from Nizhni Novgorod Russia.

Sudden Glance

Young Prince
 Let me know who you like.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Becoming Established.

Over the years Sargent was commissioned to produced a series of a dozen Wertheimer portraits, now in the Tate Gallery, they reveal the artist's power to express the different character and social position of his sitters.
Sargent had a  long friendship and association with the astute art-dealer Asher Wertheimer, who stoutly affirmed his belief in the genius of Sargent.
The first two portraits were of Wertheimer and then his wife.

Asher Wertheimer 1898

Mrs. Asher B. Wertheimer 1898
The two men became friends and sargent dined weekly with the family at their home.  As you will see the paintings reveal a pleasant familiarity between the artist and his subjects.

Ena and Betty, Daughters of Asher and Mrs Wertheimer  1901
Sargent was much attracted by the charm of the Wertheimer family, especially the  eldest daughters, Helena (Ena) and Elizabeth (Betty). The vivacity of Ena (right), is clearly revealed in this portrait. The sisters’ dresses are skilfully conjured, the rich depth of Betty’s red velvet contrasting with the shine of Ena’s white damask silk.

Ena Wertheimer: A Vele Gonfie  1905
This portrait of Ena is unusually lively, and shows her wearing, as a joke, the Court dress of Lord Londonderry, which had been left in Sargent’s studio by another of his sitters. The portrait’s sub-title refers to her billowing cloak.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Narberth Portrait Group

It’s not often that I post my own work as that is not what the blog is intended for but I don’t have the time at the moment to write up the next piece on Sargent so thought I would take the opportunity to promote the evening portrait group I facilitate in Narberth.
We usually meet on the first Thursday of the month at 7:00pm for a three hour session. The venue is "The Queens Hall Gallery"

So this is a head shot of this months model Marion who is a classical pianist.

If you live in Pembrokeshire we would be glad to see you next month.

Friday, 9 September 2011


Vann Nath (1946 –– September 5, 2011)
When I was looking in to water boarding some time ago the name of painter and activist Vann Nath came up.

Vann Nath was a Cambodian painter and human rights activist whose memories of his experiences in the infamous Tuol Sleng prison inspired his paintings.
Born in Battambang, Cambodia, he was one of seven survivors of the Khmer Rouge's secret prison known as S-21, where fourteen thousand, women and children were interrogated, tortured and executed during the 1975-79 Pol Pot regime.
For more of his story please visit Vann Nath: Eyewitness to Genocide.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Hustler.

In Sargent's painting can be seen the irrepressible energy associate with Transatlantic business enterprise of the day, he was a " Hustler " in paint who swept the aristocratic and high society world off it’s feet by the amazing vivacity of his brushwork and by the almost uncanny certainty with which he could set a living being down on canvas.
A vigorous draughtsman, using sweeps of paint with economic mastery, Sargent developed powers of psychological penetration which made him supreme in the rendering of character. Some of his male portraits were so merciless in their unmasking of the real minds of his sitters that they justified the amusing but apt comment of contemporary author Finley Peter Dunne who has his comic character,
" Mr. Dooley " say
" Stand there," he sez, " while I tear the ugly black heart out ay ye."

Lord Ribblesdale detail

Lord Ribblesdale

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The French Influence.

Right back from sailing and it’s poring with rain in West Wales and I can’t get out painting so I thought I would continue with Sargent.

As I outlined in the previous post the Sargent family had sufficient wealth to lead a life of leisure and travel, consequently Johns education was sporadic. A short period with an English clergyman in Nice and some more formal education in Dresden where John briefly studied Latin, Greek, mathematics, geography, history and German. 
He was also enrolled at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence but found it unsatisfactory so the family travelled to Paris where the eighteen-year-old Sargent began his formal training in 1874. 
He enrolled in the drawing classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he learned the basics of academic draughtsmanship under Professor Adolphe Yvon.
But the big step was when he joined Carolus-Duran's atelier.

Portrait of Carolus-Duran 1879, John Singer Sargent.
To understand Sargent we have to understand his new master, Carolus Duran, who was born at Lille in 1837, Carolus won the coveted Prix de Rome in 1861and spent four years in Italy, afterwards travelling to Spain. He became the leading French portrait-painter of his time but rejected the  traditional academic system of careful preliminary drawings and elaborate underpaintings that was derived from the Italian and Flemish schools and instead embraced the Spanish school.  Duran developed and taught a painting style largely derived from Velazquez and Goya, an alla prima method with bold bravado brushwork, this new note introduced into portrait-painting and taken up by Sargent led to some of the most exciting paintings of the nineteenth century.

 "Le Baiser" Self-portrait by Carolus-Duran with his wife as newlyweds.

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