Monday, November 30, 2009

John Singer Sargent

Mrs Knowles and Her Children
Youngstown, Ohio
Butler Institute of American Art

The Official White House portrait of
President Theodore Roosevelt
Washington, D.C.
The White House

Oyster Gatherers of Cancale
Washington, D.C.
Corcoran Gallery of Art

It's hard to choose a favorite among John Singer Sargent's large body of work. His paintings cover a broad spectrum of subject matter and his style evolved in the course of his long painting career. Here are a few of my favorites.

I like the informality of the top painting. As a mother with two sons, I instantly identified with the mother's attempt to get the boys dressed in their good clothes and her relaxation in letting them be themselves while they sat for the portrait. Her face is serene. One son cuddles close to his mother. The other is missing his shoes and is sprawled on the loveseat. This painting feels like more than a portrait to capture their likenesses. Sargent captured their relationships and personalities, too.

The formal portrait of President Theodore Roosevelt is gorgeous. It knocks me out! I feel like I could hear the man speak at any moment. TR had a respect for the beauty of our country and a mindset for conservation that resonates within me. Maybe my fondness for this president prejudices my admiration for the portrait, but it is awfully good, don't you agree?

Finally, Oyster Gatherers at Cancale. The figures are real people engaged in a real activity in a real landscape. When I think of the other paintings of that period (think of it, 1878!) I can only say that Sargent was a genius. He saw what he saw and felt how he felt and painted all of that in a miraculous way.

a wonderful website to check out. Which of Sargent's paintings are your favorites?


Casey Klahn said...

TR has his hand on the round rail topper, sort of like the globe. He did move America onto the world stage, and he has the confident pose to show his attitude. And yet, he is just urbane enough, with a casual hand on one hip, to not overbear. Fascinating.

Katherine van Schoonhoven said...

I'm sure with his squeaky voice and outdoorsy rough and tumble demeanor, he would not have been elected as a modern president. But, I believe he was a great president. The first, I believe, to travel abroad during his presidency. Where did he go? To Panama, of course, to check on the canal!

Thanks for your comment, Casey.