New book on John Singer Sargent’s watercolours reveals his unorthodox approach and modern aesthetic
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), the leading portraitist of his generation, was also a master of the technique of watercolour, creating works that dazzle with light and colour. Painted on his frequent travels, Sargent’s watercolours show the artist free from the constraints of the studio, working en plein air, and delighting in subjects as varied as streams and glacial moraines in the Alps, the architecture of Venice, and the flora and fauna of Florida, including alligators basking in the sun.
This beautifully illustrated book focuses on some eighty works from arguably Sargent’s greatest period of watercolour production between 1900 and 1918. Two outstanding Sargent scholars, Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, provide a chronology of Sargent’s career and an overview of the important place of watercolour in his work. They then explore Sargent’s individuality and technical brilliance through four key themes.
Under the theme of ‘Fragments’, they reveal how the artist’s low vantage points and fragmentary views assert his
individual subjective vision and express his modernity. In ‘Cities’ they take us beyond Sargent’s love affair with Venice
(where he often spent days painting from his gondola) to urban visions of Genoa, Rome, Bologna and Granada’s
Alhambra. In ‘Landscapes’ they explore his responses to nature’s forms and colours from dense forests to the Dead
Sea. In ‘Figures’ they introduce us to portraits of family and friends, as well as working people ranging from quarrymen
to the soldiers Sargent painted while a war artist in France. As Richard Ormond observes: ‘In Sargent’s watercolours we see his zest for life and his pleasure in the act of painting. The fluency and sensuality of his paint surfaces, and his wonderful command of light, never cease to astonish us.’
Richard Ormond is an outstanding Sargent scholar, as well as well as being the the artist’s grand-nephew. He was
previously director of the National Maritime Museum.
Elaine Kilmurray is an art historian, author and curator, and is Research Director of the John Singer Sargent Catalogue Raisonné Project.
Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray have worked together on numerous publications, including the nine volume
Sargent catalogue raisonné, and have co-curated exhibitions on Sargent’s work in London, Washington D.C., Boston, Ferrara and Los Angeles.
Table of Contents
- Director’s Foreword
- Curators’ Acknowledgements
- Sargent: A Concise Chronology
- Sargent’s Watercolours: A New Look
- Select Bibliography
- Photographic Credits