Sargent’s Watercolors: How Does He DO That?

The Venice series: La Dogana was painted 102 years ago, using opaque and transparent watercolor, with wax resist on paper. At the Brooklyn Museum now until July 28. (Photo: Brooklyn Museum)

From the Venice series: La Dogana was painted 102 years ago, using opaque and transparent watercolor, with wax resist on paper. At the Brooklyn Museum now until July 28. (Photo: Brooklyn Museum)

OUR BROOKLYN MUSEUM’S SHOW OF NEARLY 100 WATERCOLORS BY JOHN SINGER SARGENT, created jointly with Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts — pooling art from both collections and wisdom from both museums’ curators and conservators — is every bit as good as you’ve probably read and heard by now. Good coverage is on the museum site and in Judith Dobrzynski’s piece in the New York Times, which tells how the successful society-portrait painter’s mid-life crisis sent him on the road to the Middle East and around Europe, watercolor kit in hand. When he was finally persuaded to show this work, he did not expect the flurry of acclaim his watercolors received here — at least until the art world’s fickle attention shifted to Cubism and abstract painting following the game-changing 1913 Armory Show.

A highpoint for me: Standing by Sargent’s actual painting and watching the accompanying wall-mounted video of someone knowledgeably copying it. As the hand filled in paint with brushstrokes this way and that, I stood rapt, lost in the delicious fantasy that I could do that — that in fact, I was doing that; that was my hand holding the brush. I invite you to share my fantasy anytime (and several times) between now and July 28. My advice is start early and go often — this is a once-in-a-generation show. You can also catch up with it in Boston October 13 to next January 20, and at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston sometime after that.

The Bedouins shows the intensity of Sargent's more-accomplished techniques from 1905-1906. (Photo: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum)

The Bedouins shows the intensity of Sargent’s more-accomplished techniques from 1905-1906. (Photo: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum)

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Comments

  1. Basia Hellwig says:

    Great piece. I also found those little videos fascinating—gave me that I-can’t-believe-my-eyes feeling. And understanding something about the technique and craft of his painting also made me look at the paintings even more mindfully I think. Yes, do go early and often!

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