Tuesday, September 1, 2015

John Singer Sargent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Self-Portrait of John Singer Sargent from 1886.
TD and I ventured up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently to see an exhibition of John Singer Sargent paintings called Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends. I am huge fan of Sargent's and try to take in his work whenever I can. A few years ago TD and I took a trip to Cooperstown where we saw an exhibition of his works at the Fenimore Art Museum on the banks of Otsega Lake, and we made a video about it. Sargent had such a great eye for personalities and clothes and interiors; he made everything look elegant. This show at the Met is a collection of portraits of the artist's friends so they are not as formal and studied as the famous portraits which Sargent did for paying clients. These paintings are more intimate, spontaneous and experimental. Sargent's work is always refined and sophisticated, but these paintings are also relaxed and easy-going, which is a combination that I love.
This famous photo shows Sargent working in his studio. The paintings below in the wonderful show at the Met took Sargent out of the studio, to be with his friends.

There are about 90 works in the Met exhibit. These are a few of my favorites -
This is Claude Monet. I always picture Monet with a big white beard at his home in Giverny. I didn't know he looked like this in his younger days - kind like a bearded Williamsburg hipster.

Below is a charcoal sketch of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Yeats, the greatest English-speaking poet of his generation, lived in County Sligo in Ireland, which is where my great grandfather Dan O'Donnell was from. Yeats wrote a beautiful poem about a lake near Sligo called The Lake Isle of Innisfree. I love this drawing - was there ever a more handsome poet? The description notes that "Yeats cultivated his appearance as a poet and an aesthete, wearing a velvet coat and bow tie as a reminder of his elevated status as an artist."

Here is Claude Monet again, this time painting by the edge of a wood. I like his blue coat and his light grey pants. 

Here is a similar subject matter - this time it is artist Paul Helleu sketching with his wife. The painter concentrates on his work as his wife gazes off. His mouse brown coat contrasts with his light grey pants.

Here is another artist named Ambrogio Raffele, who is pictured in his hotel room as he considers his landscape painting which straddles the washstand and the bed. A hat and bed clothes are strewn over the bed linens as the artist surveys his work. What a charming way to live. 

The painting below, called A Dinner Table at Night, pictures the dining room at the home of Edith Vickers who is shown drinking a glass of port at the end of a meal. The silky ruby red lampshades cast a romantic glow over the scene. 

Lastly is one of my very favorite Sargents called An Interior in Venice from 1898. It shows the grand salon of the Palazzo Barbaro in Venice where Daniel Sargent Curtis (right) and his wife Ariana (center) lived. Standing at the rear are their son and his wife, both elegantly rendered in long lines. All are dressed in black and grey and white, and the vast space of the salon recedes back into the shadows as golden chandeliers and gilt frames hang overhead. Sargent painted this as a gift but Ariana refused the gift, feeling she looked too old and that the lounging pose of her son was indecorous.

In the gift shop I bought a book of the paintings, here pictured at home with little Bell on top of a Double RL Ralph Lauren scarf.

I enjoy looking at the paintings at home now and learning more about them. A trip to a Sargent exhibition to me is a trip back in time to a more cultured and aesthetic era. It's always inspiring and I find it comforting and reassuring. This show is up at the Met until October 4 - go if you can.


ArchitectDesign™ said...

oh poo -and I just bought my train ticket for the weekend of Oct 10th (seriously)......Thank you for sharing since I won't make it!

Bart Boehlert said...

Too bad ArchitectDesign!

Unknown said...

I share your love of Sargent and hope to go back and spend more time with this exhibit (was dividing my visit last time between this, China and Van Gogh). You may recall his FUM√ČE D'AMBRE GRIS (Smoke of Ambergris) was the bulletin cover for our service on fashion. xxh

Bart Boehlert said...

Yes Abigail - I love that painting, Sargent is always a good idea!