More Sargent Love

For all you copycats out there who want access to hi-res files of amazing paintings, check out the Google Art Project. This initiative was started in 2011 to document masterpieces from around the world. Currently there are 151 museums involved and 32,000 artworks on file. I love, love, love the site. It's so hard to find decent reproductions of art, and even in those, you rarely see the nuances of brushwork and colour. Today, if you like a particular painting, you can hit the database and find a great image to get up-close and personal with (to appreciate a painting, you need to see it as a whole; to figure out HOW it was done, it's helpful to zoom in).

I've gathered Art Project pieces from the aforementioned granddaddy of 19th century portraiture, John Singer Sargent, to show the delights you can discover when you take a close look:

Portrait of James Whitcomb Riley


You can see Sargent lays on lighter colours with thick applications of paint (nose, right forehead, cheek). This creates a sense of volume. As viewers, we perceive those areas as being closer to us. The thinly painted, cool grey-greens are where skin recedes toward shadow. These convey a sense of depth.

Portrait of Elizabeth Winthrop Chandler


This is more of a blended painting to capture the feminine and youthful image of the sitter. However, Sargent still used broad, bold strokes with the big shapes - most notably in the shadow on the right side of the face.

Compare the eyes: the angles are softer, there's more detail. See the sharp white pinpoints of paint where pupils meet cornea? Makes you look right at the eyes.

Portrait of Rosina Ferrara, Head of Capri Girl


What a gorgeous painting. So simple but really stunning.

Sargent left a sharp, dark outline around the nose against the thicker-painted white background. Makes the silhouette stand out. Notice also the lines around the nose are mostly straight, joined up even when describing the curves. This is a subtle example, but Sargent would often simplify rounded shapes into angles throughout his paintings to create interesting structure - as with the back of the model's hair you can see in the full image above the close-up.

Makes you want to pick up a brush? Me too! I actually ended my one-year oil painting drought this past weekend. I painted a model from life for three hours. Gawd, it was so much fun! I'll post pics of it in the next post. Until then, I urge you to snoop around on Google Art and find some paintings you love.

If you feel brave, try to copy them!

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