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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Beautiful Thing of the Day: John Singer Sargent's Sketches at the MFA


Great painters are known for their paintings, obviously. But what about their sketches for large works or murals? John Singer Sargent's drawings are examples of the beauty that can come from preparation. The Museum of Fine Arts Boston has an extensive collection of John Singer Sargent's sketches for his murals and paintings given to them in 1928 by Sargent's sisters, Emily Sargent and Violet Ormond.

I've loved Sargent ever since my mother took me to see a traveling show of his greatest works at the MFA when I was about ten. His painting Gassed, of soldiers blinded by mustard gas in World War I leading each other out of the trenches, made me cry; never had a painter broken my heart like that before. It was the last painting in the show, hung against a maroon wall, and I exited into the gift shop both elated and unable to get Gassed out of my head (more paintings and sketches after the jump).



Before the soldiers, however, hung the divine Madame X. Sargent originally painted her one of her straps hanging off of her shoulder, but it was deemed too scandalous, so he repainted it in a more upright position. Sargent was a master of painting sexy. Look at those hips, that slight amount of extra flesh around her arms, the tenuous position of her hand on the table. Her expression is both confident and nervous--what could be more sensuous?


But Sargent's great paintings, like the two above, and his huge murals for the Boston Public Library didn't just appear on his canvases. He sketched out his ideas meticulously, and that is the collection his sisters gave to the MFA. Belo, I've chosen my favorites from the MFA's Collection of Sargent's Sketches. If anyone reading this likes to draw and wants to get better, I highly recommend copying some of these. Sargent understood shading and knew what not to draw (knowing when to leave blank space can be the hardest part) so well that you will inevitably learn an extraordinary amount from trying to replicate these. You will, of course, fail, but that's not the point. The point is to learn. And then make your own beautiful things from the learned skills. There won't ever be another Sargent, but there can always be another next great artist. At the end of the post, you can see my attempts. 

And now, Sargent:


I love how I can't tell if this man is floating or falling.


The folds of the fabric, mmm.


Probably one of the sexiest things I've ever seen.
 

 This one looks like an old photograph.


This is also the sexiest thing I've ever seen.


Does anyone watch Downton Abbey? Because that's immediately what I thought of. The blank areas on the horse's body are examples of how good Sargent was at leaving white space. By not putting ink there, the flank glistens.
 
The little hints of white throughout the sketch subtly tie the whole piece together.


And of course, a little pup to finish out the post. 


My copies.

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