Monday, December 3, 2018

DAY 50: John Singer Sargent

Jennie by Sargent--the sketch was Winston's favorite,
and hangs still at Chartwell.
I'm a fan of the painter who captured the Gilded Age, who was almost as much of a celebrity as one of the Vanderbilts or Astors, and whose artistic talent was quite probably overshadowed and eventually discounted because however unwillingly, he seemed to be one of the glitterati. 

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)--whose sketch of Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill, is at left--is best remembered for his full-length oil paintings of people who could pay for them. They evoke the Gilded Age as surely as Cecil Beaton's photos mean the 1940s or Robert Mapplethorpe's the 1980s. All three men were preoccupied with the nature of human beauty. And they saw it where others might see only raw ugliness.

The entire world is familiar with Sargent's painting of Jennie's niece and nephew, Consuelo (Vanderbilt), Duchess of Marlborough and Sunny (Spencer-Churchill), Duke of Marlborough, with their children. The family's perfunctory misery is palpable despite the richness of the portrait, which hangs at Blenheim Palace.

The painting of Sargent's I love most is El Jaleo, which pierces the darkness of an alcove at the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum in Boston.
El Jaleo by John Singer Sargent, Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum

It's his sketches, however, that most reveal the artist's inner life.
Sargent sketched, as most artists do, to capture swift studies of gestures, faces, pure lines that might find their way later into a larger study. For example, his sketch of a child on the left that feels like it lives in oil and color in Boy on a Beach, at right. The artistic habit means we have many sketches of the male torso and groin; many of various profiles; of hands open and fisted; of arms flexed and slack. We have the studies of wounded soldiers from a dressing station near Arras in 1918 that would eventually find their way into Gassed, Sargent's monumental painting commissioned by the British Government.

From the National WWI Museum catalogue describing the resulting painting, displayed there this year:

"The final product, Gassed, measures more than nine feet tall and 21-feet long. Considered one of the most important war-related works of the past several centuries, Gassed was hailed as “monumental” by the New York Times, a “masterpiece” by the Daily Mail, “magnificent” by the Telegraph, “epic” by the Associated Press and “extraordinary” by The Guardian.
The panoramic scene not only shows the devastation to the young men in uniform, but in an ironic juxtaposition, a football (soccer) game is being played in the background seemingly unaware of the damaged and blinded parade of Tommies (the nickname of British soldiers)."
Gassed, by John Singer Sargent. Imperial War Museum, London.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.  

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