Sargent Watercolors at Brooklyn Museum. Sublime.

Sargent Watercolors at Brooklyn Museum. Sublime.

Two adventurous friends and I made the trek on Sunday morning to see the John Singer Sargent watercolors exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum. You can get to Montana quicker than you can get to Brooklyn from Manhattan, unless of course you take the subway which we didn’t. However you get there, it’s worth it. Here’s why…

Two adventurous friends and I made the trek on Sunday morning to see the John Singer Sargent watercolors exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum. You can get to Montana quicker than you can get to Brooklyn from Manhattan, unless of course you take the subway which we didn’t. However you get there, it’s worth it.

John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent

Going with ceramicist Clare Potter, an extraordinary artist in her own right (see here) and ridiculously talented designer Richard Keith Langham (here), made the experience all the more rich. And fun. It occurs to me that when you’re about to see or do something that you know is going to blow your skirt slam up over your head, you don’t want to go with someone who’s going to tie rocks to your hem.

Keith did allow rather emphatically that the exhibit’s wall color of dull pumpkin did not work to optimal visual advantage. That is not exactly how he put it, but I had to agree, and I will leave it at that.

John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent - mountain brook

Otherwise, there is so much to say about Sargent and this show, and better people than I to say it. Do read the excellent New York Times piece by Judith Dobrzynski and also Ken Johnson’s review here. The whole story about the paintings themselves, how they were first shown and then sold, what Sargent thought about them–it’s all interesting.

John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent - boats

In his 40s Sargent was already a rock star as a society portraitist and a painter, despite the fact that the French snubbed him. Or perhaps because the French snubbed him. The English (and some Americans) would support that just on principle. Just sayin’. Anyway Sargent’s turning to watercolors was his version of a mid-life crisis. Thank goodness for us they did not make Corvettes then.

John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent - gourds

Talk about finding “beauty in everyday living” (this blog’s raison d’être), here is a man who turns gourds, laundry, and guys sitting on the sidewalk into something transcendent.

John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent - laundry

This is what great artists do. They grab us by the collar and say look at this. Look. And we see something we may not have seen before, and there is something divine in that.

John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent

I’ll be quiet now, except to say it runs through July 28 and will open again in Boston in October.

Oh, one more thing. I was so exhilarated by the beauty and virtuosity of this work – 93 of Sargent’s best watercolors from 1902-12 shown together for the first time – that it just about knocked me out. I had to lie down when I got home, and revel in it.

John Singer Sargent - man in bed
John Singer Sargent

There are scenes of Venice, the Italian countryside, and the Alps.

John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent

This (below) is supposedly the one he did the fastest. It’s one of my favorites. Apologies for my less than museum-quality photography and the reflections in some of the images.

John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent - Italy
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent - cypress trees
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent - plein aire painter by creekbed
John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent - Alps

Look at the pink bow on this bonnet. I know I said I’d be quiet but I can’t help myself.

John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent - ladies in bonnets

And on to the Middle East.

John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent

The famous Bedouins.

Sargent-Bedouins
Sargent-Bedouins

So we’ll end with portraits, which are even more his thing than everything else that is his thing, which is everything.

Do I sound delirious?

John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent
Sargent
...

I have to lie down again.

John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent

If you’d like a catalog, here’s a link to the Brooklyn Museum gift shop. They’ll send one right to you. I may not be loaning mine out 😉

Two days to go to win a rocking chair…

Just a reminder you have until Wednesday, May 1, at midnight EDT, to enter to Win a Rocking Chair by clicking here and leaving a comment. It’s a beautiful wicker piece by Lloyd-Flanders. Details here.

20 Comments

  1. Gorgeous! I’d never seen these. Or anything like this from Sargent.

  2. Thanks for sharing. Your description rivals the beauty of the watercolors.

  3. Leslie in Little Rock

    Thank you, thank you for sharing these wonderful watercolors! My favorite medium. I immediately ordered the catalog and gave you credit. (-: I’m going to suggest Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR, considers bringing it in! SIGH…

  4. Sarah Carter

    Love, love, love – I’m faint’n myself. Will have to make a run to Boston from Maine in the fall for the full effect, but what a great taste of things to come. My favorite is the next to last portrait (do you play the “if someone said you could have ONE of these, which would it be game?) Just mad about the guy with his blue/green beard, hair and eyebrows!

  5. John Lineweaver

    AMEN Frances! We too went to Montana to see these and it was well worth the journey. Keith is dead on about the wall color but the watercolors astound — esp. loved all things Venice in this show.

  6. Madame X…. Breath taking! Your style of watercolor channels JSS, seriously haunting how similar. Editorials as always spot on & evokes the visual montage you were seeing.

  7. I was thinking i’d ask if there was a catalogue for those of us Down South who won’t be able to get there and you answered my question, thank you! These shots are beautiful!

  8. Babs Johnson

    Thank you for bringing this exciting show to our attention, Frances! In 1998, my son had just graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy and my daughter from Boston University at the same time the Sargent portrait show opended at the MFA. We were in the first group to view the show and were enthralled. Since I am visiting my son, who now lives in NYC, in June we will make that trek to Brooklyn and get another dose of genious! Thanks again for such a wonderful post.

  9. Nora Witmer

    Can’t wait to hang out the laundry and picture myself in this setting!!! What romantic paintings!!!

  10. Thank you for sharing your images of one of my favorite artists. I love the reclining lady and saw a little of the chaise lounge showing under her flowing gown. It reminds me of the beautiful rocker that I want to win. 🙂

  11. heading to NYC tomorrow to see Lucky Guy and these watercolors…among a few other overload stops for a one-night gig…Glad to have your take on this, Frances!

  12. Ann Rumble

    The light on the gourds is photographic!! I have a little print in my bedroom of a Sargeant called Madame X. Wonder why he gave the painting that name? Hmmm…. Thanks for sharing, Frances.

  13. Thank you Frances, so beautiful!

  14. Frances, what a beautiful post! I feel as though I was almost there (although with luck I will get there in person!). The intensity in the eyes of the Bedouins may speak to the success of Sargeant’s portraits – he was the master of that. And the colors he discovers in the landscape are almost unbelievable!

  15. Thank you,thank you, thank you! Water colours – the vibrancy, the immediacy, the lightness of touch. Wonderful. Just wish this exhibition was coming ‘downunder’ to Melbourne. (well we have Monet coming in May but….both would be wonderful)

  16. Loved, loved, loved, the portraits, oh my! Getting ready to take a HUGE (aren’t they all, really?) leap of faith, I do believe I will adopt this as my new mantra “when you’re about to see or do something that you know is going to blow your skirt slam up over your head, you don’t want to go with someone who’s going to tie rocks to your hem.” Ms. Frances, you and your blog rock … no pun intended, ha!

  17. Maude Ciardi

    Thank you so much for this beautiful collectio. He is one of my favorite artists and these paintings make me speechless. I will try to get out to see them. I do live in Ohio but I will try. I would also like to see the botanical gardens in Brooklyn. Thank you for sharing all the information that you do. I look forward everyday to see whats new on your blog.

  18. Gigi Maloney

    I am ordering my catalogue right now. I thought that before even getting toward the end of your blog. Sargent is myfavorite artist. I just love this exhibit of his plein air paintings. The Brooklyn Museum had some excellent exhibits and I remember hhe Faberge one specifically. I never miss one of those either and it was the best in the states. I just have to trek back to NY this summer or Boston this fall. Another perfect reason to leave the heat of this old pueblo.
    thank you for making my morning coffee more pleasant this morning with this super blog.

  19. Randall Day

    Loved seeing this through your eyes…
    And I’m excited to hear it is opening in Boston in October as I’ll be there for a workshop…
    Typically when I’m in Boston I visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and it’s wonderfully scandalous (at the time) portrait of her.
    We have the not very well known book of Sargent’s male nudes…(of course we do) – he was a vibrant and risk taking figure in his culture – no wonder he was such a good friend to ISG.

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