Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's always fun to come across a painting you don't know well that has a connection to one of your favorites. While we've all seen this oil, Breakfast in the Loggia, a dozen times in anthologies with its perfect rendering of light and shadow, I had not realized 'til yesterday that Sargent had painted the same two women in watercolor. Below is The Garden Wall; I came across it in Awash in Color, by Reed and Troyen. I learned that the subjects of both paintings are Jane Emmet von Glehn (later de Glehn), an accomplished painter and wife of painter Wilfred von Glehn and on the right, Lady Richmond, wife of the artist Sir William Blake Richmond. (p.163)

They traveled often with Sargent and his sisters; these works depict their lodgings at a friend's villa near Florence. (Now why don't I have any friends with villas?) The author points out that Sargent enjoyed experimenting with compositions that might create a bit a narrative, but never provides too much info.

He places these figures just far enough apart that there is a bit of spatial tension, isn't there? We are not given clues to what might be discussed between them, but the face of Lady Richmond on the right does make you wonder if she has just stopped reading her book in order to make a remark or reply to something Jane has said. It's commonplace for an artist to try to engage the viewer in 2010. Not sure how often that strategy was employed a hundred years ago. Do you know?

The other bit of info we'll never have is whether or not he intended for this to look so unfinished, with that wonderful sketched-in wall behind the left hand figure. And that shawl he has is rendered in such detail it almost becomes the focal point. All those decisions about the attitude of the figure, the mood - and Sargent seems to nail them with such confidence. Just another day's work for him, I guess.

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