I returned today from a 3 day adventure to Washington, D.C. with my friend, Mr. Asem Ahmed. We had a fantastic time, great food, night life and of course - Sargent! The pilgrimage that we made was to see the exhibition: Sargent and Spain.
My friends and students know how I feel about Sargent; I believe he's one of the greatest painters of all time. This exhibition runs until January and I highly recommend seeing it. Asem and I saw it 3 times over 3 days and I wish I could go back for more. The first day that we saw it, we arrived with 20 minutes before the museum closed so we ran through the exhibition, which was sort of like being a kid and running through Willy Wonka's factory without getting to taste anything.
I took some photos along with many detail shots to share, but photographing these works struck a wrong chord, taking away from the beauty that must be seen in person. Regardless, I hope fellow painters can glean some information about his paintings from these photos. The texture of the paper, canvas, paint and brushwork comes through in the detail shots.
What I love about Sargent is that he was a swiss army knife style artist, painting portraits, figures, landscapes, still lifes in oil and watercolor. Underpinning these energetic paintings is the careful eye of an experienced draftsman; many of his watercolors show an architectural-style layout (almost a blueprint) beneath the paint surface.
The NGA has other great Sargents in their permanent collection (see below) and it has an all-around solid collection. However, I wasn't thrilled when we tried to see the Vermeer collection and encountered a "virtual line", which required a smart phone in order to access it but c'est la vie..
A few things that left an impression on me: Sargent painted many works on a large-scale with their own sense of magnitude. He used a range of paint textures from thin and washy to very thick impasto, but always with a deliberate sensitivity. He really had complete control over his media and most importantly: he wasn't afraid.
I also picked up the exhibition catalogue, but haven't had the chance to review it fully. The whole trip was like a beautiful dream and I want to do some larger works now after seeing Sargent's work; even Sargent's watercolors were larger than I expected! I must grab my own brushes and get back to work.
Other Sargent works at the National Gallery