KEY_29 Spanish Fountain.jpg

Spanish Fountain 1912



Verdict: Just go!!!!

If (like me) you’re not a fan of watercolours don’t let that put you off visiting this splendid exhibition.

The detail in John Singer Sargent’s works on show at Dulwich – best viewed from a distance rather than close-up – is incredible.

The exhibition has been organised under four themes – Fragments, Cities, Landscapes and Figures – in the five rooms which make up the long gallery where the exhibition runs until October 8th.

The press view this afternoon (Tuesday) was led by exhibition co-curator Richard Ormond, grand-nephew of the painter best known for ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose’.

Mr Ormond, giving the press pack a guided tour of the exhibition, has boundless enthusiasm for the subject.

“It’s important to say Sargent did paint watercolours from the very beginning” he told assembled journalists. “He was brought up with expatriate American parents wandering around Europe who forgot to go home.

“Mrs Sargent (his mother whose surname he took) loved Europe and loved travel. “They were constantly on the move like gipsies. “Sargent, from boyhood, is working in watercolour then becomes a great portrait painter in Paris before moving to London.

KEY_35 The Church of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice_smaller.jpg

The Church of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice circa 1904 – 09

“Thje bulk of this show is after 1900, up to his death in 1925. “The watercolours were a tremendous release for him because of the pressures of portaiture painting – how to deal with tricky sitters and the trickery of grand portraiture.

“For two or three months in the autumn and summer he would get out and do his own thing. “In painting he would use the same subjects in oil as well as watercolour.

“He was interested in photography and the way he frames some of these watercolours shows the influence of photography.

“What’s attractive is that he is not a formulaic painter. “Each of these watercolour paintings represent a challenge for him. “It’s about light. “What he can do with the medium of the watercolour is absolutely fascinating.”

Paintings in the first room include the Villa Borghese Temple of Diana, Spanish Fountain, and another of the hull of a boat. In the second room – Cities – it’s Venice: “Shimmering. “Translucent. “But there’s nothing still. “They just dance with light.

“He thought things through and when it’s done, it’s done at speed.

“Sargent gave up portraiture in 1907 at the height of his powers to concentrate on his mural for Boston library. “He also wanted the freedom to paint landscapes.”

KEY_31 Highlanders Resting at the Front.jpg

Highlanders Resting at the Front

The final room features Highlanders Resting at the Front. (Sargent’s best known war work, Gassed, is currently on  loan in America from the Imperial War Museum, London). There’s also The Lady with the Umbrella, the painting used for the exhibition poster and never shown outside Spain before.

The last painting is of a young girl, Violet Sargent. “That” explains Richard “is my granny.”

Further reading (Internet): The Sargent Murals at the Boston Public Library

KEY_27 Rome An Architectural Study.jpg

Rome: An Architectural Study, circa 1906-07.


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