I was fortunate enough to have a weekend to myself recently and decided to make the trip to London to see the Sargent exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery. It followed a suggestion by my art tutor, Phil Watkins, who had already visited and implored us all to make an effort to see it. I was not disappointed. Many of his pieces I recognised through study and it was a great thrill to see the paintings face to face. In total I spent almost four hours staring at the seventy or so canvasses, making notes as I went, to the detriment of my aching back and legs. The area of his work I was most struck by was the pieces painted during his period in Venice; he captures the waterways and gondolas beautifully, giving the subjects a true sense of animation. I could almost hear the lapping of the small waves on the side of the narrow vessels.
From a student’s perspective, most notable for me was the lack of detail in some of his work. This I’d suggest was deliberate as the pieces benefit greatly from the work the eyes has to do to really appreciate it. That, and some of the stories associated with the paintings, especially the one of Sargent learning that his patron didn’t think his efforts were a true likeness. Subsequently, Sargent scrubbed out part of the painting and started again!
I found myself exhausted by the end of it, but in a very satisfied way.