Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Three Watercolors by John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent, Mountain Fire, c. 1905. Watercolor.
I love paintings that seem to purposely waver between representation and abstraction. It's as if the artist's restraint in letting go of precise, hyper-realistic details helps make the underlying abstract design more visible. 

John Singer Sargent, Gourds, c. 1907. Watercolor. 
In these watercolors by John Singer Sargent we witness a great artist's joy in finding temporary release from the high-pressure precision of society portrait work. Sargent turned portraiture into a very lucrative "rock star" caliber career, but it was a golden cage he found increasingly odious.

In his watercolors, painted largely for their own sake, he seems to respond directly and exuberantly to the qualities of dazzling light, vivacious line, and vibrant warm-cool color combinations. I've written before about the powerful abstract qualities of his work.
John Singer Sargent, White Ships, 1908. Watercolor
I'm becoming ever more convinced that, regardless of subject, a painting's success depends upon just two things: abstract design and the color relationships that form a part of it. That goes for Rembrandt's Old Testament narratives, Rothko's color-field paintings, Sargent's portraits, as well as his ecstatic, energy-charged landscapes in watercolor and oil.