Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Realism or Impressionism?

"Breakfast in the Loggia - John Singer Sargent - oil on canvas (1910)
Dimensions: Height: 52.07 cm (20.5 in.), Width: 71.12 cm (28 in.)
Freer Gallery of Art (United States)

One of John Singer Sargent's paintings - "Breakfast in the Loggia" - revealed how he worked to me.

But first some acknowledgements. The links below are to images found on Natasha Wallace's wonderful John Singer Sargent Gallery website and were taken by Andy Holzopfel who is a great student of JSS's works and is also a sponsor of the site.
  • First take a look at how it appears on the wall in a frame at the Freer gallery
  • then look at the overall image at the top of this post - it looks pretty much as if it's a realistic figurative work doesn't it?
  • then take a look at the detail of the faces and the hands here. It's not looking quite so 'realistic' now is it? Notice how little real detail there is and also how much of an impression of detail JSS is able to create with a few well chosen and well positioned brush stokes
  • finally look back at the picture as a whole and tell me if you thought the actual painting of the hands of the woman facing us was going to be as they actually are in "real" reality.
So is this Realism or Impressionism?

John Singer Sargent Project Links:
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  1. Those hands are a mess up close.

  2. Isn't that what makes JSS a master? He creaets the illusion of reality with an impression. I'm reminded of a quote by Albert Einstein, paraphrasing, that perfection is "no more, nor no less than necessary"

  3. I have been a big fan of Sargent's ever since I saw 'Madame X' in person at the Detroit Institute of Arts as part of a traveling exhibition about 25 years ago. It made a huge impression on me.

    In my opinion, I think Sargent is fascinating BECAUSE of the mix of realism and impressionism. The ends of his subject's fingers are almost always done with a masterful flick of his brush. But some of his artworks, like Gassed - are not as impressionistic.

  4. So interesting to read all of this i am so inspired by the whole thing. As others Ed has said its what makes him a master.

  5. First, thank you for this blog and your other works on the web - they are a real treat of information and encouragement. I have silently joined the Sargent in January project and have been working through the Dover collection of portrait drawings. But today, when I read your post, I just had to "bite the bullet" and start my own blog. That was because I had noticed a similar thing going on in his drawings. (I figured that what I am learning can't be all bad if it agrees with you :-).

    Anyway, you don't have to allow this comment. I am just an amateur taking advantage of those that know more, but I did want you to know that you have been an inspiration and encouragement to me. Thanks again.

  6. i recently went to the met this fall to see the "americans in paris" exhibition. one of the reasons that made it great was the jss works! im gonna go with impressionism on this piece. i can list the many reasons but i wouldnt want to flood your comment box. one thing i can say though is his play on shadow and light. almost a dead give-away. and forget about the hands look at the still life on the table! i love your site by the way =] keep up the good work!

  7. I was reading, the other day, in an article by Celina Fox, that Diego Velazquezs' magical lifelike paintings 'close up, (they) dissolved into loose brushstrokes'. It's a fitting description of what happens in this, oh so beautiful, painting by JSS. It is wonderful to see the detail in this picture - so often photos on line are too small. Bravo to the site.
    I love the lesson in rendering those pale plaster walls in this example too.


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