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John Singer Sargent Watercolors

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"Bedouins" a watercolor by John Singer Sargent will be on display in an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

John Singer Sargent Watercolors

Thu, Mar 21st, 2013

John Singer Sargent described his watercolors as "making the best of an emergency." He may have felt that way about the process, but clearly, there's no sign of any "emergency" in his finished works!

Whenever I've had the opportunity to enjoy his watercolors in person, it's been a real treat and a great inspiration. So, I'm looking forward to seeing over ninety of his pictures that will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum in New York and at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, this year.

This highly anticipated exhibition, "John Singer Sargent Watercolors," will open on April 5, 2013 at the Brooklyn Museum, and continue through July 28, 2013. The exhibition will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where it will open on October 13, 2013; it will close on January 20, 2014. Many of the watercolors (as noted on the Brooklyn Museum's website) have not been seen by the public in "decades."

The paintings were created during a period between 1905 - 1911. They were acquired from two shows held at the Knoedler Gallery in New York, which hosted the American premiere of Sargent's work in this medium. The Brooklyn Museum purchased thirty-eight watercolors in 1909, while the Museum of Fine Arts Boston followed with its acquisitions in 1912.

Among the subjects on display are Sargent's Venice watercolors. These magnificent pieces capture the canals, alleyways, boats and architecture of this romantic city. "Santa Maria della Salute" has always been a personal favorite of mine. Other works include studies that the artist made of Bedouins on his 1905 trip to Palestine. These images are thought to have inspired his Boston Library murals commission, "Triumph of Religion." "Bedouin," a haunting portrait of a man in a blue-colored keffiyeh, is a picture I'd seen reproduced in books and never thought that much of, until I saw it in person. (It's always a nice surprise when that happens). Rounding out the show are landscapes painted at the marble quarries in Carrara, Italy, a few watercolor portraits and several oil paintings.

A special feature of the show, which should be of interest to watercolor painters, provides theories about Sargent's methods, materials, and paper preparation. A video demonstration will accompany selected paintings in which a modern-day artist demonstrates a technique that Sargent may have used.

Unfortunately, many museums and galleries don't often foreground or privilege the watercolor medium. In fact, many curators and art dealers seem to regard it as secondary to oils. So it's great to see two important museums celebrating this challenging medium. Be sure to mark your calendar and enjoy the show!