Artist: John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)
Title: English: Gondoliers’ Siesta
Date: circa 1904
Dimensions: 35.6 x 50.8 cm
Collection: Private collection, courtesy of Adelson Galleries
Current location: New York
Source/Photographer Beyeler Foundation
What I Love About this Painting:
John Singer Sargent shows us a moment in time, set in Venice of 1904. It is an image capturing the heat of midday and the well-deserved rest of two men whose lives are spent on the water. They are well-employed, earning a good living by ferrying passengers from one end of town to another. During their heyday as a means of public transports, teams of four men would share ownership of a gondola — three oarsmen (gondoliers) and a fourth person, primarily shore based and responsible for the booking and administration of the gondola (Il Rosso Riserva).
About Singer’s Watercolors, via Wikipedia:
During Sargent’s long career, he painted more than 2,000 watercolors, roving from the English countryside to Venice to the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida. Each destination offered pictorial stimulation and treasure. Even at his leisure, in escaping the pressures of the portrait studio, he painted with restless intensity, often painting from morning until night.
His hundreds of watercolors of Venice are especially notable, many done from the perspective of a gondola. His colors were sometimes extremely vivid and as one reviewer noted, “Everything is given with the intensity of a dream.” In the Middle East and North Africa Sargent painted Bedouins, goatherds, and fisherman. In the last decade of his life, he produced many watercolors in Maine, Florida, and in the American West, of fauna, flora, and native peoples.
With his watercolors, Sargent was able to indulge his earliest artistic inclinations for nature, architecture, exotic peoples, and noble mountain landscapes. And it is in some of his late works where one senses Sargent painting most purely for himself. His watercolors were executed with a joyful fluidness. He also painted extensively family, friends, gardens, and fountains. In watercolors, he playfully portrayed his friends and family dressed in Orientalist costume, relaxing in brightly lit landscapes that allowed for a more vivid palette and experimental handling than did his commissions (The Chess Game, 1906). His first major solo exhibit of watercolor works was at the Carfax Gallery in London in 1905. In 1909, he exhibited eighty-six watercolors in New York City, eighty-three of which were bought by the Brooklyn Museum. Evan Charteris wrote in 1927:
To live with Sargent’s water-colours is to live with sunshine captured and held, with the luster of a bright and legible world, ‘the refluent shade’ and ‘the Ambient ardours of the noon.’
Although not generally accorded the critical respect given Winslow Homer, perhaps America’s greatest watercolorist, scholarship has revealed that Sargent was fluent in the entire range of opaque and transparent watercolor technique, including the methods used by Homer.
About the Artist, via Wikipedia:
John Singer Sargent born January 12, 1856 – died April 14, 1925, was an American expatriate artist, considered the “leading portrait painter of his generation” for his evocations of Edwardian-era luxury. He created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings. His oeuvre documents worldwide travel, from Venice to the Tyrol, Corfu, the Middle East, Montana, Maine, and Florida.
He was born in Florence to American parents, and trained in Paris before moving to London, living most of his life in Europe. He enjoyed international acclaim as a portrait painter. An early submission to the Paris Salon in the 1880s, his Portrait of Madame X, was intended to consolidate his position as a society painter in Paris, but instead resulted in scandal. During the next year following the scandal, Sargent departed for England where he continued a successful career as a portrait artist.
From the beginning, Sargent’s work is characterized by remarkable technical facility, particularly in his ability to draw with a brush, which in later years inspired admiration as well as criticism for a supposed superficiality. His commissioned works were consistent with the grand manner of portraiture, while his informal studies and landscape paintings displayed a familiarity with Impressionism. In later life Sargent expressed ambivalence about the restrictions of formal portrait work, and devoted much of his energy to mural painting and working en plein air. Art historians generally ignored “society” artists such as Sargent until the late 20th century.
Sargent’s early enthusiasm was for landscapes, not portraiture, as evidenced by his voluminous sketches full of mountains, seascapes, and buildings. Carolus-Duran’s expertise in portraiture finally influenced Sargent in that direction. Commissions for history paintings were still considered more prestigious, but were much harder to get. Portrait painting, on the other hand, was the best way of promoting an art career, getting exhibited in the Salon, and gaining commissions to earn a livelihood.
Credits and Attributions:
Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:John Singer Sargent, Gondoliers’ Siesta.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:John_Singer_Sargent,_Gondoliers%E2%80%99_Siesta.jpg&oldid=149791025 (accessed May 22, 2020).
Wikipedia contributors, “John Singer Sargent,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=John_Singer_Sargent&oldid=956888160 (accessed May 22, 2020).
Wikipedia contributors, “Gondola,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gondola&oldid=950230627 (accessed May 22, 2020).