Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Beautiful show about the painter Sargent (Boston and London)

 I once shared the impression of so many that John Singer Sargent was a good painter for his time, but he was focused on flattering portraits only.

I was dissuaded from this point of view by a tour I took once at the Met. Their free daily tour takes people to 10 representative works from different periods. The idea is to give visitors a taste of the various parts of the Met's collection, and then you can focus on what you want later that day or sometime in the future.

The one time I took this tour, we talked about Greek statuary versus Roman statuary. The docent described the meaning behind the Pacific Island statues and the housing gallery. An entire building was reconstructed in the Met by the Rockefellers, who lost a son while he was traveling in Papua New Guinea. We went through impressionists, the work of Rodin, and more.

The last thing we saw was the picture of Madam X by John Singer Sargent. While I had seen it before and was mildly impressed, I didn't expect much. I was wrong.

The docent talked about Sargent's use and imagery of the dress to define the woman. The subject was an American, but her husband was shocked. She (I forget her name!) was dressed in a revealing Black Dress that scandalized Americans but entranced Paris. As it says in the caption, the dress first had a shoulder strap that had slipped off one shoulder - but that was considered too much and was repainted more conservatively.

A new show in Boston travels to London early next year, about John Singer Sargent's work. It focuses on his use of fabric, light, and shadow. And about he used these to elevate those "normal" folks he painted.

It looks cool. Hopefully it will still be there in June.

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