Sargent and the Sea

February 14 - May 23, 2010

 



 

Art object labels from the exhibition

 

Ramparts at Saint-Malo-Yacht Race
1875
Graphite on paper
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Gift of Emily Sargent and Violet Ormond, sisters of the artist, 49.148c
 
This sheet is one of a distinct group of 13 from a dismantled sketchbook that illuminates Sargent's marine interest during the summer of 1875; he affixed the other 12 into a large scrapbook, on view directly across this gallery. Here, sailors watch a yacht race at Saint-Malo, Brittany, some using telescopes and others gesturing excitedly.
 
 
 
Seascape with Rocks
c. 1875-77
Oil on canvas
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Joseph F. McCrindle Collection, 2009.004
 
In this view of an unidentified site, gently rippling water gives way to a luminous sense of distance under an opalescent sky. The subtle adjustments of tone within a restricted color range demonstrate a new sensitivity and sophistication in the artist's treatment of light and the evocation of mood.
 
 
Sketch of boats in a stormy sea
c. 1876
Graphite with pen and ink on paper
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Sargent Collection
Gift of Miss Emily Sargent and Mrs. Violet Ormond, in memory of their brother, John Singer Sargent, 28.923
 
In this sketch, Sargent copied J. M. W. Turner's famous painting The Shipwreck, probably from a reproduction. Sargent maintained a lifelong admiration for the British marine painter's work, which Sargent saw on his visits to London. Standing in front of a Turner (possibly The Shipwreck) in the Tate Gallery, he reportedly remarked to a friend, "... when I'm in the mood... Turner seems to me the greatest of all the landscape masters."
 
 
Atlantic Storm
1876
Oil on canvas
Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis
 
This vigorously painted scene documents a storm Sargent experienced on his October 1876 return from America. Although likely made in his Paris studio, it presents an awe-inspiring spectacle of the sea witnessed from the plunging aft deck of the ship. Several figures struggle against the elements; the wake streams out behind in a glistening web of white froth; and the huge, foam-crested waves seem likely at any moment to overwhelm the fragile craft.
 
 
Seascape
c. 1876
Oil on canvas
Frank M. Gren "Annapolis Collection"
 
This oil painting and the sketch Wave nearby convey a limitless expanse of water in all directions. In neither work is there a deck or rigging, strand or shore; nor is there any evidence of solid footing for the viewer, who seems to be suspended above the waves.
 
 
The Artist's Mother Aboard Ship
1876
Oil on canvas
Fayez Sarofim Collection
 
Here, Sargent shows his mother resting in a deck chair, the boom of a sail above her and foam-capped waves behind. Her face is invisible under the shadow of her parasol, and her blanket and layers of costume create flat, semi-abstract blocks of color. The way that the artist crops and compresses the image creates the effect of a snapshot, an intimate view of someone being observed.
 
 
Atlantic Sunset
c. 1876
Oil on canvas
Private collection
 
Along with The Derelict and Seascape, both displayed nearby, Atlantic Sunset is a hitherto unknown seascape that radically altered perceptions of the artist's role as a marine painter. While this painting conveys the immensity of the ocean, it is the fleeting effects of fading sunlight that have captured Sargent's attention. His approach to painting the sea was to some degree unusual among his contemporaries; in this marine and the ones nearby, the sea shifts without boundaries, with no land in sight to anchor the viewer. The inscribed date of 1878 probably records the year he presented the seascape to his landlord, not its date of execution.
 
 
Woman Looking Out to Sea
1876
Graphite on paper
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 50.130.140c
 
In unsettled weather conditions, the artist studied the windswept dress and scarf of the subject -- possibly his sister Emily -- against the churning waves beyond, while barely rendering the ship's deck.
 
 
On the Sands
c. 1877
Watercolor on paper
Private collection
 
Depicting an unidentified beach resort in Brittany, this watercolor appears altogether different from Sargent's Cancale pictures. Its refined subject and bright, delicate style recall the work of some of his contemporaries, such as French painter Eugène Boudin.
 
 
En Route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish)
1878
Oil on canvas
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund, 17.2
 
Frame, French, c. 1880
Gilded wood and composition ornament
Gift of the Women's Committee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 2009.013
 
Despite the informality of the preparatory oil and pencil sketches on view nearby, in this studio painting (and its smaller companion) there is nothing casual in the way the figures stand, the intervals between them, nor the way in which their heads and upper bodies break the line of the horizon. The well-scrubbed peasants -- meandering as a congenial group against a wide expanse of beach and a glistening backdrop of summer weather -- are deliberately posed to give them a monumental presence. Sargent is presenting us with a seductive vision of the fishing industry.
 
 
Sketch after En Route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish)
1878
Pen and ink and graphite on paper
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Gift of Irving Moskovitz, 1976.57
 
Portrait of Neville Cain and Study of Mother and Child
1877
Graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum
Gift of Miss Emily Sargent and Mrs. Francis Ormond, in memory of their brother, John Singer Sargent, 1931.97
 
These vignettes of a mother and child undoubtedly reveal Sargent working out the contrapposto pose of a woman holding a weight on her hip -- a challenge he would take up repeatedly when sketching and painting Cancale fisherwomen carrying their baskets.
 
 
Fishing for Oysters at Cancale
1877-78
Oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Miss Mary Appleton, 35.708
 
Though nearly identical to En Route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish) in composition and appearance, numerous details -- such as the hair color and the hat style of the boy on the left -- distinguish this painting from its larger counterpart. Also, Fishing for Oysters at Cancale is more loosely painted and of a more somber tone. These differences were not accidental; Sargent created the more tightly handled, larger painting according to the staid Paris Salon's standards of "finish," whereas the brushwork of this one conformed to the more progressive tenets of the Society of American Artists.
 
The artist's plan succeeded brilliantly. The exhibition of Fishing for Oysters at Cancale in New York in the spring of 1878 captured headlines and made a lasting impression on critics and the public alike. From then onward, the United States would form an integral part of Sargent's exhibition strategy, establishing him over time as a preeminent international painter.
 
 
Fisherwomen Returning
1877
Oil on canvas
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Mrs. Louis Sosland, F77­36/1
 
Using a somber palette, the artist depicts a mass of huddled figures. Returning to Cancale at dusk after a long day's work, the women slog along at low tide, straining against the weight of their laden baskets. The naturalistic appearance of the figures, topographical features, and sky -- along with Sargent's free brushwork -- suggest that he painted the work largely, if not wholly, on site.
 
 
Sketch for En Route pour la pêche and Fishing for Oysters at Cancale
1877
Oil on canvas
Private collection
 
In the summer of 1877, Sargent stayed in the fishing village of Cancale, where he made paintings and drawings in preparation for his exhibition pictures Fishing for Oysters at Cancale (1877-78) and En Route pour la pêche (1878), as well as this sketch. The small, quickly painted oil sketch captured on the beach at Cancale represents the fleeting scene that sparked Sargent's imagination and led him to develop the two completed fishing canvases. It shows the same site as the exhibition pictures, but its composition is more naturalistic. Unlike the static and formalized processions in the large paintings, the colorful, relaxed figures moving along the beach -- fishing equipment in hand -- are quickly blocked in and show no facial detail.
 
 
Breton Girl with a Basket
Study for En Route pour la pêche and Fishing for Oysters at Cancale
1877
Oil on canvas
Terra Foundation for American Art
Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago, 1999.129
 
Sargent likely executed this figure study, and the three others nearby, on the beach in Cancale. The woman here relates to the leftmost figure in both En Route pour la pêche and Fishing for Oysters at Cancale and has origins in two drawings hanging opposite: a sheet of lightly sketched vignettes of a woman balancing a child on her hip; and a more emphatic and freely handled drawing of a figure, whose back is to the viewer, holding a large basket.
 
 
Young Boy on the Beach
Study for En Route pour la pêche and Fishing for Oysters at Cancale
1877
Oil on canvas
Terra Foundation for American Art
Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago, 1999.132
 
The young boy paired with the lead figure in the two completed Cancale paintings appears to be based on this oil sketch. It, in turn, likely followed a graphite study of a boy in a striped jersey and beret, displayed in the case below.
 
 
Girl on the Beach
Study for En Route pour la pêche and Fishing for Oysters at Cancale
1877
Oil on canvas
Terra Foundation for American Art
Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago, 1999.131
 
The third figure from the left in the finished paintings -- a woman with a dark headscarf and a basket on her right hip -- has her origins in this oil sketch. Although details of her costume and pose vary from study to completed paintings, the figure's legs and feet are similarly positioned in all three canvases.
 
 
Breton Woman with a Basket
Study for En Route pour la pêche and Fishing for Oysters at Cancale
1877
Oil on canvas
Terra Foundation for American Art
Daniel J. Terra Collection, Chicago, 1996.53
 
There are no known preliminary works for the central, redheaded woman in the two completed works, nor for the young boy at the far right. However, the woman between them appears to derive from this oil sketch. Wearing a dark shawl crossed over the torso in each work, the figure leans slightly to her right at the waist while resting a basket on her left hip.
 
 
Nude Boy on Sands
1878
Oil on panel
Private collection
 
This work depicts the cool shade of Capri's Marina Piccola, with the sunstruck Faraglioni rocks in the background.
 
 
A Boat in the Waters off Capri
1878
Oil on canvas
Private collection
 
It is possible that Sargent's manner of working -- methodically gathering materials for a painting to be brought to fruition later, once back in Paris -- is what prompted him to make this otherwise uncharacteristic picture. The view of the waterfront, its water shading from sapphire to emerald and juxtaposed with opalescent sand, would be useful as he worked in the gray light of a Parisian winter.
 
 
Neapolitan Children Bathing
1878-79
Oil on canvas
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1955.852
 
Sargent spent the summer of 1878 in Capri, painting oil sketches in preparation this work. Commissioned by a Brooklyn collector, the painting, in contrast to the Cancale exhibition pictures of the previous year, is small in scale, informal in composition, and hot in color. The younger of the two standing boys gazes out at us. The other -- sporting water wings (made of animal bladders) -- turns seaward toward a swimmer in the distance. The older boys lie sensuously on the sand; the legs of the foremost one are interrupted by the edge of the canvas to suggest the casualness of the artist's viewpoint.
 
 
Filet et Barque
c. 1879
Watercolor and graphite on paper
Private collection
 
This luminous watercolor depicts the use of a drag net, employed to encircle a school of fish. The French title Filet et Barque translates loosely as "Net and Small Boat."
 
 
Moroccan Beach Scene
c. 1880
Oil on panel
Private collection
 
This loosely painted panel, executed during a visit to North Africa in 1880, is a vibrant sketch rendered in the same highly keyed color range as Neapolitan Children Bathing. Sargent shows a gaggle of local women laying out fishing nets to dry. The white sand and dense blue sky evoke the brilliance and saturating heat of a sunlit day on the Mediterranean coast.
 
 
Boats in Harbor II
c. 1879
Watercolor and graphite on paper
Private collection
 
 
Several of Sargent's port scenes follow the format seen here. The dockside from which the artist painted occupies a significant slice of the picture space, and there are buildings and fortifications to the side. Ships and boats are seen close-up, either bow or stern view, and the complicated pattern of masts and riggings forms an integral part of the design.
 
 
Figure Studies, Nice
1875
Graphite with watercolor and black chalk on paper
William Kelly Simpson, New York
 
This two-sided drawing illustrates the shift in Sargent's drafting skills that occurred over the winter of 1874 and 1875. In it, the artist apparently pays tribute to his teacher, painter Carolus-Duran, by labeling one of the sailors with his name. The woman with a basket foretells Sargent's studies of Breton fisherwomen from two years later.
 
 
Sailboat
1872
Graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum
Gift of Miss Emily Sargent and Mrs. Francis Ormond, in memory of their brother, John Singer Sargent, 1937.7.9.10
 
 
Men Hauling Lifeboat Ashore
1876
Watercolor and graphite on paper, from the John Singer Sargent Scrapbook (50.130.154)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 50.130.154n recto
 
 
Sailor
1876
Watercolor and graphite on paper, from the John Singer Sargent Scrapbook (50.130.154)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 50.130.154n verso
 
On this side of his sketchbook page, the artist quickly drew the form of the drinking sailor in graphite twice before working up a third, more complete version in watercolor.
 
 
Reclining Figures
1877
Graphite on paper
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Gift of Miss Emily Sargent and Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1931, 1931­14­18a
 
The boy in the second sketch from the top of this sheet is posed and foreshortened similarly to the one in the vertical quay scene Low Tide at Cancale Harbor (hanging nearby), for which it may have served as a study.
 
 
Octopus and Starfish, Beuzeval (Calvados), Normandy
1874
Graphite on paper
Private collection
 
 
The Derelict
c. 1876
Oil on canvas
Private collection
 
 
Wave
1876
Graphite on paper
Private collection
 
 
The Cook's Boy
1876
Oil on canvas mounted on board
Private collection
 
 
Mid-Ocean, Mid-Winter
1876
Oil on canvas, mounted on panel
Private collection
 
 
Scene on a Ship Deck
1876
Graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum
Gift of Miss Emily Sargent and Mrs. Francis Ormond, in memory of their brother, John Singer Sargent, 1937.8.79
 
 
Sketch of sail and rigging
c. 1876
Graphite on paper
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Gift of Miss Emily Sargent and Mrs. Violet Ormond, in memory of their brother, John Singer Sargent, 28.957
 
 
Sketch of man with anchor
1876
Graphite on paper
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Sargent Collection
Gift of Miss Emily Sargent and Mrs. Violet Ormond, in memory of their brother, John Singer Sargent, 28.943.2
 
 
Sketch of tackle on spar
c. 1876
Pen and ink and graphite on paper
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Sargent Collection
Gift of Miss Emily Sargent and Mrs. Violet Ormond, in memory of their brother, John Singer Sargent, 28.943.1a
 
 
Deck of Ship in Moonlight
1876
Watercolor and graphite on paper, from the John Singer Sargent Scrapbook (50.130.154)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 50.130.154bb
 
 
Boat Deck
1876
Graphite on paper
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 50.130.90
 
 
Beach at Capri
1878
Oil on panel
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Bequest of Frederick J. Hellman to the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1965.32
 
 
Boy on the Beach
1878
Oil on panel
Collection of Isabel Fonseca, London
 
 
Two Boys on a Beach, Naples
1878
Oil on panel
Private collection
 
 
A Nude Boy on a Beach
1878
Oil on panel
Tate, London. Bequeathed by John Tillotson, 1984
 
 
Two Boys on a Beach with Boats
1878
Oil on panel
The Society of Swedish Literature in Finland
 
 
Fishing Boats
1878
Oil on panel
Private collection
 
 
Port Scene II
c. 1879
Watercolor and graphite on paper
Private collection
 
 
Wharf Scene
c. 1879
Oil on canvas (grisaille)
Mr. and Mrs. William J. Miller, Jr.
 
 
Boats II
c. 1879
Watercolor and graphite on paper
Private collection
 
 
Ships and Boats
c. 1879
Watercolor and graphite on paper
Private collection
 
 
Port Scene I
c. 1877
Oil on panel
Private collection
 
 
Two Nude Figures Standing on a Wharf
c. 1879
Oil on panel
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 50.130.10b verso
 
 
Two Men in Boats
c. 1877­78
Graphite on paper
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 50.130.98 recto
 
 
The John Singer Sargent Scrapbook
1870s
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 50.130.154 (i­m)
 
 
RIGHT PAGE, LEFT COLUMN
Sailors on Sloping Deck
1876
Graphite on paper
In the John Singer Sargent Scrapbook (50.130.154)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond. (50.130.154i)
 
 
Lifeboats on Davits
1876
Graphite on paper
In the John Singer Sargent Scrapbook (50.130.154)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond. (50.130.154j)
 
 
RIGHT PAGE, RIGHT COLUMN
Sailors on Deck of Ship
1876
Graphite on paper
In the John Singer Sargent Scrapbook (50.130.154)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond. (50.130.154m)
 
 
Moonlight on Waves
1876
Graphite on paper
In the John Singer Sargent Scrapbook (50.130.154)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond. (50.130.154l)
 
 
Men Sleeping on Deck of Ship
1876
Graphite on paper
In the John Singer Sargent Scrapbook (50.130.154)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond. (50.130.154k)
 
All of Sargent's marine sketches preserved in the scrapbook may be viewed on the monitor above.
 
Woman Carrying Basket
Study for En Route pour la pêche and Fishing for Oysters at Cancale
c. 1877
Graphite on paper
Harvard Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum
Gift of Miss Emily Sargent and Mrs. Francis Ormond, in memory of their brother, John Singer Sargent, 1931.87.B
 
 
Low Tide at Cancale Harbor
1878
Oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Zoe Oliver Sherman Collection, 22.646
 
 
Sketch after En Route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish), 1878
Reproduced as an engraving in Roger Ballu, "Le Salon de 1878: Deuxième et Dernier Article," Gazette des Beaux-Arts 18, no. 1 (July 1878)
Courtesy of Virginia Commonwealth University, James Branch Cabell Library, Special Collections and Archives
 
Although 13 reviews in the New York press lauded Fishing for Oysters at Cancale, the painting En Route pour la pêche garnered only one critical mention during its Paris debut. On a page not shown here, critic Roger Ballu praised at length the latter painting's free, broad brushwork, as well as the effects of sunlight on the wet sand relieved by the reflections of the blue sky in the tide pools.
 
"I found much pleasure in looking at Mr. Sargent's picture, En Route pour la pêche. This artist paints with free, broad strokes, which seem confused when viewed up close, but which give a sense of relief and energy to the figures when seen at a distance. He creates the feeling of the sun shining on the wet sands of the beach, dappled here and there by the blue reflections of the sky in the shallow pools of water."
 
Ballu paid the artist a further compliment by commissioning him to execute an ink drawing after the painting En Route pour la pêche, which he reproduced in the article.
 
Woman with Basket
1877
Graphite on paper
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 50.30.92
 
 
Child
Study for En Route pour la pêche and Fishing for Oysters at Cancale
1877
Graphite on paper
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 50.130.114

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