John Singer Sargent is famed for his glamourous society portraits, such as Madame 'X' at the Metroploitan Museum of Art, New York. The Royal Academy is currently showing another side to the artist withthe Sargent and the Sea exhibition and it is Sargent's later interest away from the figure that we look at for this week's Picture of the Week. 'A Venetian Canal' is a close up and more intimate scene than the 'vedutas' he claimed not be able to paint, a squoted in the catalogue entry below. Veduta is the Italian word for view and refers here to highly detailed landscape paintings or 'vedutas' that became popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. KP
JOHN SINGER SARGENT (1856-1925)A Venetian Canal (date unknown)
Accession number: P.412
watercolour and pencil on paper, 24.3 ´ 34.5 cm
It is not easy to date Sargent’s Venetian watercolours which, as here, are very freely painted with a loaded brush. It seems that he began painting them on his second visit to the city in 1880 and on many subsequent visits, which became part of his annual break from portrait painting from the late 1890s onwards. He described his choice of subjects there as 'I can paint objects, I can’t paint vedutas'.
Sargent was born in Florence of American parents; studying in Paris under Carolus-Duran (1837-1917), he remained in France until 1884 before coming to England where he became the most fashionable portrait painter since Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830).
Superficiality was always his enemy but occurred less in his landscapes to which he turned almost exclusively after 1910. Pissarro summed him up as 'an adroit performer'.
PROVENANCE: Mrs F. Ormond; by descent to her daughter Mrs Hugo Pitman (the artist’s niece); Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd, from whom purchased by Gallery, January 1962.
EXHIBITIONS: Watercolours and Drawings from The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford, London, Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd, 1962, no.82.