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Sargent's en plein air watercolor method

SATURDAY, JANUARY 28, 2006 Mary Newbold Patterson Hale was a cousin of John Singer Sargent, and related her observations in The World Today, November 1927:

To see one of Sargent's water colours in the making always reminded me of the first chapter of Genesis, when the evening and the morning were the first day, order developed from chaos, and one thing after another was created of its kind. Having chosen his subject and settled himself with the sunshade, hat and paraphernalia all to his liking, he would make moan over the difficulty of the subject and say, "I can't do it," or "It's unpaintable," and finally, "Well, let's have a whack at it."

Perfect absorption would follow, and after what looked like a shorthand formula in pencil was on the block, the most risky and adventurous technique would come into play, great washes of colour would go on the paper with huge brushes or sponges, and muttering of "Demons! Demons!" or "The devils own!" would be heard at intervals.

All the time the picture was growing surely, swiftly; he worked through to the end, only stopping when it was a subject where light and tide changed before he could get it all in, and two "goes" were necessary.

John Singer Sargent, A Turkish Woman by a Stream, c. 1907. Victoria and Albert Museum. Bequeathed by Miss Dorothy Barnard. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I found this story at Natasha's definitive John Singer Sargent virtual gallery. A must see.

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