Sargent Painting

John Singer Sargent, “The Holy Trinity,” after el Greco, 1895, 31.5 x 18.5 in., oil on canvas, private collection currently on view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

I went for the watercolors, but I could look at John Singer Sargent’s paintings of other artworks all day long. The first gallery of the Sargent and Spain show at the National Gallery is almost entirely copies of paintings Sargent made in the Prado, mostly Velásquez and El Greco.

John Singer Sargent, “Las Meninas,” after Velásquez, 1879, 45 x40 in., oil on canvas, collection The George Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, at the NGA

I can’t believe we’ll have to some day go to George Lucas’s museum to see Sargent’s copy of Las Meninas. But at least that day is not yet.

John Singer Sargent, Virgin and Saints, 1895, watercolor over graphite with gouache, 12.5 x 9 in., private collection via nga

The show was crowded, and I mistakenly figured I could look up everything I needed to know afterward, but I guess they’re saving it all for the book. From the room full of Sargent’s studies of Spanish religious painting, sculpture, and architecture, I wrongly assumed that the watercolor above of an altarpiece was related to the Gardner Museum’s study of the Caananite goddess Astarte/Ishtar for the Boston Public Library, which was hanging next to it. But the altarpiece dates from 1895, after that section of the library murals were completed. [Revisit update: it definitely informed Sargent’s depiction of the Virgin at the other end of the library, though, including the arrangement of candles in front of it.]

John Singer Sargent, Astarte, 1892-94, study for murals for the Boston Public Library, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

A lot of these works were definitely not made to be shown. Sargent was making them for other reasons: For himself. Maybe like how Richter just wanted a Titian, Sargent just wanted a Velásquez. Or he was trying to figure something out. To capture a moment, a detail, a lighting effect, a space, an experience, a turkey.

John Singer Sargent, Turkey in a Courtyard, 1879-80, oil on canvas, 14×10.5 in., private collection

I will have to go back to see if there is any explanation at all for why Sargent went approximately 100x harder in the paint on this photobombing turkey in a Spanish courtyard than on the courtyard itself. This may be my new favorite Sargent ever.

Courtyard of the Casa de Chabiz, 1913, oil on canvas, at the NGA. Notice the carved capitals are the same

[Revisit update: there is zero mention of the Turkey in the weirdly sparse catalogue, even though Sargent returned to paint the same 16th century Granada courtyard 30+ years later, and included some donkeys.

Wait, is that a turkey standing exactly in the painting’s vanishing point?? Put there the same year he made the turkey bronze below? Please do not make me need to write a paper on Sargent’s turkeys. It’s Sargent; how has this scholarship not been done to death already?]

John Singer Sargent [!] Turkey, c. 1913, bronze, 18 inches [!], Corcoran Museum/NGA

[Completely unrelated, I’m sure: Turkey, c. 1913, a nearly life-size [?!] bronze the Corcoran Gallery acquired out of Sargent’s estate sale in 1925.]