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John Singer Sargent’s Travel Pictures

The monthly ArtSmart Roundtable brings together some of the best art-focused travel blogs to post on a common theme.  This month we are discussing Travel Art!  You can find links below for the rest of the group’s posts this month.  I take a lots of photos when I travel but I really admire those who can sketch cities, landscapes and people when they travel.  An incredibly talented artist (although I am biased), John Singer Sargent is the epitome of the artist-traveler in that he captured his destinations in rich and brilliant but ephemeral scenes.

John Singer Sargent - Grand Canal, Venice

“Grand Canal, Venice”, 1904-1907, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

I’ve been reading a lot this summer about the Gilded Age with its fantastic palaces, fashion and carefully orchestrated social life.  Whether to shop or escape the stress (and occasionally scandal) of New York City, the elite of the Gilded Age departed for months of travel through Europe and the Middle East.  The greatest artist of this era, John Singer Sargent also adopted a somewhat nomadic lifestyle traveling extensively.  Famous for his portraits done in oil, Sargent created quick watercolor paintings while traveling – mostly as an amusement for himself.  Masterfully executed, well composed and evocative, it is John Singer Sargent’s watercolor paintings that transport me to an age of luxurious travel, European charm and exotic destinations.

John Singer Sargent - On the Canal

“On the Canal” 1903, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, France

Born in Florence, Italy to American parents, John Singer Sargent grew up on two continents.  He continued to travel throughout his adult life temporarily living in or at least visiting England, Italy, Tangiers, Syria, Palestine, Spain, Portugal, Greece, the Alps, Norway and the US (including Niagara Falls, Maine and Florida).  Sargent’s watercolors were born from his natural talent for observation and seeing as much beauty in alleys and in city commotion as there was in gardens and palaces.  In his travels, he produced a number of preliminary oil paintings and studies which supported future pieces, but the watercolors were always something personal for Sargent.  He gave them to friends and family but otherwise held on to them.  Late in life, recognizing the value of these images, he sold many of them in two large lots to The Brooklyn Museum and The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  These institutions put together an exhibit, John Singer Sargent’s Watercolors, which opens in Boston on October 13th after having spent the summer in New York City.  In the event that you can’t see this exhibit in person, let’s take a tour through Europe and the Middle East via the incredible watercolor images of John Singer Sargent!

John Singer Sargent - Venetian Passageway

“Venetian Passageway”, 1905, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Sargent painted many scenes of Venice.  Already a romantic and uniquely beautiful city, the airy watercolors seem like charmed memories of transient moments observed from a moving gondola.  In some of the images, you can even see that Sargent was painting from a gondola!  It was a city he loved and returned to many times leaving us an impressive catalog of its canals, architecture and people.

John Singer Sargent - The Façade of La Salute

“The Façade of La Salute” 1903, Private Collection

John Singer Sargent - Café on the Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice

“Café on the Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice” 1880-1882, Private Collection

The Piazzetta, Venice circa 1904 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925

“The Piazzetta, Venice” 1904, Tate Gallery, London

As I mentioned, Sargent loved to travel and clearly loved to paint.  Here are images from his other trips.

Switzerland and the Austrian Alps

John Singer Sargent - Simplon Pass: Chalets

“Simplon Pass: Chalets” 1911, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

John Singer Sargent - Graveyard in the Tyrol

“Graveyard in the Tyrol” 1914, British Museum, London, UK

Morocco

John Singer Sargent - Bedouin Camp

“Bedouin Camp” 1906, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York

John Singer Sargent - Mending a Sail

“Mending a Sail” 1905, Brooklyn Museum, New York City

Corfu, Greece

John singer sargent - olive trees, corfu

“Olive Trees, Corfu” 1909, Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

John Singer Sargent - Corfu: The Terrace

“Corfu: The Terrace” 1909, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA

Genoa, Italy

John Singer Sargent - Genoa, the University

“Genoa, the University” 1911, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Sicily

John Singer Sargent - Angels, Mosaic, Palatine Chapel, Palermo

“Angels, Mosaic, Palatine Chapel, Palermo,” 1897, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Rome

John Singer Sargent - Piazza Navona, Roma

“Piazza Navona, Roma” 1906, Private Collection

Florence

John Singer Sargent - Perseus by Night

“Perseus by Night” 1907, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain

Spain

John Singer Sargent - Tarragona

“Tarragona” 1908, New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT

John Singer Sargent - Alhambra, Patio de los Leones

“Alhambra, Patio de los Leones” 1879, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

John Singer Sargent - Spanish Courtyard

“Spanish Courtyard” 1903, Private Collection

Palestine

John Singer Sargent - Temple of Bacchus, Baalbek

“Temple of Bacchus, Baalbek” 1905-1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

John Singer Sargent - Mar Saba

“Mar Saba” 1905-1906, Private Collection

Cairo

John Singer Sargent - Cairo

“Cairo” 1891, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

John Singer Sargent - Egyptian Water Jars

“Egyptian Water Jars” 1905, Private Collection

That’s quite a lot of traveling!  What destination do you think makes for the most beautiful watercolor paintings?  Where should Sargent have gone and painted?

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For the rest of the September ArtSmart Roundtable, see:

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11 Comments Post a comment
  1. WOW!! I am in complete awe of Sargent. Although I have never heard of him before now, and thank you for this amazing introduction, I am a HUGE fan! His work is striking!! Love his rich tones, his subtleties yet stunning details especially with the Piazza Navona. I am completely blown away! Thank you so much for sharing this fascinating artist with all of us!

    Like

    September 2, 2013
    • Thanks so much Jeff! I love Sargent’s work and think he is such a skilled and versatile artist. Flipping through these images make me daydream my next trip! I’m happy to provide the introduction!

      While I didn’t put them in this post, I did find some watercolors of Norway! Apparently Sargent went fishing while he was there because they are all stream scenes and still-life trout he’d caught. 🙂 I was disappointed there weren’t any sweeping fjord images because that would be even more spectacular in watercolor!

      Like

      September 8, 2013
  2. Exquisite post, Christina! Sargent’s travel ‘snaps’ are as gorgeous as his portraits. Too, too wonderful.

    Like

    September 2, 2013
    • Thanks and I totally agree. I love that his “for fun” paintings were just as interesting and beautiful as his more famous work.

      Like

      September 3, 2013
  3. I’ve never seen Sargent’s travel paintings. Wow – what a delight! Great post and wonderfully written. I particularly love, “the airy watercolors seem like charmed memories of transient moments observed from a moving gondola.”

    Did Sargent ever paint Paris?
    -Sara

    Like

    September 4, 2013
    • Thanks so much Sara!

      I looked through thousands of paintings for this post and never found any of Paris. Since wealthy Americans came to Paris for society functions, I don’t this city was ever considered a “vacation” spot and so I don’t think Sargent ever painted it. It’s quite a shame; I would have loved to see Sargent’s watercolors of the boulevards and gardens of Paris!

      Like

      September 8, 2013
  4. Of course, I’m partial to the Tarragona one. I wish I could bust out a watercolor-for-fun like these.

    Like

    September 4, 2013
  5. I’m so glad you chose this topic. What beautiful images. My mom is especially fond of Sargent’s work, so I will show this to her.

    Like

    September 9, 2013
  6. Love the graveyard one! I am not familiar with Sargent’s work but am already drawn to him. It’s amazing how many artists were attracted to Venice from Sargent to J.M.W Turner but who couldn’t be, it is such an aesthetically pleasing city.

    Like

    September 13, 2013
    • I know, Venice is an artist’s (and writer’s and traveler’s) dream. Glad you like the graveyard image, I do too. It almost looks like a photograph.

      Like

      September 14, 2013

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