Head of an Arab

Head of an Arab
Head of an Arab

John Singer Sargent

Head of an Arab is my study of John Singer Sargent’s oil sketch. He would have painted around 1890-91 when he toured Egypt, Greece and Turkey. It was probably painted abroad, however, he may well have painted it from a model when he returned to London. Sargent was commissioned by the Trustees of the Boston Public Library to paint a mural. He was planning a frieze depicting Old Testament prophets, so this painting is relevant to his preparation.


Having worked in the Middle East since 2007, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Arabs on a number of occasions. I’m quite struck by their distinctive, fine looking features which are fascinating to paint. In copying John Singer Sargent’s oil on canvas, I’ve tried to make the same direct, confident brush marks as Sargent, painting directly from observation, without relying on any tracing techniques. Also, I’ve kept to a very limited palate to ensure that the colours are as close to Sargent’s as possible. Of course, I’ve had to work from a photographic copy rather than the original painting, so there will be obvious differences in colouring.

Great masters

The value in making such studies of the great masters works can be seen when one looks at Sargent’s own studies of the artists he admired such as Diego Velazquez and Frans Hals. This particular study was made on board and can be seen at my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.

Whenever I’m about to start some painting in my studio, I will usually warm up. My favourite exercise is to copy a John Singer Sargent portrait in my Moleskine sketchbook.

2 thoughts on “Head of an Arab”

  1. This is really great Alan. Did you have reference of Sargent’s colour palette or did you just make a guess at it?

    I have been doing some colour studies as part of the Calligraphy degree course I am currently on. This has included sketching visits to the V & A, something which I haven’t done since art college over 45 years ago!

    • Cheers Tim
      There was not the same range of colours available in his day. I’m reliable told that it wouldn’t have been much more than the primary colours plus white & black. Is the calligraphy degree course the reason why you are spending so much time in London? Sketching visits to galleries are great fun. I’m trying to do the same as much as possible these days.


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