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.
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.