The American artist John Singer Sargent was born this day 12th January 1856. The word “awesome” is used rather flippantly these days to describe things and events that are everyday and somewhat ordinary. John Singer Sargent was truly an awesome painter, an absolute genius when it came to applying paint in what appeared to be an effortless manner. My appreciation of his skills only grows as I regularly make my own studies of his work in my moleskine sketchbook seen above and also oil paintings.
Sargent made his fame on both sides of the Atlantic in the late nineteenth century, mainly through his outstanding portrait paintings of the rich and famous of his day. It’s appropriate to give him a mention today, not only in remembrance of his birthday but also because of the unveiling of the first official portrait of Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge. The oil painting was by Paul Emsley who won first prize in the BP Portrait Award in 2007 and although the Duchess gave Paul two sittings, it was painted predominantly from photographs.
Sargent rarely worked from photographs but relied on sketches and formal sittings with his subjects. The result was, he produced paintings that were expressive, fluid, full of light, life, character and, most importantly, captured the likeness and perhaps something of the personality of the sitter.
Paul Emsley’s portrait of the Duchess has received a mixed reaction from the critics. I can admire the undoubted skill Paul has in painting a very lifelike portrait of the Duchess but it is a little too photographic for my tastes. I cannot help wondering what John Singer Sargent’s rendition would have been like had he been alive today.