Though John Singer Sargent is considered one of the most talented Americans to ever wield a paintbrush, until now there has never been a Sargent exhibit on the West Coast. Now that omission has remedied in spectacular fashion by the Seattle Art Museum, where a major Sargent retrospective has just opened. Here with our review is KUOW art critic, Gary Faigin.
Towards the beginning of this landmark Sargent exhibit, there is a modest-sized painting of a gloomy Venetian interior, rendered in blacks, pinks and greys. Here and there are dimly lit figures, some nearly faceless, several engaged in stringing beads. At the far end of the room there is a tiny bright doorway. But what rivets the eye is not the people, nor the door, but a radioactive bolt of light, a single yellowish paint stroke midway back that races across the floor and up the wall, electrifying the otherwise muted scene.
It’s just a piece of paint, but what a piece of paint! Mere pigment and oil, probably laid down in an instant — real sunlight never looked so good. Moments of such painterly alchemy occur again and again in this utterly seductive exhibit of the work of John Singer Sargent — there’s a showstopper around nearly every corner. This is the realm of painterly realism, where brushstrokes hold their own identity while at the same time morphing into boldly naturalistic forms — like hands and faces, fabrics and fountains. Originally explored by artists like Franz Hals and Diego Velazquez, this dashing style enjoyed an explosion of popularity in Europe in the late 19th Century. The American expatriate Sargent was one of its leading champions.
FAIGIN ART REVIEWS:
A collection of reviews, featuring mostly NW artists, galleries and museums, on KUOW Radio from 2000 to 2012, in the Seattle Times from 2014 to present, and in other publications, as noted, beginning in 1993.
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