My June travels included a trip to Brooklyn, to the Museum of Art in that fair borough. Imagine my surprise when a tour bus pulled up to the entrance…Brooklyn? A tourist attraction? I’m so 1980s in my thinking, when I kew Brooklyn as an outer borough, home to the dreaded bridge and tunnel crowd. Now it’s so hip that tour buses schlepp through its streets.
I had to take a picture of the Brooklynite who stuck a pose in front of the tourists and stood there giving them a right royal Windsor Wave the whole ten minutes the tour bus was idling in front of one of the world’s greatest museums that hardly anybody goes to. I must say, as a royal watcher from way back, that her form was spot-on: extra points for degree of difficulty (it was hot out there).
And then I went inside to keep a date with John Singer Sargent watercolors.
John Singer Sargent took his watercolor paints on his vacations and he dashed off pictures as keepsakes meant just for himself, not for sale. Sargent painted supremely tasteful oil paintings and would never have considered laundry a worthy subject for a painting, but on vacation it looks like he was intrigued by the patterns of shadows on white cloth and the haphazard zig-zag of clothesline that makes a quite jaunty composition:
The pictures are almost all about the same size, 14″ x 20″ (35cm x 50 cm). And yes, you are allowed to photograph as long as you don’t use flash.
I probably shouldn’t show them to you because this work makes all other watercolor, especially mine, look pathetic. You can tell that Sargent worked quickly because you can see how the paint seems to retain the gesture of the painter as he sweeps his brush to and fro and comes up with THIS:
Of course I was very interested in Sargent’s garden pictures:
In this Italian garden (below) I see that Sargent laid down an area of light green paint, on the left side of the picture and then painted dark green over it, painting the background over the foreground to make a small lemon tree:
His bold use of a heavy, opaque blue in this picture below is breathtaking:
There were a number of boat pictures too:
Again you can see how slap-dash his brush strokes are, and yet with all that rigging and roping Sargent never makes a single wrong slap or dash, and us, the viewers, are never confused or bothered by the busyness — it all makes perfect sense. Even the way he paints water, with those slashes of color, makes exquisite sense.
There is a 12 minute film shown at the exhibit of a painter named Monika de Vries Gohlke who narrates on Sargent’s use of color and brushstrokes as she copies his painting of a melon boat (below):
I thought it was the wrong choice of painting, in that it is almost abstract and it’s not that much fun to watch someone re-paint an abstract picture, so what she talks about is mostly how Sargent blends color, either on the paper or on his brush or by layering. She doesn’t tell why she chose this particular painting, maybe because she didn’t want to have to deal with the masterful structure or the awesome figures Sargent is capable of rendering with minimum amount of paint, but I admire her nerve (I would NEVER let someone film me trying to copy a Sargent!). If you are interested in seeing the film, click on this link here.
Venice is also a big subject in these watercolors. I liked this one (below) – even though half of this picture is filled with a large, brownish-grey form the total effect is deliciously delicate and atmospheric. How does he do it???
When he does complicated architecture, all he needs are a few pencil lines to indicate perspective and then he drops in the palest, lightest amount of color and voila:
This painting of the Alps (below) is mind-boggling. It’s a few swipes of blue and then some jumbled green washing into more blue and the result is genius:
There were 93 watercolors in all on exhibit, all from a 1909 show of watercolors that Sargent allowed to be shown in New York. He refused to sell them piece-meal; he wanted them sold as a collection. the Brooklyn Museum bought 83 painting for a little over $20,000, and the Boston Museum of Fine Art bought 45 for just over $10,000. In today’s money that equals about $750,000. This is the first time that these two institutions have collaborated on a joint exhibit. I’m glad Sargent got rich from his art. He deserved every penny.
I probably shouldn’t show you these pictures, either, because they are unbearably cute…but Top Cat was doing yard work last month and he left his shovel out by the shed. For some reason, Oscar (the Mayor of the backyard cats, having been keeping things in order on this block for 16 years, becoming part of our herd when his original people next door moved away three years ago) well, Oscar took a liking to this shovel:
These photos were taken over a three-week period:
Sixteen years is a good run, and when Oscar’s liver began to go wrong I am happy to say that he did not suffer through a long illness and we were able to make him comfortable in his last days, and for the first time in the ten years I’ve known him he let me hug him. Oscar passed away last Saturday, July 13, in the vet’s office with me scratching his head and saying his name and telling him that he was one of the best kitties ever. We buried his ashes under that bush, in the photo above, where he liked to snooze and keep an eye on garden tools.
I know that a lot of you reading this have been through the same thing with your own dear sweet kittens. That’s why I’m recommending a book written by a cat lover , the title of which is pretty much the theme of anyone who loves their furry friends:
I first read this book in 2001, when it came out, and loved it. It’s not morbid at all, but it is the story of finding meaning and healing in the heartbreak of loving these sweet critters, who we know we will outlive, but who we adore while knowing that we will have to be there for them when their time comes, knowing that we want to be there for them…it’s a strange thing we humans do to ourselves, isn’t it?, when we share our lives with companion animals. How brave, how noble, how foolish it is to make ourselves vulnerable to such hurt, over and over. In the end, it’s not too high a price to pay.
But you know that I can’t leave you on that note. Because Stacy Horn has a new book out, which I heard about four times so far on NPR, all about how to achieve psychological and physiological well being:
It’s a personal story as well as the story of the history and science of choral singing and why people need — crave — music in their lives. The book is getting rave reviews from the Wall Street Journal (!?) and People magazine and is a hot topic on NPR and other press that you can read on Amazon. Readers, I’d be interested to hear what you think of these books when we’ve all read them.
Stacy also has a blog where she posts pictures of her cats and in-depth digressions on the latest news in singing science, Sex and the City filming in her Greenwich Village neighborhood, and other oddball and wonderful happenings in New York City. You can catch up with her blog by clicking onto this link here.
Before I go, I have to tell you that this Venice watercolor by John Singer Sargent was sold at Christie’s auction house in November 2011:
The price was $842,500.
For my next Triscuit, dear reader Joan in Nevada wants me to copy this Sargent painting:
This is his famous Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. It’s a very large oil painting, property of the Tate Gallery in London. (Sargent was a bachelor — those girls are daughters of an artist friend of his.) I’m considering it…
But I leave you today with a tribute to our dear Oscar, with some of the herd he so ably watched over when he was Top Cat Emeritus in our backyard:
Have a great weekend.