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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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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Of course I was very interested in Sargent’s garden pictures:

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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:

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His bold use of a heavy, opaque blue in this picture below is breathtaking:

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There were a number of boat pictures too:

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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.

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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):

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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???

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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These photos were taken over a three-week period:

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And this is the last picture I took of Oscar and his friend, Mr. Shovel, on July 9th:P1180869

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:

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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:

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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:

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The price was $842,500.

For my next Triscuit, dear reader Joan in Nevada wants me to copy this Sargent painting:

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885-6 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925

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:

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Have a great weekend.

32 comments to I Probably Shouldn’t Show You this…

  • Carol

    Oh, Vivian! I am glad Oscar got to stay with you. HUGS for you and Top Cat. Whew! It sure hurts. I have always enjoyed the story of how you got to view Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose at the Tate. How many people can say that!!! But for sheer pleasure I prefer my personal copy of the Catalogy Certificate. I hope Penelope and the gang are keeping you close company today.

  • Hi, Vivian — I was scrolling down quickly before my meeting planning to come back and comment, but when I saw about Oscar, I had to at least send you my hugs right now. I think he was a lucky boy and your tribute to him is beautiful. So handsome. You are right in knowing many of us have been through the same — today is Stimpy Croope Remembrance Day, and of course there is one for Gypsy Rose, too… we know they get easier but there is a part of the heart that is never completely filled, no matter what other enchanting feline comes along… I’ll be back to read the art part soon… ~jeanie

  • Jen A.

    You surprised me with the sad turn of the story about Oscar and the shovel. A tear still hangs from the side of my nose, waiting to fall into my lousy store-brand everything bagel. I’m glad you were with Oscar and helped him leave this world. Sorry you lost a friend.

    Wow – those Sargent watercolors are amazing! The works you showed here remind me of a quote I copied down while visiting the Smith College Museum of Fine Art in Northampton, MA. I’m kind of paraphrasing from the scribble I jotted in my tiny composition notebook. “The object[that one paints]is a tool, like the brush and paint are tools, for getting at the light.” – Janet Fish Clearly, Sargent got that concept, deeply.

    Love how you captured the unique expressions of your kitties.

  • I am sorry about your kitty.:(
    You chose the perfect little rest area for him.

    I love the works you have introduced us to today ..a master to say the very least.
    Unimaginable to have so much talent.
    I find my mom had that kind of talent:)
    Truly..

    The triscuit w/ the ear sticking out wanting to be scratched….dear.

  • Wendy

    Oh, dear Oscar and all our dear furry friends. I so know what it’s like…I’ll have to get Stacy Horn’s book. I love the title, love the cover. And I’m a bit morbid, so it sounds like it’s right up my alley. The singing book looks intriguing. Will check that out, too.
    Thank you for taking me to Brooklyn to see the Sargent watercolors. I wonder if JSS had a cat?

  • Cheryl

    So sorry about Oscar. Pets bring such a specialness to our lives. To quote the journalist Hannah Hinchman as she talks about her dog in her book “Little Things in a Big Country”: “I don’t know what I add to her experience–she amplifies mine beyond reckoning.”. And that is what pets do.

    Thank you for including JSS’s painting of the cottage near the sea (the title escapes me right now). I saw a print of that in a summer home I was renting–and found it captivating. It is the simplicity of his strokes and the use of the blue shadows that I love.

  • Deborah Farrell

    Vaya con dios, Oscar. Sixteen is a good, long life, but it’s never long enough with the comfort creatures (pets/familiars, whatever we care to call them), is it? Of course you used that shovel to bury his ashes, right?

    I’ve always enjoyed Sargent’s oil paintings — he does light like almost no one else, and now I love his watercolors, too. Philistine that I am, I don’t focus on the brush strokes, so being guided to do so brings me to a whole new level of appreciation for his work.

    Seeing the Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose painting in one of your previous posts inspired me to buy a dozen or so solar Japanese-style lanterns and hang them in my garden. It is enchanting to see them glow at night.

    I am writing this from Sequim, WA where I’ll be toddling off to the Lavender Festival in a couple of hours. Since it was 100+ degrees when I left Louisville, I didn’t pack a jacket. Wishing I knew where you bought your Seattle fleece. It’s delightfully cool here.

  • Thank you so much for posting about my books, but oh god, the pictures of Oscar with the shovel and knowing how it ends. It’s so unbearable. His love of the shovel (and you leaving it out for him) was just too sweet and now he’s gone. I’m glad you got a hug in.

  • Joan

    OH SO Lucky you to get to see the merging of the entire collection of JSS. I am so envious. He’s my favorite painter, hands down. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose never fails to take my breath away. So lovely.

    Oscar! What a sweet tribute to the Mayor of Swift Mews! Heartbreaking to have them leave us. I know my precious Kitter Pie will be there to welcome Oscar to the Rainbow Bridge. I’m still not over the loss of that little bad boy Abby cat and probably never will be. I’m so glad Oscar had you for a refuge.
    The shovel guardian pix are priceless. RIP Oscar.

  • The Seattle Art Museum had a Sargeant exhibit some years back with the whole range of his work — drawings, watercolors, oils — and I absolutely loved the watercolors the best. I do hope you try the copy!

    My condolences on the loss of Oscar. How well I know the emotional upheavals of pet love and loss! I found this quote perfect (you can easily put “cat” instead of “dog” in it):

    “You can’t replace one dog with another any more than you can replace one person with another, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t get more dogs and people in your life. Even though no one you love is replaceable, you need a dog for the dog place in the heart…”
    –from One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath

    And you always need cats for the cat place in your heart.

  • Lorrine

    I know that book! I got Waiting for my Cats to Die about five years ago, a gift from another cat lady. So interesting. And now a singing book. I’ll have to order that one.

    Rest in love, sweet Oscar. Flights of angles sing you to your rest.

  • NJ Nadia

    Another journey, from art to life to inspiration. Loved the Sargent exhibit … Alexandra is right: there will never be another cat to take the Oscar place in your heart but I know your heart is big enough to welcome other cats .. Stacy Horn is right: singing will make you feel joyous in spite of the hardships that afflict us in life.

    Thank you for the art, for the cat philosophy, for the book recommendation. I trust your judgement in all these things.

  • Susie

    What a sweet/sad time, seeing Oscar with ‘his’ shovel and then reading that he’s with you no more. Getting to 16 is a testament to the good care you gave him, especially his last years.
    We also have a bush right near the corner of the house with kitty remains resting quietly under it. It’s the place Marcel liked to sleep outside. I still get teary when I’m in the yard and know he’s there even after 4 years. He was one special cat among cats.

    Thank you for the John Singer Sargent eye candy. How was it being able to see, in person, each stroke of his brush? I’m always amazed at how different a painting is seeing it up close instead of in a photograph. It’s easy to get lost absorbing the brushwork….

    Can’t wait for your Triscuit, it will be beautiful with your flair.

    Off to get my copy of that book, too.

    Stay cool, (temperature cool- you’re already COOL!)it’s been so stinkin’ hot!

  • Patricia

    I was just thinking about my little kitty Agatha(8 lb, all black and a mommy’s girl) while looking at produce. To understand that, you have to know she LOVED cantelope. I found out the hard way one morning when I spotted her doing a face plant in my slice. After that she always got her own. She’s been gone many years now but cantelope still make me smile when I think how happy it made her… may you always remember how happy Oscar was with his shovel.

  • Hard to say goodbye to our fur friends but you gave him a great life. RIP dear Oscar. I love those shovel pix he really did have a thing for it. lol A lovely tribute to him. Sargent is one of my all time favorite painters/Artists. I got to see some of his work in person in LA in California years ago. I think my favorite is also the lantern painting.Its just lovely.

  • Vivian

    Hi Deborah –
    Yes, we used Oscar’s favorite shovel to bury him under his bush. And we still haven’t had the heart to put the shovel away.
    I can barely imagine a place in the USA where a fleece jacket would be necessary but good for you! You’ve found the one cool corner! I bought my Seattle jacket at the great Pike Place Market. It comes in all colors, even lavender. I feel cooler just thinking about the great northwest!
    Vivian

  • Constant Comment

    As always, I never know what kind of traveling we’ll be doing with you. Whew, this one roamed far and wide.

    I do know what it is to say good-bye to a dear companion so I wish you and Top Cat all the best and to treasure those dear memories.

    And then I want a John singer Sargent watercolor, soon as I scrape $842,500 together. Wish I had a great grand parent who had bought a few of those dashed-off paintings a hundred years ago.

    What a writer, what a range, from cats to choral singing. I have to check this out. Love the book advice as much as the painting tips — thanks1

  • Deb mattin

    I just love the picture if Oscar resting his sweet little face on his shovel. Hope he’s found a new favorite in Kitty Heaven. Sorry for your loss – seems that he had a good run and you were able to help him at the end when he needed you to make that hard decision in his best interest.

    On a lighter note, the Brooklynite doing the royal wave is a hoot!! We call it the Miss America Wave in our family and trot it out whenever we want to mock someone who’s putting on airs.

    Love all the John Sargent photos and commentary. Guess One can make paintings with apparent abandon IF one has talent! My reckless abandon work looks like just a wreck. Eager to see your triscuit.

  • so much to comment on… i still have tears in my eyes for your sweet oscar. i love the shovel montage… but what i love most is you took him in and stayed with him until the end. i have too many sr cats right now, so my nerves are raw at any goodbyes, we buried my 20 year old cat not all that long ago, i have 3 over 16 i worry about all to often. i will look for that book, not sure if i am up for reading it, it already makes me feel weepy…

    i loved our art lesson today, its such a delight learning about artists from artists~

    joan made an excellent suggestion, i love that painting!

    wonderful brady bunch finale, its nice to end with a smile~

  • Laura

    The fact that JSS painted those warercolors for his own personal mementos makes them all the more authentic to his pure artistic voice. These were not client-based works, per se. What he chose to paint and how he chose to approach the subject and experiment with the media is fascinating to me and a very special lesson to share. Seeing watercolor in person is a richer experience than in print or on screen. (This includes yours, VS) It’s the mat and pebbled paper surface that I miss. Thank you for describing what you saw in the exhibition. You are a wonderful blog docent!
    The primal need for humans to vocalize together is well worth examining. Have yu heard the NPR story about Choir! Choir! Choir! Night at a pub in Toronto? It is not karaoke. It is a gathering open to anyone who wants to show up and sing along, sheet music provided. Have any readers gone to this? I’ll look for it in Sara’s book.
    My sincerest condolences to you at the passing of your noble Oscar.

  • Laura

    So sorry, I meant STACY’S book. I apologize.

  • Sally

    Dear Vivian,

    I am sorry to hear about Oscar. Pets hold a special place in our heart, and leave a special kind of hole when they leave us. Clearly he had a good run with you.

    Wonderful that you have seen the Sargent exhibit! I can’t wait for it to come to Boston; he’s my painting hero. He was one of those artists who, with a stroke here and a bit of shadow there, could create an elevated type of reality. HIs work teaches me about “proper viewing distance”–with his often nearly abstract stokes, the painting doesn’t mean anything until you back away and, SNAP, there it is.

    The series of paintings he made of ladies painting in the Simplon, in their white dresses, is particularly wonderful. There is one, in Harvard’s collection, that gives me a good laugh (and another lesson): to ensure that he has given sufficient form to the puffy white bodice of one of his ladies, he has drawn lightly in pencil an outline of her anatomy UNDER her dress–simple circles representing a breast and even a nipple! There is a print of another painting from that series in the room where I get my mammographies, but, alas, not THAT painting!

    And THANK YOU for the heads up on the book about choral singing! I am a choral singing junkie and twice a week in season get a fix. I will share this title with my co-junkies. I have just run across a bit of research from Scandinavia that suggests that when people sing together, not only do their heart rates slow, but their hearts begin to beat together! (The study is slightly flawed, but intriguing; certainly breathing affects heart rate. I have hopes that this bears out).

    Wishing for you the comfort of your family, fans, and friends, human and otherwise.

    Sally

  • Art lessons, book reviews and sweet cats. That’s why I keep coming back here :) Very sorry to hear about Oscar.

  • Carly

    What Marguerite said. Thanks you for the Saturday round-up.

    Oscar was indeed a handsome cat. I’m glad you were there for him, and Top Cat too.

    Brushstrokes! Yes! Now I see them!

  • I’m crying about Oscar. I love his romance with the shovel.
    Of course I’ve been through it many times and it doesn’t get easier. But it’s still worth it. I’m going to order that book.
    Barbara

  • Melissa

    The Sargent watercolors are amazing, hope to get to see them in person someday. I loved your cat story, and the photos of your Oscar. I have one for you: http://theslipcover.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-story-of-beatrice.html

  • chris w.

    Pretty existential your fearless kitty, ..perhaps examining the very tool that would help bury him someday. Just like in Hamlet. If only we took that kind of time, we could relax about it more too.

  • janet bellusci

    friday morning was spent traveling back from NYC and i didn’t get to your wonderful post until sunday a.m. (not a bad way to start a sunday!)

    BROOKLYN:i have always ADORED sargent, and love that you gave me a tour of this exhibit. genius is certainly the word for his talent, and i could look at his paintings forever. the ‘windsor wave’ woman got me my first laugh of this FINALLY COOL morning. merci~

    OSCAR: how dear was your oscar…i’m sad he’s gone, but happy he had such a great life, as mayor, and that he had his final segment with you, top cat and that shovel. i am giving my furry friend, mushy farrenkopf, an extra kiss and hug this morning.

    READS: finally, this retired librarian appreciates your book (and blog) suggestions ~ always looking for another read, and the ones you’ve selected this week look wonderful. again, vivian, thank you!

  • Tracey

    I’m glad you go to see the watercolors. I’ve always preferred them to the portraits. This was such an amazing collection of his best ones. My favorites are “Gourds” and the ones from Villa Marly.

    I’m sorry to read about Oscar. I’m glad he could spend his last days with his favorite shovel. My favorite cat died two years ago and I kept his Drinkwell fountain with the tray that it sat on. He spent the last two years sleeping on/next to the fountain, and would meow if the filter wasn’t changed every two days.

  • Nicole

    Oh, I love Sargent’s watercolors. I am envious of his ability to draw figures and faces, especially the figures of the young soldiers sunbathing. Maybe I should plan a trip back east… maybe later in the year when it cools down a bit.

    Thank you for the book recommendation. I’ve got a tiny old lady cat, she’s a wobbly 17yo bag of bones, but still eating and drinking and interested. She sits in my lap for hours each day (how can I refuse an old lady some comfort?) and asks for food every 2 hours or so. Good thing I’m retired! When she goes, she’ll be the third one in the last 10 years. It doesn’t get any easier to watch them be ill, or get old. I keep thinking I won’t get another, but …

  • Jeannie

    My condolences on Oscar’s passing. I am so happy that he found your home and was loved. Loosing our fur-panions is so difficult, but knowing that they passed with little pain and much love eases the heart – a little.
    I didn’t realize Stacie Horn of the singing book was the same Stacie Horn of the cat book!!! I loved the cat book. It has helped me accept death of my pals and to be okay with letting them drift off to forever sleep with assistance. My husband sings barbershop in a chorus and quartet. When I read a review about the book, it went on my list for future gifts for him. Thanks for pointing out the connection. He may not have to wait until December now to read it! :)
    Sargent’s paintings are amazing. I have only seen them in books, but have always been fascinated in his ability to paint reflections and light so convincingly. Does he leave areas of the canvas white – sans paint – to achieve that effect? I love the lady’s dress. You can almost feel the drape of the fabric. The clothes line is fantastic! I see I am going to have to do some research. Thanks!

  • Back again to read the rest of the post — seeing Oscar rather stole my heart away last time.

    I loved the kitty tribute to all your gang. Indeed, they are dear. Try as I may, I can’t draw a cat (except from the rear, sitting). Keep trying…

    How I love Sargent and there was a bit of envy that you got to enjoy every one of these first hand, up close and personal. Sigh. I must confess that my favorite (Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose) isn’t there, but so many fabulous ones — I loved the gardens and Venice particularly.

    Thanks for the recommendation of the books — one to get for a friend, the other for me (maybe both for me). As a Community Sing proponent, I’m eager to see what she has to say! Happy day to you. And again, hugs for Oscar.

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