Head of a Venetian Model, ca. 1880–81 (watercolor on paper)
This sensuous watercolor study of a young, dark-haired model is freely and boldly rendered. The head is fully realized, but the coral shawl is painted in broad emphatic strokes. The color of the shawl and the bright red of the model’s lips are echoed in delicate splashes of pink in the background washes.
The Onion Seller, ca. 1880-82 (oil on canvas)
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
A young woman dressed in a white blouse and skirt with a black shawl criss-crossed around her stands with a string of onions looped over her shoulder and a clutch of flowers in her right hand. She is realistically painted and there is nothing ingratiating in the way she faces the spectator, her gaze candid and disquieting. This painting is inscribed to Abel Lemercier, a medical doctor who was Sargent’s landlord in Paris in the early 1880s.
Woman in a Gondola, ca. 1880-81 (watercolor and pencil on paper)
A young woman reclining in a gondola and apparently abandoned to sleep is painted from above, the angle of the gondola steep and the perspective foreshortened. She is the only part of the composition that is fully realized and, swathed in black, she seems to float in surreal space, a figure of ineffable grace and mystery.
A Venetian Woman, ca. 1880-81 (oil on panel)
This oil sketch depicting a young woman in a white blouse, pink skirt and black shawl standing in the shabby hallway of an unidentified palazzo relates to several mysterious Venetian interiors that Sargent painted between 1880 and 1882. The shadowy scene is illuminated by diffuse light falling across the floor from a door on the left and by bright slabs of light from windows at the end of the passage.
An Interior in Venice, 1898 (oil on canvas)
Royal Academy of Arts, London
This conversation piece shows Sargent’s distant cousins Daniel and Ariana Curtis seated in the salone of their home, the Palazzo Barbaro, their son Ralph and his wife Lisa, who is pouring tea, are standing on the left. Light from the Grand Canal highlights the figures, while objects—the stuccoed and painted walls, a glass chandelier, gilded furniture—emerge from the encompassing darkness, endowing the scene with a sense of ghostly timelessness.
Campo Sant’ Agnese, Venice, 1882 (oil on canvas)
Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Massachusetts, Gift of Strafford Morss, in memory of his wife, Gabrielle Ladd Morss
Sargent is painting in the Campo Sant’ Agnese with the Church of Sant’ Agnese behind him. The building on the opposite side of the square is the former monastery of the Gesuati (now the Istituto Artigianelli) and, if one were to walk through the passageway on the right, one would find oneself on the Zattere. The square is empty except for the ornate Renaissance well-head in the middle and several black pails used for carrying water standing beside it. The scene is imbued with a sense of the past and of melancholy solitude.
Sortie de l’église, 1880-82 (ink on paper)
This pen and ink sketch of Sortie de l’Eglise was reproduced as a woodcut in the catalogue of the Société internationale de peintres et sculpteurs: première exposition, which opened at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris in December 1882. Two of the seven works that Sargent exhibited there are in the present show: the oil related to this sketch, Sortie de l’Eglise, and Street in Venice.
Sortie de l’église, Campo San Canciano, Venice, 1882 (oil on canvas)
Collection of Marie and Hugh Halff Jr.
This dates from one of Sargent’s first visits to Venice. The painting shows a group of figures in Campo San Canciano, in the area between SS. Apostoli and Santa Maria dei Miracoli, where the sottoportico and the wellhead are depicted very much as one still sees them today. The Venetian figures are part of the group of Venetian models which Sargent would use in his various visits to the city.
Venetian Canal, Palazzo Contarini degli Scrigni e Corfu, ca. 1880–81 (watercolor and pencil on paper)
This early watercolor describes the delicate Gothic façade of the Palazzo Contarini degli Scrigni on the Grand Canal. The architectural detail is meticulously drawn, the texture of the stone subtly realized and the reflected light on the broad expanse of water lucidly caught. The soft washes and restrained palette contribute to an image of exquisite and economical coolness.
Café on the Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice, ca. 1880-82 (watercolor on paper)
This witty vignette of contemporary life is of a kind rare in Sargent’s oeuvre. The scene is the old Café Orientale (now occupied by an extension to the Hotel Danieli), with the Ponte della Paglia, the facade of the Doge’s Palace, the Libreria and Piazzetta and the domes of the Salute receding gradually into the distance. The figures seated at the café on the Riva are described in lively smudges of black and brown pigment.
Venise par temps gris, ca. 1882 (oil on canvas)
This is the only panoramic cityscape that Sargent painted in Venice during his visits in the early 1880s. From a high viewpoint beyond the Rio dei Greci, the artist looks along the curve of the Riva towards the Doge’s Palace, the Campanile and the domes of the Salute describing the city’s street life with economic wit. The design is controlled and spare, but the handling is fluent and painterly and the tonal harmonies, the misty luminosity and opalescence, are exquisitely rendered.
Side Canal, 1880-81 (watercolor on paper)
A delicate atmospheric early watercolor study of an unidentified side canal painted in subtle washes of grey, brown, blue and green. The domestic architecture is unremarkable, but the high walls, the narrow aperture of the canal and the quiet palette breathe a sense of mystery and seclusion.
Palazzo Corner Contarini dei Cavalli, ca. 1904 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil)
The imposing façade and projecting balcony of this fifteenth century palace on the right of the Grand Canal in the San Luca area seem to loom majestically over the fictive spectator. The prominent mooring posts and the low viewpoint enhance the vertical emphasis of the composition.
Palazzo Grimani, ca. 1904 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil)
In describing the Palazzo Grimani from a low viewpoint at the corner of the Rio di San Luca, Sargent is able to create a sense of the sheer three-dimensional bulk and grandeur of the building, bathed in a golden light.
Palazzo Grimani, ca. 1904 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil)
Sargent, painting from his gondola in the Grand Canal, views the right side of the Palazzo Grimani. He is positioned close to the building and the band around its base with its Greek key motif, delineated with great delicacy and precision, is the salient feature of the composition.
Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Grande, ca. 1904 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil)
This dramatic slice of one of Sansovino’s great palaces fills the picture space. The acutely foreshortened perspective gives a dizzying view of the Corinthian capitals on the first storey and the Ionic capitals on the storey above.
The Rialto, Venice, ca. 1902-04 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil, with touches of gouache)
In this vertical composition, Sargent views the Rialto bridge at an acute angle and makes its considerable mass seem airy and insubstantial. He creates the illusion of movement by means of the blurred treatment of the stonework and the energetic action of the gondolier as he propels his craft loaded with produce under the bridge. This sense of speed is enhanced by Sargent’s flickering touch and nervy use of impasto.
The Libreria, ca. 1906-09 (oil on canvas)
This is the only oil Sargent painted of the Libreria and Piazzetta and it is an essay in painterly freedom. Compositional structure is provided by the artist’s gondola positioned assertively in the left foreground and by a single mooring post bisecting the picture on the right.
Wineshop, ca. 1903 (watercolor on paper)
This view of the interior of a wineshop shows a young man and an older man leaning casually against the bar, behind which a young boy is carefully pouring wine. The three figures, drawn with exquisite delicacy of touch, are alive with individual character. The scene is also remarkable for the effects of distilled light falling on the summarily drawn objects in the room.
The Rialto, Venice, ca. 1909 (oil on canvas)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, The George W. Elkins Collection, 1924
Sargent finds an innovative pictorial solution to the representation of a familiar site by concentrating on the cavernous but graceful arc of the underside of the Rialto bridge and contrasting this dark sweeping void with the golden façade of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi on the left and the flickering yellow reflections on stone on the right. Local traffic on the canal lends human interest to the monumentality of the design.
Under the Rialto, ca. 1909 (oil on canvas)
In This study of the underside of the Rialto bridge there is a contrast between the local life on the canal (a boy eating a peach reclines lazily in a sandolo in the foreground) and the life of the fashionable tourist (the two women in the gondola in the background are Sargent’s sister Emily and her friend Eliza Wedgwood).
Venetian Wineshop, ca. 1902 (oil on canvas)
In this study of four woman and a men sitting in a wineshop, Sargent reprises
the interest in local life he showed in his early Venetian studies. The scene is staged and the characters themselves models acting the part of local Venetian men and women. Much of the pictorial energy of the composition comes from the dramatic handling of light and shade.
The Sulphur Match, 1882 (oil on canvas)
Collection of Marie and Hugh Halff Jr.
This is unique amongst the artist’s Venetian paintings. Small in size and narrative in content, it evokes the atmosphere of a tavern. The painting shows a seated young woman leaning back against a wall as she looks flirtatiously at the young man lighting a cigarette. In the scene one can also see a bottle of wine and, in the lower left-hand corner, a broken glass. One of the few Venetian paintings to be dated, this is modern both in the relaxed pose of the figures and the atmosphere of calm intimacy. The title refers to the lit match held by the male figure.
Rococo Mirror, 1898 (oil on panel)
Collection of Cheryl Chase and Stuart Bear
A dark, mysterious study of a gilt-framed, eighteenth century mirror which is hung above an ornate gilded console table in an opulent and gracious palace interior. Elaborate stucco work and a grand chandelier reflected in the mirror are drawn with summary painterliness creating a scene that is redolent of style and atmosphere.
Studies of Venetian Male Models, ca. 1880-82 (pen and ink on paper)
Studies of Venetian Male Models, ca. 1880-82 (ink on paper,)
These pen and ink sketches show young male models wearing capes in different poses and from different angles. They are preliminary studies for several Venetian street scenes that Sargent painted in oil, which portray casual, ambiguous encounters between young men and women in narrow streets and alleyways, for example Street in Venice.
Venetian Women in the Palazzo Rezzonico, ca. 1880-81 (oil on canvas)
A group of women are standing, sitting or reclining in a desultory manner in a large deserted room. The room may be the Portego dei Dipinti on the second floor of the Ca’ Rezzonico with light flooding through the large, gracious windows from the Grand Canal. The mood is listless, the disposition of the figures apparently random, and the sense of disconnectedness between them makes the composition disconcertingly modern in tone.
Zattere, Spirito Santo and Scuola, ca. 1902-04 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil)
The artist is painting from a gondola in the Giudecca canal looking east along the Zattere with the campanile of St. Mark’s visible in the background beyond the masts of the barges. The building is the Scuola dello Spirito Santo: the golden-coloured arc appears to be a temporary structure linking the fondamenta to an unseen boat or pontoon.
Small Canal, Venice, ca. 1902-04 (watercolor on paper)
This unidentified side canal is framed at the top by the arc of a bridge. The canal is deserted, lined by shabby houses with laundry hanging from the windows: an untidy group of empty gondolas is moored at the left and a single sandolo hugs the curved wall on the right. The domestic architecture is unremarkable, but light renders the stonework golden and creates coloured reflections in the waters of the canal of pink and brown, green and blue.
Campo dei Gesuiti, ca. 1902-04 (watercolor on paper)
This is one of a small number of scenes of everyday Venetian life that Sargent painted during his later visits to Venice: the Campo dei Gesuiti in the northern area of the city, close to the Fondamenta Nuove. Sargent has positioned himself with the great Baroque façade of the church behind him and he concentrates on the expanse of the square with figures walking through it or standing around in a desultory manner.
Rio dell’Angelo, ca. 1902-04 (watercolor on paper)
Collection of Michael and Jean Antonello
Sargent is painting from his gondola (the prow of which occupies the left foreground) at the junction of the Rio dell’Angelo and the Rio di Palazzo with the cavana entrance to the Palazzo Soranza in front of him. There is very little incident in this secluded back canal, but the saturated pigment describing the gondola entrance and the unusually strong tonalities make for an arresting composition.
On the Steps of the Salute, ca. 1904 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil)
Sargent did numerous view of the Basilica della Salute on the Grand Canal: twelve watercolors and three oils. Viewing the scene from his gondola, the artist seems never to have tired of the play of light and color upon the baroque façade. This is probably one of the finest watercolors Sargent painted in Venice.
Venice, Zattere, ca. 1902-04 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil)
Sargent is painting from the Giudecca canal, describing a section of the Zattere, the lower part of the Church of Spirito Santo and the adjoining Scuola. The architecture and the water are rendered with great fluidity and the pale washes and use of the reserve contribute to an image of great translucency. There are notable highlights in the smudgy black figures and the single rusty mooring post isolated in the pale blue water.
Gondoliers’ Siesta, ca. 1904 (watercolor on paper)
This view of the Grand Canal is taken from a gondola at rest a short distance from Palazzo Contarini delle Figure. The atmosphere is of a certain intimacy; and the rich, saturated color, applied in loose wet washes, enhances the mood of languid afternoon repose.
The Piazzetta with Gondolas, ca. 1902-04 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil, with touches of gouache)
This horizontal, wide-angled view of the Libreria, the Piazzetta with the twin columns of the Lion of St. Mark and St. Theodore (cropped by the upper edge of the composition) and the Doge’s Palace, with the dome of St. Mark’s in the background, is rendered with painterly fluency. A sense of immediacy is introduced by the artist’s gondola jutting into the picture space on the left, the medley of gondolas lining the Molo and the distinctive white figure wittily highlighted against the dark archway of the Library loggia.
Gondolas off San Giorgio Maggiore, ca. 1902–03 (watercolor on paper)
This is one of the over twenty works which depict water traffic and fishing boats. Fascinated by ships and the sea since an early age, the artist would depict such subjects from the very start of his career. There are many works of marine subjects that date from the 1880s and 1890s, and Sargent’s interest in this theme would re-emerge in the 1900s. The artist was clearly intrigued here by the compositions formed of wooden crafts, masts and projecting spars caught between sky and choppy water; even though such works are rendered in large flowing brushstrokes, they capture details accurately. The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore emerges in the background from the mist in a suffused glow, like a color note by the British artist, J.M.W. Turner.
Santa Maria della Salute, ca. 1906-09 (watercolor on paper)
This composition depicts the Salute with its focus on the north-eastern side chapel. A sense of serenity and spaciousness is introduced by the unusually wide expanse of piazza and steps in the foreground. There is no incident to distract from the nobility of the architecture, which is bathed in a warm golden light.
On the Zattere, ca. 1902-04 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil)
This is a view of the Church of Spirito Santo and the Scuola next to it, looking east along the Zattere. The architecture of the Renaissance church is rendered in detail, the green door prominent, the graceful lines of the pilasters and pediments carefully drawn. Sargent’s gondolier, occupying the left foreground, brings figurative interest to the composition.
Corner of the Church of San Stae, ca. 1913 (oil on canvas)
The eighteenth-century Church of San Stae stands on the Grand Canal and is flanked by the small building of the Scuola dei Tiraoro e Battioro (Guild of Goldsmiths). Sargent here uses a very unusual vantage point for his picture: a boat tied up on the San Stae canal that runs perpendicular to the Grand Canal. As a result, his painting catches the morning light falling across the marble surfaces and columns of the church facade seen in juxtaposition with the compact red of the guild building.
San Stae, Venice, ca. 1913 (atercolor on paper over preliminary pencil)
This unfinished watercolor shows the exuberant Baroque Church of San Stae and the modest Rococo of the Scuola dei Tiraoro e Battioro (Guild of Goldsmiths) in a similar arrangement and with similar proportions to those in no. 53. The vertical emphasis is also similar suggesting that this work may have been conceived as a study for the finished oil.
The Church of San Stae, ca. 1907-13 (oil on canvas)
In this horizontal study of the Church of San Stae, the Baroque mass and decorative richness of the church dominate the composition, overwhelming the less architecturally ambitious façade of the adjacent Scuola, which seems barely to peep out from behind the front elevation of the church.
The Piazzetta and the Doge’s Palace, ca. 1902-07 (watercolor on paper)
Sargent uses a wet-in-wet technique to represent this sliced view across Mint, the Libreria, the Piazzetta with the columns of St. Theodore and the Lion of St. Mark and the Doge’s Palace. He describes the graceful tiers of the Libreria and the delicate Gothic tracery of the Doge’s Palace with summary suggestion, creating an image of airy impressionistic lightness.
The Libreria, Venice, ca. 1902-04 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil)
This architectural fragment describes the upper section of the Libreria in a cool, elegant palette. The composition is abruptly cropped and the sculptures atop the library balustrade and the statue of St. Theodore are emphatically truncated.
Venice, The Libreria, ca. 1902-04 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil, with touches of gouache)
This is a view of the Piazzetta painted from the Bacino. The Libreria and the Doge’s Palace are sharply cropped on the left and right respectively and St. Mark’s is visible beyond the column of St. Theodore, which is just to the right of centre. The cool, pale tones of the foreground architecture contrast with the dark oily green of the water and with the golden hues of the dome of the Basilica.
Santa Maria del Carmelo and the Scuola Grande dei Carmini, 1910 (oil on canvas)
Sharon and Jay Rockefeller
Sargent is painting from the Campo dei Carmini, depicting an oblique, fragmentary view of the relatively plain church façade of Santa Maria del Carmelo on the right of the composition and contrasting it with a smaller slice of the Scuola dei Carmini, which is denser in its architectural organization and detail. He is intrigued by the hinge of visual experience, by the pictorial possibilities that emerge when there is a collision of period, style or scale.
Behind the Salute, ca. 1904-09 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil with touches of gouache)
This watercolor was painted from the Giudecca canal and it is a scene of working Venice. The bow of a bragozzo, a working barge, occupies the left foreground and two black schooners are moored by the Zattere. The great domes and towers of the Salute are partly obscured by the network of masts, spars and rigging that creates a complicated surface pattern of intricate and intersecting lines.
La Dogana, ca. 1904-07 (watercolor on paper over preliminary pencil)
This freely rendered watercolor depicts a scene in intense sunlight, the bright blues of the canal, sky and costume contrasting with the dazzling white of architecture, hull and sails. The artist is painting from the gondola in the Giudecca canal; the upper body of his gondolier, who is at rest or asleep in the craft, occupies the foreground, a white yacht shimmers in the middle ground and the Dogana, the Venetian Customs House, stands sentry in the background.
Boats, Venice, ca. 1904-09 (watercolor on paper)
Several white boats are moored in the water in bright sunlight. In the lower part of the composition, coloured reflections from the limpid waters shimmer on the hulls of the boats while, in the upper portion of the composition, masts and spars create a complicated and intricate surface pattern.
Venice, Sunset, ca. 1902-04 (watercolor on paper)
This blurred, evocative view of Venetian boats was painted from Sargent’s gondola (the round mauve objects in the foreground are the cushions at the back of the passenger seats). It is evening and, in the low, fading light, the boats merge into a subtle semi-abstract pattern of soft browns and mauves.
Sketching on the Giudecca, ca. 1904 (watercolor on paper)
Private collection; on extended loan to the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff
Sargent’s friend, Wilfrid de Glehn and his wife Jane are seated in a gondola in the Giudecca canal. Wilfrid, under the shade of a canopy, is sketching and Sargent, who does not appear in the composition, is clearly also sketching. His presence, however, is implied by the prow of the gondola on the left, which is tied to one of the long ropes sweeping across the foreground.
Scuola di San Rocco, ca. 1902-04 (watercolor on paper with touches of gouache)
This is a view of a section of the Renaissance Scuola di San Rocco, showing the lower portion of the side elevation and the graceful loggia overlooking the Rio della Frescada. The dramatic red walls and the pale stonework of the Scuola contrast with the greenish waters of the canal and pale mauvish shadows on the stonework.
Venice and Sargent. Sargent’s visits to Venice fall within a wide period of time, from 1870 to 1913; the first visit came immediately after Venice’s annexation by the Kingdom of Italy and the last fell just before the First World War. These forty-odd years saw radical changes in the city. No longer stricken by the poverty of the post-annexation period, Venice had become the gilded playground of the beau monde and the international adventurers associated with it; the decaying, neo-Byzantine city of D’Annunzio now exercised the technological fantasies of the Futurists. The place was not only home to such men as Luigi Nono, Ettore Tito, Alessandro Milesi, Bartolomeo Bezzi and Riccardo Selvatico, it also attracted international figures of the standing of Mariano Fortuny and Marcel Proust. Significant works by some of the leading Venetian artists of the day, the pictures on display here illustrate this period in the city’s cultural history. At the same time, they provide an insight into the role that Sargent himself may have had in it. Largely due to the exertions of the above-mentioned Riccardo Selvatico, a poet who also served as the city’s major, 1895 would see the first Biennale, an event that quickly became a symbol of the modern Venice. All of the artists displayed here took part in these exhibitions, with Sargent himself being a very welcome participant. He was already a member of the Committee of Patrons for the second Biennale in 1897, where he exhibited two works and was described by the official catalogue as being “America’s foremost portrait painter.” Almost up to the First World War he would continue to take part in the Venice exhibition, showing work in 1899 (when again he was on the Committee of Patrons), in 1901, 1903, 1907, 1909 and 1910. This extensive presence at the event reveals the high-standing in which he was held by the Biennale, where he was considered the exponent of a representatively-modern school of art that was both American and cosmopolitan. However, whilst Sargent undoubtedly influenced the Venetian portrait painters of his day, it cannot be ruled out that they themselves had an influence on his work.