Monday, April 29, 2013

Today's Sketches

Waiting for the Train

Marc Cancassi erforming at Flushing Library

Dozing off on Subway

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sketch: A Geek at SW Florida International Airport

Hi, Friends:

I am now in New York City. The weather is perfect, cool and comfortable. As soos as I settle down, I'll get to work. When I was waiting for my flight yesterday, I grabbed the sketch above. A fellow passenger was working on his computer or ipad. Later he signed on it for me. I did another one but didn't have the opportunity to complete because the subject left before I could finish. Not a very productive day.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Portrait and Sketches


Oil Sketch: Donna


I went to Punta Gorda VAC Portrait Studio this morning and I did a full profile. As a matter of fact, the profile was an accident, not the way I meant to paint the portrait in the first place. In the beginning, I set my easel at an angle of about 45 degrees. However, when I was back from my trip to the storage to get some paper towel, my view was blocked. A gentleman who tried to make room for a lady artist had moved into the line of my vision.


He was a real gentleman. Almost everytime when we had a female model for the portrait session, he always offered to help her step down the footrest with a stretched arm when the time came for a break. However, this morning, his gentlmanly demeanor caused me problems and I had to relocate my easel. By then, the only place left was the side, close to the wall. I had to paint the model through the space between the wall and lamppost.
Recently this gentleman has become a pain in my ass. I don't mean that I was offended by his gentlemanliness. Of course, not. The problem is that: He was a Punta Gorda local resident. Each Thursday he was often the first one who arrived at the VAC. There was nothing wrong with coming earlier and picking a good spot to paint. Nevertheless, he always set up his easel so close to the model that he could almost count the freckles on the model's face if he/she had any. In a professional studio everybody has to keep a distance of around 12 feet from the model so that more people are able to see and paint. In FGCU painting class, 20-30 people had only one model and we had to think of other people. When this gentleman and some other early birds set their easels like that, they limited usable space in the room because in a fanning projection, they blocked enormous space behind them out of vision.
Interestingly, he didn't paint from the model. I noticed most of the time he took pictures of the model with his camera first and then painted from the camera. Most people took pictures with camera because they wanted to add more details when they went home and the model was no more available. It didn't bother me if someone wanted to paint from his camera while the real model was yards away, strange to me, though. What bothered me was the fact that, sometimes, after break, while everybody was ready to resume painting, the gentleman would stand either in front of, or by the side of, the model and keep chatting with him or her. Last week, I reminded him: "Excuse me..., but everybody is ready to resume." He was so concentrated on talking that he didn't hear me or other artists' laughing but kept chatting. One of the artists laughed and said to me, "You should have yelled at him." When his talk was finally over, the model apologized to us. Could you believe there are people who could be so self-centered?
Before I left VAC today, I ran into Michele, who thanked me for my donation of the John Sargent's replica. I talked to her about what had happened and made some suggestions. No matter how much professionalism we needed at VAC, we had to have some courtesy and think of others. She agreed to see to it.

Jon in Class

Harley, Kevin, and Carl
The two sketches above are what I did in last week's painting class.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Plein Air Oil Sketch: A Moss-Draped Little House by the Caloosahatchee River

The weather was perfect this morning, low humidity with the temperature around 70 degrees. I drove to Alva. About 30 feet down the road facing the viewer was a boat ramp to the Caloosahatchee. The little house behind the fence nestled under the foliage of the woods. It was very quiet except for two leashed dogs barking in the backyard.

I learned something else today. In addition to the bug repellent sprayed to my arms, I did my shoes and the easel with Home Defence, so no mosquitoes or ants came to interfere with my painting today.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Plein Air: An Inflatable Boat on Dry Land

In the past week, I had been tinkering with a new guerrilla easel because the one I had was too low to stand and paint. I didn't have problem sitting while painting. The problem was, sometimes, I had to stand to paint the view. Finally it was completed this morning and I was eager to put it to test. This afternoon, after lunch, I drove to Owl Creek Boatyard. There were quite a few  yatches on the dock. I happened to see a small inflatable boat on the grass. At boatyard, people simply called it Zodiac boat because of the name brand. My gurerrilla easel worked pretty well. When I finished painting, I took a picture of the easel with the scene in the background. Now you know that I am a faithful realist artist.

You couldn't see very clearly, but only part of the triangle cloth tied to the three legs of the tripod under the paint box. I call it my guerrilla easel bikini, or monokini, whatever. It is very useful. When it is windy, I can add something heavy to wiegh down the easel in order to make it stable. Especially when I use the umbrella, strong wind could blow the easel off the ground. If it is not windy, you may use the space for anything.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Natural Grace in Landscape and Human Figure

Rediscovery of Glenn Dean

I am indebted to Matthew D. Innis because his blog ( helped me realize that the humongous electronic art world could provide for not only a handy museum of all the masterpieces of art, classic and contemporary, but also for urgent information I needed to teach myself how to paint. In his recent post, he introduced Glenn Dean. I came across Dean's artworks online before and felt they were good but, maybe because I was rushing through and didn't stop to ponder on them, I didn't see the most valuable qualities of his works. Today I did some research and found there is a lot for me to learn from him. I could tell how the spiritual element of 19th Century American landscape classics have influenced his principle in landscape painting. In his own words, he tries to "honor The Creator" in his landscape painting. Even though we don't have rugged mountains, big sky, or vast desert in Florida as he depicts in his paintings of New Mexico, I believe Florida is beautiful in its own way and it is up to us to find the spiritual element or, to my mind, the human sensitive resonance in response to natural beauty. Dean's small-size on-the-location sketches have especially inspired my interpretation of painting Florida. I posted some of his paintings here including his portrait made by Jeremy Lipking, another contemporary artist whom I admire.

Discovery of Sergey Marshinnekov

Yesterday one of my artist friends in China introduced to me by E-mail a contemporary Russian artist Sergey Marshinnekov's figure paintings. I had not heard of him before. His works are stunning. Like in Glenn Dean's landscape paintings, I think Marshinnekov has also discovered the natural grace in figure painting. He is obviously a master in expressing the gracefulness and softness of femininity side by side with the softness of fabrics. His figure paintings are different from Jeremy Lipking's, Jacob Colins's or Zhaomin Wu's. They seem to have a touch of Pino. I have them copied here for you to see.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Oil Portrait Sketch: Ron

Ron, Oil 16 x 20
The above portrait sketch is what I did this morning at Punta Gorda Portrait Studio. Our model Ron is one of our portrait group but I had not seen him for a while till he posed for us today. I heard that he has recently become an archery master. I am glad he didn't forget our portrait group. He is a happy guy to hang around with. Good luck, Ron, in the art of archery.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Oil Sketch: Country Road

The location is the intersection of 4th Terr. and Wheeler Road. I went there around 5 PM and meant to paint into the effect of evening. However, it was still very light. Even though there is a road sign at the intersection, as a matter of fact, what your eyes could see was all about the road. Further down it could only be called a trail in woods. I guess it was planned by the local government for development when the realty industry was booming in the good old days in this area. For now there was only one family living by the roadside. The owner had his property fenced in to raise horses and some big birds. They were orstriches or emus. I was unable to tell their differences. The sketch took a little more than an hour and went pretty smoothly. I was glad I finished it before the rain storm could catch me.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

My Donation for Punta Gorda VAC's John Singer Sargent Art Festival

Spanish Dancer
Acrylic on Canvas, 16 x 20
Punta Gorda VAC has a very good tradition. Each year artists there pick a master in history and make replicas of the master's major works. Then they hold an art show and later try to sell the paintings on auction. The money from the art sale is used to support the cost of managing the art center. It was Claude Monet last year. This fall the master they have chosen will be John Singer Sargent. As a member I think I should show my support for the center. Therefore, I made this replica of Sargent's Spanish Dancer. He is one of my favorite figure artists.
By the way,  I have John Singer Sargent's teaching notes. They help me alot. I am copying below. Help yourself, if you are interested.
John Singer Sargent's Teaching Notes
When Mr. John Collier was writing his book on The Art of Portrait Painting he asked John Singer Sargent
for an account of his methods. Sargent replied:
As to describing my procedure, I find the greatest
difficulty in making it clear to pupils, even with the palette
and brushes in hand and with the model before me; to
serve it up in the abstract seems to me hopeless.
With the assistance, however, of two of his former pupils, Miss Heyneman and Mr. Henry Haley, it is
possible to obtain some idea of his methods.
When he first undertook to criticize Miss Heyneman's work he insisted that she should draw from models
and not from friends.
If you paint your friends, they and you are chiefly concerned
about the likeness. You can't discard a canvas
when you please and begin anew -- you can't go on
indefinitely until you have solved a problem.
He disapproved (Miss Heyneman continues) of my palette and brushes. On the palette the paints had not
been put out with any system.
You do not want dabs of color, you want plenty of paint to
paint with.
Then the brushes came in for derision.
No wonder your painting is like feathers if you use these.
Having scraped the palette clean he put out enough paint so it seemed for a dozen pictures.
Painting is quite hard enough without adding to your
difficulties by keeping your tools in bad condition. You
want good thick brushes that will hold the paint and that
will resist in a sense the stroke on the canvas.
He then with a bit of charcoal placed the head with no more than a few careful lines over which he passed
a rag, so that is was a perfectly clean grayish colored canvas (which he preferred), faintly showing where
the lines had been. Then he began to paint. At the start he used sparingly a little turpentine to rub in a
general tone over the background and to outline the head (the real outline where the light and shadow
meet, not the place where the head meets the background), to indicate the mass of the hair and the tone of
the dress. The features were not even suggested. This was a matter of a few moments. For the rest he
used his color without a medium of any kind, neither oil, turpentine or any other mixture.
The thicker you paint, the more color flows.
He had put in this general outline very rapidly, hardly more than smudges, but from the moment that he
began really to paint, he worked with a kind of concentrated deliberation, a slow haste so to speak, holding
his brush poised in the air for an instant and then putting it just where and how he intended it to fall.
To watch the head develop from the start was like the sudden lifting of a blind in a dark room. Every stage
was a revelation. For one thing he often moved his easel next to the sitter so that when he walked back
from it he saw the canvas and the original in the same light, at the same distance, at the same angle of
vision. He aimed at once for the true general tone of the background, of the hair, and for the transition
tone between the two. He showed me how the light flowed over the surface of the cheek into the
background itself.
At first he worked only for the middle tones, to model in large planes, as he would have done had the head
been an apple. In short, he painted as a sculpture models, for the great masses first, but with this
difference that the sculptor can roughly lump in his head and cut it down afterwards, while the painter, by
the limitations of his material, is bound to work instantly for an absolute precision of mass, in the color
and outline he intends to preserve.
Economy of effort in every way, he preached, the sharpest self-control, the fewest strokes possible to
express a fact, the least slapping about of purposeless paint. He believed, with Carolus Duran, that
painting was a science which it was necessary to acquire in order to make of it an art.
You must draw with your brush as readily, as unconsciously
almost as you draw with your pencil.
He advised doing a head for a portrait slightly under life-size, to counteract the tendency to paint larger
than life. Even so he laid in a head slightly larger than he intended to leave it, so that he could model the
edges with and into the background.
The hills of paint vanished from the palette, yet there was no heaviness on the canvass: although the
shadow was painted as heavily as the light, it retained its transparency.
If you see a thing transparent, paint it transparent; don't
get the effect by a thin strain showing the canvas
through. That's a mere trick. The more delicate the
transition, the more you must study it for the exact tone.
The lightness and certainly of his touch was marvelous to behold. Never was there any painter who could
indicate a mouth with more subtlety, with more mobility, or with keener differentiation. As he painted it,
the mouth bloomed out of the face, an integral part of it, not, as in the great majority of portraits, painted
on it, a separate thing. He showed how much could be expressed in painting the form of the brow, the
cheekbones, and the moving muscles around the eyes and mouth, where the character betrayed itself most
readily: and under his hands, a head would be an amazing likeness long before he had so much as
indicated the features themselves. In fact, it seemed to me the mouth and nose just happened with the
modeling of the cheeks, and one eye, living luminous, had been placed in the socket so carefully prepared
for it (like a poached egg dropped on a plate, he described the process), when a clock in the neighborhood
struck and Mr. Sargent was suddenly reminded that he had a late appointment with a sitter. In his
absorption he had quite forgotten it. He hated to leave the canvas.
If only one had oneself under perfect control, one could
always paint a thing, finally in one sitting. Not that you
are to attempt this. If you work on a head for a week
without indicating the features you will have learnt
something about the modeling of the head.
Every brush stroke while he painted had modeled the head or further simplified it. He was careful to insist
that there were many roads to Rome, that beautiful painting would be the result of any method or no
method, but he was convinced that by the method he advocated, and followed all his life, a freedom could
be acquired, a technical mastery that left the mind at liberty to concentrate on a deeper or more subtle
I had previously been taught to paint a head in three separate stages, each one repeating - in charcoal, in
thin color-wash and in paint -- the same things. By Sargent's method the head developed by one process.
Until almost at the end there were no features or accents, simply a solid shape growing out of and into a
background with which it was one. When at last he did put them in, each accent was studied with an
intensity that kept his brush poised in mid-air until eye and hand had steadied to one purpose, an
then...bling! The stroke resounded almost like a note of music. It annoyed him very much if the accents
were carelessly indicated, without accurate consideration of their comparative importance. They were, in
a way, the nails upon which the whole structure depended for solidity.
Miss Heyneman subsequently left a study she had made, at Sargent's studio with a note begging him to
write, "yes" or "no," according to whether he approved or not. He wrote the next day:
I think your study shows great progress -- much better
values and consequently greater breathe of effect with
less monotony in the detail. I still think you ought to paint
thicker -- paint all the half tones and general passages
quite thick -- and always paint one thing into another and
not side by side until they touch. There are a few hard
and small places where you have not followed this rule
sternly enough.
A few days later he called. Miss Heyneman's usual model had failed, and she persuaded her chairwoman
to sit in instead; Sargent offered to paint the head of the model.
This old head was perhaps easier to indicate with its prominent forms, but the painting was more subtle. I
recall my astonishment when he went into the background with a most brilliant pure blue where I had seen
only unrevealed darkness.
Don't you see it? The way the light quivers across it?
I had not perceived it: just as, until each stroke emphasized his intention. I did not see how he managed to
covey the thin hair stretched tightly back over the skull without actually painting it. He painted light or
shadow, a four-cornered object with the corners worn smooth, as definite in form as it was indefinite in
color, and inexpressibly delicate in its transitions.
He concentrated his whole attention upon the middle tone that carried the light into the shadow. He kept
up a running commentary of explanation as he went, appraising each stroke, often condemning it and
That is how not to do it! Keep the planes free and simple.
He drew a full, large brush down the whole contour of a cheek, obliterating apparently all the modeling
underneath, but it was always further to simplify that he took these really dreadful risks, smiling at my illconcealed
perturbation and quite sympathizing with it.
The second painting taught me that the whole values of a portrait depends upon its first painting, and that
no tinkering can ever rectify an initial failure. Provided every stage is correct, a painter of Mr. Sargent's
caliber could paint for a week on one head and never retrace his steps -- but he never attempted to correct
one. He held that it was as impossible for a painter to try to repaint a head where the understructure was
wrong, as for a sculptor to remodel the features of a head that has not been understood in the mass. That is
why Mr. Sargent often repainted the head a dozen times, eh told me that he had done no less than sixteen
of Mrs. Hammersley.
When he was dissatisfied he never hesitated to destroy what he had done. He spent three weeks, for
instance, painting Lady D' Abernon in a white dress. One morning, after a few minutes of what was to be
the final setting, he suddenly set to work to scraped out what he had painted. The present portrait in a
black dress, was done in three sittings.
He did the same with the portrait of Mrs. Wedgwood, and many others. Miss Eliza Wedgewood relates
that in 1896 he consented, at the insistence of Alfred Parsons, to paint her mother. She sat for him twelve
times, but after the twelfth sitting he said the would both be the better for a rest. He then wrote to Miss
Wedgwood that he was humiliated by his failure to catch the variable and fleeting charm of her mother's
personality -- that looked like the end of the the portrait. Some weeks later he saw Mrs. Wedgwood at
Broadway, and struck with a new aspect he said:
If you will come up next week we will finish that portrait.
She came to Tite Street, a new canvas was produced, and in six sittings he completed the picture which
was shown at the Memorial Exhibition.
Paint a hundred studies: keep any number of clean
canvases ready, of all shapes and sizes so that you are
never held back by the sudden need of one. You can't do
sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your
curiosity fresh.
He though it was excellent practice to paint flowers, for the precision necessary in the study of their forms
and the pure brilliancy of their color. It refreshed the tone of one's indoor portraits, he insisted, to paint
landscapes or figures out of doors, as well as to change one's medium now and then. He disliked pastel, it
seemed to him too artificial, or else it was made to look like oil or watercolor, and in that case why not use
oil or water color?
Upon one occasion, after painting for me, he saw one hard edge, and drew a brush across it, very lightly,
saying at the same time:
This is a disgraceful thing to do, and means slovenly
painting. Don't ever let me see you do it....
I have also seen the assertion that he painted a head always in one sitting. He painted a head always in
one process, but that could be carried over several sittings. He never attempted to repaint one eye or to
raise or lower it, for he held that the construction of a head prepared the place for the eye, and if it was
wrongly placed, the understructure was wrong, and he ruthlessly scraped and repainted the head from the
beginning. That is one reason why his brushwork looks so fluent and easy; he took more trouble to keep
the unworried look of a fresh sketch than many a painter puts upon his whole canvas.
The following extracts from Mr. Haley's account of Sargent's teaching at the Royal Academy Schools,
1897-1900, throw further light on his method:
The significance of his teaching was not always immediately apparent; it had the virtue of revealing itself
with riper experience. His hesitation was probably due to a searching out for something to grasp in the
mind of the student, that achieved, he would unfold a deep earnestness, subdued but intense. He was
regarded by some students as an indifferent teacher, by others as a "wonder"; as a "wonder" I like to regard
He dealt always with the fundamentals. Many were fogged as to his aim. These fundamentals had to be
constantly exercised and applied.
When drawing from the model, never be without the
plumb line in the left hand. Everyone has a bias, either to
the right hand or the left of the vertical. The use of the
plumb line rectifies this error and develops a keen
appreciation of the vertical.
He then took up the charcoal, with arm extended to its full length, and head thrown well back: all the
while intensely calculating, he slowly and deliberately mapped the proportions of the large masses of a
head and shoulders, first the poise of the head upon the neck, its relation with the shoulders. Then rapidly
indicate the mass of the hair, then spots locating the exact position of the features, at the same time noting
their tone values and special character, finally adding any further accent or dark shadow which made up
the head, the neck, the shoulders and head of the sternum.
After his departure I immediately plumbed those points before any movement took place of the model and
found them very accurate.
A formula of his for drawing was:
Get your spots in their right place and your lines precisely
at their relative angles.
On one occasion in the evening life school I well remember Sargent complaining that no one seemed
concerned about anything more than an approximate articulation of the head upon the neck and shoulders.
The procedure was to register carefully the whole pose at the first evening's sitting of two hours. The
remainder of the sittings were devoted to making a thoroughly finished tone drawing in chalk, adhering to
the original outline, working from the head downwards, thus the drawing was not affected by any chance
deviation from the original pose by the model. Sargent could not reconcile himself to this, the method he
tried to inculcate was to lay in the drawing afresh at every sitting, getting in one combined effort a
complete interpretation of the model. The skull to articulate properly upon the vertebrae. The same with
all the limbs, a keen structural easy supple, moveable machine, every figure with its own individual
characteristic as like as possible, an accomplishment requiring enormous practice and experience with
charcoal, but taken as a goal to aim at very desirable, a method he followed in his own painting. To the
student it meant a continually altered drawing, to portray the varying moods of the model.
In connection with the painting, the same principles are maintained.
Painting is an interpretation of tone through the medium
of color drawn with the brush. Use a large brush. Do not
starve your palette. Accurately place your masses with
the charcoal, then lay in the background about half an
inch over the border of the adjoining tones, true as
possible, then lay in the mass of hair, recovering the
drawing and fusing the tones with the background, and
overlapping the flesh of the forehead. For the face lay in a
middle flesh tone, light on the left side and dark on the
shadow side, always recovering the drawing, and most
carefully fusing the flesh into the background. Paint flesh
into background and background into flesh, until the
exact quality is obtained, both in color and tone so the
whole resembles as wig maker's block.
Then follows the most marked and characteristic accents
of the features in place and tone and drawing as accurate
as possible, painting deliberately into wet ground, testing
your work by repeatedly standing well back, viewing it as
a whole, a very important thing. After this take up the
subtler tones which express the retiring planes of the
head, temples, chin, nose, and cheeks with neck, then
the still more subtle drawing of mouth and eyes, fusing
tone into tone all the time, until finally with deliberate
touch the high lights are laid in, this occupies the first
sitting and should the painting not be satisfactory, the
whole is ruthlessly fogged by brushing together, the
object being not to allow any parts well done, to interfere
with that principle of oneness, or unity of every part; the
brushing together engendered an appetite to attack the
problem afresh at every sitting each attempt resulting in
a more complete visualization in the mind. The process
is repeated until the canvas is completed.
Sargent would press home the fact that the subtleties of paint must be controlled by continually viewing
the work from a distance.
Stand back -- get well away -- and you will realize the
great danger there is over overstating a tone. Keep the
thing as a whole in your mind. Tones so subtle as not to
be detected on close acquaintance can only be adjusted
by this means.
When we were gathered in front of our display of sketches for composition awaiting some criticism,
Sargent would walk along the whole collection, rapidly looking at each one, and without singling out any
in particular for comment, he would merely say:
Get in your mind the sculptor's view of things, arrange a
composition, decoratively, easy, and accidental.
This would be said in a hesitating manner, and then he would quietly retire. On one occasion, when the
subject set for a composition was a portrait, the criticism was: "not one of them seriously considered."
Many we had thought quite good, as an indication of what might be tried while a portrait was in progress.
That would not do for Sargent. A sketch must be seriously planned, tried and tried again, turned about
until it satisfies every requirement, and a perfect visualization is attained. A sketch must not be merely a
pattern of pleasant shapes, just pleasing to the eyes, just merely a fancy. It must be a very possible thing, a
definite arrangement -- everything fitting in a plan and in true relationship frankly standing upon a
horizontal plane coinciding in their place with a prearranged line. As a plan is to a building, so must the
sketch be to the picture.
Cultivate an ever-continuous power of observation.
Wherever you are, be always ready to make slight notes
of postures, groups and incidents. Store up in the mind
without ceasing a continuous stream of observations
from which to make selections later. Above all things get
abroad, see the sunlight, and everything that is to be
seen, the power of selection will follow. Be continually
making mental notes, make them again and again, test
what you remember by sketches until you have got them
fixed. Do not be backward at using every device and
making every experiment that ingenuity can devise, in
order to attain that sense of completeness which nature
so beautifully provides, always bearing in mind the
limitations of the materials in which you work.
It was not only students who acknowledged their debt to Sargent. Hubert Herkomer in his reminiscences
writes: "I have learnt much from Sargent in the planning of lights and darks, the balance in tonality of
background in its relation to the figure, the true emphasizing of essentials."
Sargent was well aware of the pitfalls that await the painter of the fashionable world, and as sitter after
sitter took his place on the dais in his Tite Street studio he seemed to become more sensible of them. He
tried again and again to escape, and he often, in his letters, expressed his fatigue. He wearied of the
limitations imposed by his commissioned art. Painting those who want to be painted, instead of those
whom the artist wants to paint, leads inevitably to a bargain, to a compromise between the artist's
individuality and the claims of the model. Mannerism becomes a way out; that which pleases becomes an
aim. Artistic problems give way before personal considerations: the decorative quality of a picture takes a
secondary place. Sargent's sincerity, the driving need he had to express himself in his own way, his satiety
with models imposed on him by fashion, culminated in revolt. He was forced, now and then, it is true, to
return to his portraits, but his Boston work absorbed him more and more. The call of his studio in Fulham
Road when he was in London, and of the Alps and the south of Europe in summer, came first. In 1910 his
exhibits at the Acdemy, instead of portraits, were Glacier Streams, Albanian Olive Gatherers, Vespers and
A Garden at Corfu: at the New English Art Club, Flannels, On the Guidecca, The Church of Santa Maria
della Salute, A Florentine Nocturne, A Moraine and Olive Grove.
When in 1901 Mr. J. B. Manson, then a student, wrote to Sargent for advice he received the following
In reply to your questions I fear that I can only give you
the most general advice. The only school in London of
which I have any personal knowledge is the Royal
Acdemy. If the limit of age does not prevent your
entering it I should advise you to do so. There are also
very good teachers at the Slade School. You say you are
studying painting to become a portrait painter. I think you
would be making a great mistake if you kept that only in
view during the time you intend to work on a life class --
where the object of the student should be to acquire
sufficient command over his material to do whatever
nature presents to him.
It is evident that in his student days Sargent shared the apprehension excited in the studio by his brilliant,
free-spoken teacher Carolus Duran. "En art tout ce qui n'est pas indispensable est nuisible -- In art, all that
is not indispensable is unnecessary" was one of the precepts which Duran had formulated after his study of
Velasquez. It became on of the texts of his studio. He urged his students to make copies of the pictures of
Velasquez in the Louvre, not laborious copies, but copies "au premier coup." In painting a picture he
would retreat a few steps from the canvas and then once more advance with his brush balanced in his hand
as though it were a rapier and he were engaged in a bout with a fencing master. These gestures were often
accompanied by appeals to the shade of Velasquez.
Those who watched Sargent painting in his studio were reminded of his habit of stepping backwards after
almost every stroke of the brush on the canvas, and the tracks of his paces so worn on the carpet that it
suggested a sheep-run through the heather. He, too, when in difficulties, had a sort of battle cry of
"Demons, demons," with which he would dash at his canvas.
It was, then, to such a workshop and under such a master that Sargent at the age of eighteen was admitted
as a pupil, and the question arises, what did Sargent owe to the teaching of Duran? The question is best
answered by remembering Duran's precepts and seeing how far they ar ereflected in Sargent's art. It has
already been shown how Duran insisted on the study of Velasquez and the omission in art of all that was
not essential to the realization of the central purpose of a painting. He had himself traveled far from the
sharp contrast of values by which he had dramatized his picture L'Assassiné. He had got red of his
tendency to be spectacular. From Velasquez he had learnt to simplify. His teaching was focused on the
study of values and half-tones, above all, half-tones. Here lies, he would say, the secret of painting, in the
half tone of each plane, in economizing the accents and in the handling of the lights so that they should
play their part in the picture only with a palpable and necessary significance. Other things were
subordinate. If Sargent excels in these respects, it is sufficient to recall the fact that they formed the core
of Duran's instruction. There is no need to put his influence higher. Few pupils in painting who have the
talent to absorb their master's teaching fail in the long run to outgrow his influence and to progress beyond
and outside it on lines of their own.
Sargent himself always recognized his debt to the teaching of Duran. At the height of his fame, when
looking at a portrait by a younger painter, he observed to Mr. William James:
That has value. I wonder who taught him to do that. I
thought Carolus was the only man who taught that. He
couldn't do it himself, but he could teach it.
Again, when Mr. James asked him how to avoid false accents he said:
You must classify the values. If you begin with the
middle-tone and work up from in towards the darks -- so
that you deal last with your highest lights and darkest
darks -- you avoid false accents. That's what Carolus
taught me. And Franz Hals. It's hard to find anyone who
knew more about oil-painting than Franz Hals. That was
his procedure. Of course, a sketch is different. You don't
mind false accents there. But once you have made them
in something which you wish to carry far, in order to
correct them you have to deal with both sides of them
and get into a lot of trouble. So that's the best method for
anything you wish to carry far in oil paint.
Mr. George Moore, in one of the most illuminating essays in Modern Painting, said: "In 1830 values came
upon France like a religion. Rembrandt was the new Messiah, Holland was the Holly Land, and disciples
were busy dispensing the propaganda in every studio." The religion had no more ardent apostle than
Carolus Duran.
One picture Sargent exhibited at the Academy in 1896 may be especially mentioned because it elected the
warm admiration of Mr. George Moore, who was far from being enthusiastic about Sargent. Mr. Moore
wrote of this portrait (Miss Priestley):
"Gradually a pale-faced woman with arched eybrows, draws our eyes and fixes our thoughts. It is a
portrait by Mr. Sargent, one of the best he has painted. By the side of a Franz Hals it might look small and
thin, but nothing short of a fine Hals would affect its real beauty. My admiration for Mr. Sargent has often
hesitated, but this picture completely wins me. The rendering is full of the beauty of incomparable skill.
The portrait tells us that he has learned the last and most difficult lesson -- how to omit. A beautiful work,
certainly. I should call it a perfect work were it not that the drawing is a little too obvious: in places we
can detect the manner. It does not coule do source like the drawing of the very great masters.
It was a common experience for Sargent, as probably for all portrait painters, to be asked to alter some
feature in a face, generally the mouth. Indeed, this happened so often that he used to define a portrait as "a
likeness in which there was something wrong about the mouth." He rarely acceded, and then only when
he was already convinced that it was wrong. In the case of Francis Jenkinson, the Cambridge Librarian, it
was pointed out that he had omitted many lines and wrinkles which ought to be shown on the model's face.
Sargent refused to make, he said, "a railway system of him."
His refusal more than once led to scenes. On one occasion the lady who had taken exception to the
rendering of her mouth became hysterical and fainted. Sargent was the last man in the world to cope with
such a situation. A friend who happened to call found him helplessly contemplating the scene. The model
was restored to sense, but the mouth remained as it was.
A sitter has given the following account of being painted by Sargent in 1902:
At one of my sittings during which Mr. Sargent painted my hands I sat motionless for two hours. A
certain way in which I had unconsciously put my hands together pleased him very much because the
posture, he said, was clearly natural to me. He implored me not to move. We worked very hard -- he with
his magical brush, I with my determination to control fidgets and the restless instincts to which sitters are
prone when forced to remain still for any length of time. For the most part we were silent. Occasionally I
heard him muttering to himself. Once I caught: "Gainsborough would have done it! Gainsborough would
have done it!"
He worked at a fever heat, and it was so infectious that I felt my temples throbbing in sympathy with his
efforts, the veins swelling in my brow. At one moment I thought I was going to faint with the sense of
tension and my fear to spoil the pose which had enthused him.
At the end of two hours he declared that the hands were a failure, and he obliterated them.
"I must try again next time," he said in a melancholy tone. At the next sitting he painted the hands quickly
as they now appear a tour de force in the opinion of some, utterly unsuccessful in the yes of others.
My husband came several times to the sittings. On one occasion Mr. Sargent sent for him specially. He
rode across the Park to Tite Street.
He found Mr. Sargent in a depressed mood. The opals baffled him. He said he couldn't paint them. They
had been a nightmare to him, he declared, throughout the painting of the portrait.
That morning he was certainly in despair. Presently he said to my husband: "Let's play a Fauré duet."
They played, Mr. Sargent thumping out the bass with strong, stumpy fingers. At the conclusion Mr.
Sargent jumped up briskly, went back to the portrait and with a few quick strokes, dabbed in the opals. He
called to my husband to come and look: "I've done the damned thing," he laughed under his breath.
My sister, on the occasion of her visit to the studio during my last sitting, remembers seeing Mr. Sargent
paint my scarf with one sweep of his brush.
What appeared to interest him more than anything else when I arrived was to know what music I had
brought with me.
To turn from color to sound evidently refreshed him, and presumably the one art stimulated the other in his