Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sun,sand and Oyster Fishing: Sargent and the Sea at the Royal Academy

This small exhibition in the RA's Sackler wing, a collection of paintings by John Singer Sargent RA (1856-1925), is as refreshing as a trip to the seaside.

'En Route pour la Peche' 1878, (detail above) shows Sargent's distinctive brushwork, and his typically romantic treatment of women and children.It's a striking contrast with Van Gogh's earthy sketches of peasants shown here recently.

Portraits are claimed as Sargent's forte, but there were few enough of them in the recent RA 'Emperors and Citizens' show, lost as they were among flounces and fancies of the aristos and royals.

So it's good to see another side to his talent. Turner's influence is very evident.

The painter led a peripatetic life, thanks to rich mother with itchy feet and a love of Europe. Although born in America, he was whisked away as an infant, and didn't return until he was twenty.

Locations range from the coasts of Normandy and Brittany to Mediterranean ports: Nice, Marseilles and Naples, then on to Venice an Capri. The paintings figure all the paraphernalia of boats as well as fisherfolk, sailors and holiday bathers,

It's not so surprising, in an era of steamships and cruise liners, that his early efforts at draughtsmanship included seascapes. He had filled thirteen sketchbooks by the time he got to Paris when he was eighteen, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and then joined a studio.

The painting Neopolitan Children Bathing 1879 perhaps the most startlng, as well as the most charming picture in the collection.

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