Hours of Work, A Moment of Beauty

John Singer Sargent, Carnation Lily, Lily Rose, 1885-1886

John Singer Sargent, Carnation Lily, Lily Rose, 1885-1886

It is such a pretty picture – two girls caught in the early evening light, among flowers, lighting Chinese lanterns.  Just an instant in time, a moment of light, beautifully captured.

But it took a long time to capture that moment.  To paint it John Singer Sargent decided he needed the two young girls in it posed, evening after evening, during just those two minutes when the light was exactly as he wished to capture it.

And so they posed every evening, from the warmth of August into the chill of November of 1885. They would wait  for Sargent to leave his tennis game at just the right time to dab paint on to the canvas, which he did for the few minutes the light he wanted was there.  By the beginning of November it grew too cold for models and artist, and the painting was stored away until they could resume work on it and he could finish it the following year.

Sargent believed, with the Impressionists, that artists must paint what they see, not what they expect to see nor what they are expected to see.  That is why he decided to work this way even though it was very demanding – for both the artist and the young models.  That process is hidden from the viewer because he is so skilled – all we see is what he wants us to see, a moment of beauty, beautifully captured.

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge both the beauty in the painting and the hard work that created it.

You can learn more about Sargent here.


4 responses to “Hours of Work, A Moment of Beauty

  1. Margaret – this is a painting I grew up with. My Dad had a three volume set of The World’s greatest paintings which I would leaf my waythrough on rainy days. When I first went to the Tate in London in 1976, there it was. Thanks for the remembrance.

    • I’m glad it touched a good memory for you, Sarah – and how nice that you were able to see it at the Tate.

  2. “hours” sounds so minimal compared to the work you’ve revealed went into this extraordinary painting. it looks like the whole world is lit by the glow of the lanterns themselves. absolute magic.
    i fell in love with Sargent when i first saw Fumee d’ambre gris (Smoke of Ambergris) (1880) at the Clark Museum years ago and i am still deeply nourished by meditating on the postcard image i have.

    • Sargent created some very powerful images, including Fumee d’Ambre Gris – it creates such a sense of intimacy and dignity, and light suffuses the whole painting. It’s one of those paintings you can look at for a long time, and return to again and again. No wonder you find it nourishing. So you have postcard images too – one of the best ways I know to acquire an image I love at a price I can afford!

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