Saturday, 16 May 2015

Sargent at the National Portrait Gallery

I went back to see the Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on Friday evening to find it pleasantly busy but not overly so. I saw the exhibition of his portraits of friends and artists when it opened so it was nice to go back again and relive some of those paintings. This time I was in a slighty more lyrical mood and wanted to know more about the sitters. Most of which I just made up as I wandered round.

The poster boy is, of course, Dr Pozzi, relaxin at home in his full length scarlet dressing gown. The nadsome man saying, 'Who? me?' with his lace ruffles and carefully combed hair and beard and his hands placed just *so*. His dressing gown is so much redder than in this picture, it leaches the blood out of you to enhance his vitality. I also like the one slipper we see under the dressing gown. O yes, doctor, you know who you are.

Another painting full of back-story is 'La Carmencita', a portrait of a Spanish dancer. Full-sized and hung above head height, her eyes look down on you and you just know she is saying, 'adore me'. What is your function in life other than to adore me? She's noted in the guidebook as being a demanding and restless sitter and you can tell that. She's not going to remain still for long, not in that sparkly frock. She must be thinking that there must be men out there somewhere for her to seduce rather than standing for this portrait and they won't be able to help themselves. I've no doubt she was an expert at slapping too! Adore me, she demands. And I do!

Of course, the exhibition isn't just about portraits, it's also about Sargent's friends, some of whom he went on painting trips with. After a room of dark, formal portraits in the late 1800s there'sa room of light and airy paintings set outdoors and there are some lovely paintings in this room. One of my favourites is 'The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy', which is also used on the cover of the catalogue for the exhibition.

It's a marvellous painting and the lady painter's dress and coat just radiate out of the painting - I walked to the far side of the room to see if it had the same effect and it did. The woman (Jane deGlehn) carefully painting something we can't see while her husband Wilfred watches. His languid pose is perfect for this painting since they're on holiday and he's relaxing. The brush strokes are marvellous and the paint mounts up to emphasise the white on white of her coat and skirt as she paints while the garden and fountain does its stuff around her. Her satchell is at her feet and she rests on a stool beside her easel. I'd love to see what she's painting but there's no hint here. I wonder if she got crotchety when the breeze changed and the fountain sprayed across her canvas or whether she thought nature was enhancing her art? I suspect the latter.

Another painting I loved was 'Group With Parasols' which shows a group of Sargent's friends snoozing in the sun in an Alpine meadow. I'm not sure what it is about this painting that attracts me but I love the entangled limbs and careless sleepiness of the four friends. Lazy times indeed.

The exhibition is only on for another couple of weeks so, if you haven't already seen it, make your way across London to glory in these paintings.

No comments: