"John S. Sargent" by Henry James  
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Harper's Magazine, Ocober,1887 (pp. 683-691)
(page 4 of 9)

once to belong to this class, and to give the “plain man” the kind of pleasure that the plain man looks for.  

The young lady [Lady with the Rose], dressed in black satin, stands upright, with her right hand bent back, resting on her waist, while the other,  with the arm somewhat extended, offers to view a single white flower. The dress, stretched at the hips over a sort of hoop, and ornamented in front, where it opens on a velvet petticoat, with large satin bows, has an old-fashioned air, as if it had been worn by some demure princess who might have sat for Velasquez. The hair, of which the arrangement is odd and charming, is disposed in two or three curls fastened at one side over the temple with a comb. Behind the figure is the vague faded sheen, exquisite in tone, of a silk curtain, light, undefined, and losing itself at the bottom. The face is young, candid, peculiar, and delightful. Out of these few elements the artist has constructed a picture which it is impossible to forget, of which the most striking is its simplicity, and yet which overflows with perfection. Painted with extraordinary breadth and freedom, so that surface and texture are interpreted by the lightest hand, it glows with life, character, and distinction, and strikes us as the most complete—with one exception perhaps—of the author’s productions. I know not why this representation of a young girl in black, engaged in the casual gesture of holding up a flower, should make so ineffaceable an impression, and tempt one to become almost lyrical in treated the theme. We can fancy that on its praise; but I well remember that, encountering the picture unexpectedly in New York a year or two after it had been exhibited in Paris, it seemed to me to have acquired an extraordinary general value, to stand for more artistic truth than it would be easy to declare, to be a masterpiece of color as well as of composition, to possess much in common with a Velasquez of the first order, and to have translated the appearance of things into the language of painting with equal facility and brilliancy. The language of painting— that is the tongue in which, exclusively, Mr. Sargent expresses himself, and of an actual scene, with its accidents and into which a considerable part of the public, for the simple and excellent reason that they don’t understand it, will doubtless always be reluctant and unable to follow him. The notation of painting, as one may call it—the signs by which objects are represented -- is a very special affair, and of the special the public at large has always a perceptable mistrust. Fortunnately the spirit, the feeling, of this magnificent art is not special, but as general and comprehensive as life itself.  

Two years before he exhibited the young lady in black, in 1879, Mr. Sargent had spent several months in Spain, and here, even more than he had already been, the great Velasquez became the god of his idolatry. No scenes are more delightful to the imagination than those in which we figure youth and genius confronted with great examples, and if such matters did not belong to the domain of private life we might entertain ourselves with reconstructing the episode of the first visit to the museum of Madrid, the shrine of the painter of Philip IV., of a young Franco-American worshipper of the highest artistic sensibility, expecting a supreme revelation, and prepared to fall on his knees. It is evident that Mr. Sargent fell on his knees, and that in this attitude he passed characteristic a considerable part of his sojourn in Spain . He is various and experimental; if I am not mistaken, he sees each work that he produces in a light of its own, and does not turn off successive portraits according to some well-tried receipt which has proved useful in the case of their predecessors;  nevertheless there is one idea that pervades them all, in a different degree, and gives them a family resemblance— the idea that it would be inspiring to know just how the great Spaniard would have teated the theme. We can fancy that on each occasion Mr. Sargent, as a solemn preliminary, invokes him as a patron saint. This is not, in my intention, tantamount to saying that the large canvas representing the contortions of a dancer in the lamp-lit room of a posada, which he - exhibited on his return from Spain [El Jaleo], strikes me as having come into the world under the same star as those great compositions of Velasquez which at Madrid alternate with his royal portraits. This singular work, which has found a somewhat incongruous home in Boston, has the stamp of an extraordinary energy and facility— of an actual scene, with its accidents and peculiarities caught, as distinguished from a composition where arrangement and invention have played their part. It looks like life, but it looks also, to my view, rather like a perversion of life, and as the quality of an enormous “note” or  

pp. 683 | 684 | 685 | 686 | 687 | 688 | 689 |690 | 691 



Lady with the Rose (Charlotte Louise Burckhardt) 

King Philip IV (of Spain) Attributed to John Singer Sargent after Diego Velázquez's  "King Philip IV as a Huntsman" 
El Jaleo 


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