Two Studies in White
Once you look closer, the similarities
between the two paintings are striking. Both are a studies of white on
white and in some ways Sargent surpases Whistler in his handeling of showdows
and the play of light accents.
Linda Ayrers, with her essay in Patricia
Hills' book, documents similarities between Whistlerís and Sargentís Venetian
work. Both painted dark interiors in Venice. Whistler had been in Venice
an extended period of time before Sargentís arrival in 1880, though there
isnít any direct evidence that they met that year (I do think itís highly
possible). Richard Ormond, and Elaine Kilmurray in their book discuss the
similarities between Falling Rocket and Spanish Dance (two
studies in Black) but they seem to think it's more coincidence since they
can't document Sargent knowing Whistler at that time.
I believe I am the first person to
attribute Sargentís Fumée d'Ambre Gris with Whistlerís White
Girl (which I find rather exiting). Even if Sargent didnít personally
know Whistler in Ď79 and Ď80, the latter was older and vastly more popular
than Sargent, and it's my contention that it is not necessary that the
two personally knew each other for Sargent to be influenced by the elder,
but just that Sargent had a knowledge of Whistlers work Ė which I think
is very likely.
Whistler was an expatriate American
-- as was Sargent. Whistler was very popular with the French -- as was
Sargent, though much more at a beginning level. Even if Sargent didnít
outwardly speak of it, he must have admired Whistler from afar, and I donít
think itís necessary that Sargent knew him personally to study Whistlerís
work or to follow it in the press.
up between James Whistler and John Ruskin in 1878 gives even more credibility
to John bing influenced by Whistler (1).
Any artist of the time would have known the very striking differences between
the two styles of painting in France (which had embarked on Impressionism),
and the British (which were headed with the Pre-Raphael Brotherhood). The
fact that John declares to a friend that the most important thing about
Fumée d'Ambre Gris was the color, and it coming on the heels
of Spanish Dance is just too much of a coincidence. To my mind,
there is no doubt of the influence of Whistler's work on Sargent.
The case between John Ruskin and
Whistler had gone to court November of 1878 (Charteris,
P.86). There was ample time for John to have heard
of the uproar.
Subject: Whistler &
From: Kathie Roskomkjrgen@hotmail.com
Date: Mon, 23 Oct 2000
I do agree that obviously Sargent
didn't need to personally know Whistler in order to be influenced by him.
I looked through my resources, and
although no one records a precise meeting time there seem's to be no question
they knew each other by 1879-1880.
Charteris says they met in 1874,
except he also says it was in Venice.
(Everyone else seems to agree the
Sargents did not go to Venice that year.)
John Sargent" by Hon. Evan Charteris,
K.C., Charles Scribner's Sons, 1927,p.20-21:
In spite of cholera scares
Venice was their (Sargent family) first objective. Here they Met
Whistler, who, born in 1834, was now in his fortieth year.
Whistler was enthusiastic
over his young compatriot's watercolours and drawings. Thus began
distinctly friendly relations between them which lasted till the elder
artist's death in 1903. Later, when Sargent was as yet little heard
of in England, Whistler was one of the earliest to direct attention to
his work. In 1894 Sargent, a consistent admirer of Whistler's painting,
together with St. Gaudens, tried to get him to decorate one of the large
panels on the stairs of the Boston Library. Whistler described this
as an act of 'rare and noble camaraderie.' (E.R. and J. Pennell "The Whistler
Journal" p.34) The project hung fire. He got as far as making
notes for the design, which he told Mr. Pennell was to be a peacock ten
feet high; but the scheme never matured. Sargent used to say that
Whistler's use of paint was so exquisite that if a piece of canvas were
cut out of one of his pictures one would find that it was in itself a thing
of beauty by the very texture and substance into which it had been transformed
by his brush. It has more than once been said that the two painters
were far from friendly to one another. This is contrary to the fact.
Temperamentally it is true, they differed profoundly. There was in
Whistler an overt antagonism to opinions and accomplishments with which
he was not in sympathy that to Sargent was incomprehensible. Nor
was his appreciation of Sargent's maturer work by any means enthusiastic.
Yet, unlike as the two men were in most respects, their relations were
uniformly friendly, and no one enjoyed Whistler's devastating wit more
From "The World of Whistler" by Tom
Prideaux, Time-Life Books, 1970, p.144:
Like all sojourners in Venice,
Whistler spent part of his days sitting at the little tables outside the
Cafe Florian or the Quadri in the Piazza di San Marco; he listened to the
band playing in the square and lifted his monocle to stare or nod at such
visitors as Franz Liszt, George Eliot, Richard Wagner, or his fellow American
and incipient rival, the young painter John Singer Sargent.
From "John Singer Sargent" by Patricia
Hills, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1986, p.54:
[Editor's note -- See the
of the Piazza]
It is unclear when Sargent
first met the famous Whistler, though the two seem likely to have met during
Sargent's 1880 Venetian visit, if not before. By the time Sargent
reached the city in September 1880, Whistler had been there a year and
had taken a room at the Casa Jankowitz, attracting a group of other Americans,
including a young etcher named Otto Bacher who, like Sargent, had been
a pupil of Carolus-Duran in Paris...
Whistler's effect on Sargent
can be seen in subtle ways. Sargent's delicate panoramic view of
c.1882, "Venice par Temps Gris" calls to mind Whistler's "The Lagoon, Venice:
Nocturne in Blue and Silver." At the same time, Whistler's small-scale
etchings and pastels of obscure Venetian alleys and his monochromatic vignettes
of contemporary Venetian domestic life influenced Sargent's figure paintings.
Whistler's interest in working-class subjects, the sense of alienation
and detachment in his Venetian work, and his prevalent use of apertures
all have parallels in Sargent's Venetian paintings.
"However, many of the characteristics
that attracted Sargent to Whistler's work, can be found, too, in the work
of Velazquez, an artist profoundly admired not only by Sargent and Whistler
but also by Sargent's teacher, Carolus-Duran, and many other late nineteenth-century
French artists. Sargent traveled to Madrid in 1879 specifically to
study the Spanish master."