|The Sargent I Knew by Mary Newbold
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In the years between the two series of American visits Sargent's life was busy and full as ever. It was impossible for him to accept all the commissions that came to him, and he tried to withdraw completely from painting portraits, although he had to go on with many already promised to clear the ground for the future. Honours were heaped upon him; in the catalogue of the memorial Exhibition is a list of thirty decorations and degrees bestowed upon him in America, Belgium, Germany, France, and England.
The work for the Boston Library was always on hand; holidays in Switzerland were filled with outdoor painting begun in childhood, holidays when Miss Sargent and Mrs. Ormond and her children were with Sargent, as his many water colours show. Other travelers wrote in their diaries; he painted his, and his sisters, his nieces and nephews, Miss Wedgewood, the Misses Barnard, Mr. And Mrs. De Glehn, Mr. Harrison are all on its pages. Palestine, the Dolomites, Corfu, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Norway, Greece, Egypt, France, the Balearic Islands are on record. Fortunately, museums and private collections are rich in oil and water colours of his many travels, for his industry and love of his work were equal, and the sum of it all would be astounding if we could ever come at it.
[Editor's note -- hey, I'm trying]
To see one of Sargent's water colours in the making always reminded me of the first chapter of Genesis, when the evening and the morning were the first day, order developed from chaos, and one thing after another was created of its kind. Having chosen his subject and settled himself with the sunshade, hat and paraphernalia all to his liking, he would make moan over the difficulty of the subject and say, "I can't do it," or "It's unpaintable," and finally, "Well, let's have a whack at it."
Perfect absorption would follow, and after what looked like a shorthand formula in pencil was on the block, the most risky and adventurous technique would come into play, great washes of colour would go on the paper with huge brushes or sponges, and muttering of "Demons! Demons!" or "The devils own!" would be heard at intervals.
All the time the picture was growing surely, swiftly; he worked through to the end, only stopping when it was a subject where light and tide changed before he could get it all in, and two "goes" were necessary. Change of light Sargent could understand and condone, but change of tide affronted him. When he was painting the Schooner Catherine and got the row-boats where he wanted them in the foreground, he was most resentful when the tide changed their position. He kept us hauling the "beastial boats" into place, and was afraid that we could not get them back in place the second day, as of course we did.
Sargent's private life was simple; his house, 31 Tite Street, Chelsea, adjoining the flat next door which had been his first dwelling and studio in London, was filled with beautiful things which he enjoyed and lived with, but no habit of material things had dominion over him, and all the comforts and conveniences of modern life were used as a means to free him from petty cares and distractions from his work. His usually lunched with his sisters, Miss Emily Sargent, seeing her and Mrs. Ormond almost every day.
He was a much-sought guest and charming one, as well as a delightful host. The stage was one of his interests, and here, too, he was catholic, enjoying all good acting from Duse to Dan Leno, the opera, Spanish and Russian dancing, tumblers, acrobats, music hall artists, Charley Chaplin, and such films as the delightful "Thief of Bagdad."
This catholicity was possible to
one of his sincerity; he detested sentimentality and airs, which he classified
as "flip-flap", but for true feeling he had a deep and sensitive respect.
One phase of his sincerity was the open way in which he met people, and
one often hears, "I met him only once, but I feel as if I really knew him."
A Biddable Child | A Musical Genius Spoiled | Painted Diaries | Portrait of Sargent | At the Front in France
Copyright 2001 Natasha
Wallace All rights reserved
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