Street in Venice 
John Singer Sargent -- American painter 
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 
Oil on wood
45.1 x 53.9 cm (17 3/4 x 21 1/4  in.)
Gift of the Avalon Foundation 
Jpg: Local / Piedmont Fossil

 (click on the image to step closer)

Street in Venice Closeup

    September 7, 1999

My daughter has the Sargent print: Street in Venice. . . We both are generally people who see  the glass half full rather than half empty and I viewed the young girl as a nice young girl returning home after a late night party and dance. Although my daughter thought she is a prostitute. Maybe so but in all of Sargent's paintings I never saw the seamy side of life. . . 

Alan L. Caldwell[1]

The cup is half full, Alan.  I have little doubt that what we see here is Venice, not in how the tourist might see it, but in how the locals see it in everyday life in the year 1882.

This is street-life on a chilly day in the fall or winter with men in top coats and the woman in a warm wrap, on an old narrow street with locals who talk to their neighbors.  The National Gallery of Art, where this painting hangs, indicates this was painted at Calle Larga dei Proverbi, a back alley north of the Grand Canal and behind the church of SS. Apostoli (Linda Ayres, Patricia Hills Book, P. 56). They seem to think it was painted during siesta because, as you can see, the shop doors are closed and there are few people on the street. Though the tonality is very dark, and the shadows deep, which might give it a moody Sortie de l’église,Campo San Canciano, Venicefeeling, the subject is far from what the mood might indicate. If you compare Sortie de l’église, Campo San Canciano, Venice (1882) with Street in Venice you will see women headed home (from church no less) in roughly the same outfit as the young woman in  Street in Venice. This is what women wore and how they wore it. 

I am reminded of a famous photograph of a street in Paris in the 1940's which showed a beautiful young woman that had passed a group of young men all of whom are admiring her. Boys will be boys -- though I’m not sure it’s politically correct to say that. Remember, Sargent is 26 years old when he paints this, and I don’t think it beyond him to also enjoy the sight of a beautiful woman in a fleeting moment.

But more importantly, I think you need to keep in mind that this was done in the vernacular of the great Spanish Master  Diego Velazquez (1599-1660), whom John admired greatly and was influenced by.

In 1629, at the age of 30, Velazquez took a trip from Spain to Italy and studied the masters and painted there for two years. He visited, among other places, Venice, Florence, and Rome. 

in 1882, Sargent travels to Venice, Florence, Siena, and Rome at a relatively similar time in his life, and I don't think this was lost on him. During this period, Sargent is actively studying and experimenting with the great Master's form and style. What Velazquez was able to captured was the deep, deep tonality of earthy colors, almost monochromatic in some cases, and the ability to freeze or capture the instantaneousness of people, of expressions, of movement. Velazquez was living at a time when the Spanish empire was near bankrupt and beginning to crumble and his paintings could be often moody in a dark tonal sense

In 1883, Sargent sent A Street in Venice to the Societe Internationale des Peintres et Sculpteurs, Rue de Seze, Paris. One critic called Sargent's work "banal and worn-out".

M. Sargent leads us into obsure squares and dark streets where only a single ray of light falls. The women of his Venice, with their messy hair and ragged clothes, are no decendents of Titian's beauties. Why go to Italy if it is only to gather impressions like these. 

Arthur Baigneres, critic for the Gazette des beaux-arts; Ratcliff, Carter, John Singer Sargent. Abbeville Press, New York, 1982. 

This is the real Venice on a cool autumn or winter day. And knowing Sargent, though it might not be pretty at first impression, it is probably a very accurate depiction of local life. 



Sargent's Women,  Adelson Galleries, New York, 2003


1) The question from Alan Cadwell is paraphrased from the following forum entries.

From: Alan L. Caldwell 


My daughter has the Sargent print: Street in Venice. . . I'm a person who sees the glass half full rather than half empty and viewed the young girl as a nice young girl returning home after a late night party and dance. My daughter thinks she is a prostitute. Maybe so but in all of Sargent's paintings I never saw the seamy side of life. .  .What could your insight tell me about this. 

From: Natasha
Date: 9/7/99

Alan, take a look at my re-write on (above).

From: Alan
Date: 9/20/99

Natasha, I informed my daughter of your wonderful analysis of the "Street in Venice" and she was really happy my version was more correct. Although she had picked wrong she, too, is a half full glass young lady. I think I saw there were post cards available with that painting but I wonder if there are
prints available. If so, I would be interested in information about them - size and cost.


From: Natasha

I bet she is at that Alan, and I paraphrased your meaning.

What interested me about your question was that when I fist saw this painting I, like your daughter, thought she might have been a prostitute. So it got me thinking -- there might be a lot more people out there thinking the same thing.

You can order 11" x 14" from The National Gallery for very reasonable.


Other Paintings of 
Venetian Alleys
and Passageways


Venetian Passageway
c. 1905

Venetian Street
c. 1882

Street Scene in Venice

A Street in Venice c. 1882
c. 1882 

A Street in Venice
c. 1880-1882

Studies for Venetian Street Scene
c. 1880-1882

A back street in Venice today
(photo similar but not identical)

Created 1999


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