John Singer Sargent's Workman at Carrara
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The Carrara

Marble Quarries at Carrara

Carrara: Lizzatori II

Carrara: Quarry I

Carrara: Quarry II

Carrara: Trajan's Quarry

Carrara: Marmo Statuario

Carrara: Wet Quarries

Oxen, Carrara


Carrara: Little Quarry

Workman at Carrara 
c. 1911 
The Art Institute of Chicago, IL 
Watercolor and pencil on paper 
39.4 x 52.1 cm (15 1/2 x 20 1/2 in.) 
Olivia Shaler Swan Collection 
 Jpg: local source 

Lizzatori I

In the first study to the right, you can see men  hauling ropes up the side of mountain steps. This is similar to the watercolor Carrara, Lizzatori I (though you can't see the men very well in the thumbnail). In that painting, the men are further up the steps.
These workmen who apparently are called "lizzatori", cut the huge blocks and then

Bringing down Marble from the Quarries to Carrar

manually tie them with these massive hemp ropes, using what I assume to be block-and-tackle with wrenches along with sheer brute force to amazingly haul, drag, pull these immense stones down the mountain.   In Sargent’s series of paintings, you can clearly sense the harsh climate they are working in. Bringing down Marble (above) is one of only two known oils, you can see the

Carrara: Monsieur Derville's Quarry
Carrara: Monsieur Derville's Quarry

stunning contrast between the angular, unforgiving rock, to the rounded, pliable bodies, ropes, and clothing. In Carrara:  Monsieur Derville's Quarry (left), we see the devouring sun beating down diluting all shades of color to a monocrome tonal-range.  In Carrara: A Quarry (lower right), four men chip away at a massive block on a plateau of the imposing mountain in the lower part of the painting. Their bodies are nearly lost and only

Carrara: A Quarry

suggested with smudges of brown, the far right man using some sort of pole as leverage to shift the massive rock. We find them insignificant in their jagged world.  Annette Blaugrund, in her essay called “Sunshine Captured . . .” says that the paintings done at Carrara show Sargent working in a tour de force of watercolor techniques from "scraping, wiping out, and waxing, used in combination with gouache and transparent layering to achieve

Carrara: in a Quarry

the glistening effects of sunlight on stone” (p. 231, JSS, Patricia Hills book) 

As I view these images I’m reminded of my own trips to the southwest of the United States, the sort of arid, dry, rocky paths up small mountains (really nothing more than large hills). I remember the sun would very much wash everything out.  

Looking at these images you can almost hear the crunch of gravel under boot, the ping of steel chisels cutting away chips of jagged

Carrara: Workman

earth, the groan of hemp rope taut around wooden creaking wrenches, and the reluctant guttural moan -- stone against stone -- of boulders pulled from eternal slumber; and if you look close enough, take the time to see the world that Sargent saw, you can almost taste the gritty stone-dust between your teeth, feel the burn of sun on your skin, and the soaked salty bandana hanging heavy around your neck. 

I think I need a glass of water. 



John Singer Sargent, An Exhibition -- Whitney Museum, NY & The Art Institute of Chicago 1986-1987

  • See the The Art Institute of Chicago
  • See the year in review 1911


From: Mario Venutelli 
<marve nu>  
Date: Friday, December 19, 2003  
[english translation] 
Complimenti per il suo meraviglioso lavoro! 
La prego di darmi ogni ulteriore indicazione sulle opere di Sargent che hanno riguardato le cave di marmo di Carrara (Italia) ed eventuali informazioni sul suo soggiorno a Carrara. 

So di chiederLe molto e Le sarò infinitamente grato. Stiamo preparando una conferenza su Sargent a Carrara e abbiamo bisogno di tutti i libri e di tutte le notizie relative. Siamo, quindi, disponibili ad acquistare le sue ed altre pubblicazioni in merito... 

Grazie infinite e Buone Feste dalla città del  
Marmo e della Scultura. 

Mario Venutelli 
Via Alessandro Manzoni, 5 54033 

Editor's English Translation 

    Compliments for a wonderful job! I pray that you might be able to give an indication to me on the works of Sargent that regard the quarry of marble of Carrara (Italy) and any information on his stay at Carrara. I know this is asking a lot but would be infinitely grateful.  

    We are preparing a conference on Sargent for Carrara and have need of all the books and all the relevant information so that we can acquire these and other publications of merit. 

    Infinite thanks and Happy Festivities from the city of Marble and Sculpture. 

    Mario Venutelli  
    Via Alessandro Manzoni, 5 54033 CARRARA (MS) ITALY]


From: Natasha 

Very little is known, that I know anyway, WHY Sargent choose Carrara and the marble quarry for what would be one of the most tightly grouped series of paintings that he would ever do. 

There is, of course, the Venetian Studies of pedestrian scenes and the paintings and drawings during the war in France in 1918. There is the series of mountain scenes in the alps over a period of years, but Carrara really stands out as the tightest grouping of paintings in a theme that Sargent ever did.  

What do I know about them? Very little. Sargent apparently loved the lighting, and I think he expressed that to someone but I have gone through my literature here (of what I have anyway) and I can't find were I read that. In fact, two of the main biographies: Stanley Olson's 'John Singer Sargent, His Portrait'; St. Martin's Press, New York, 1886; and Evan Charteris' 'John Sargent'; Benjamin Blom, Inc, New York, 1925 both maddeningly scarcely mention Carrara  

Much of the literature regarding Carrara, that I can find, spend all their time on personal interpretation and reiteration in words what Sargent painted on paper and canvas  -- a practice that is often done by art historians -- as if you needed to be told what you are looking at -- I did it even -- I think it is all they can do when apparently we know so little about the WHY he went there, WHERE he stayed, WHAT his intent was etc. 

There isn't any particular book that doesn't give more than just a couple of pictures of his Carrara work. Even 'Sargent Abroad, Figures and Landscapes', Abbeville Press, New York, London and Paris, 1997 only show the two oils and one photograph. 

I don't know how much time you have, but your best bet would be to get in touch with  Richard Ormond (a descendent of Sargent's family) but unfortunately, I don't know how to do that. Maybe through Yale University Press which publishes a lot of his books or through Adelson Galleries which knows how to get a hold of him. 

Sargent made two oil paintings of the Carrara quarry:  

Then something like 17 loosely painted watercolors that are incredibly powerful in their skill.  Many of the watercolors are at the Fine Arts Museum in Boston. The Fogg Art Museum, at Harvard also has a number of sketches -- I would contact both of those institutions  


Sketchbook Workmen at Carrara  1911
Lizzatori Study
c. 1911

Studies of Quarry Workers and Architectural Sketches (1)

Studies of Quarry Workers
(recto and verso) (2)

Studies of Quarry Workers
(recto and verso) (3)

Studies of Quarry Workers
(recto and verso) (4)

Study of a Quarry Worker (5)

Study of Quarry Workers (6)

verso: Study of Two Quarry Workers with Ropes (7)

Studies of Quarry Workers with Ropes (8)



By:  Natasha Wallace
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Created 2000