with Natasha -- FAQ
May 18, 2000
It had been difficult to corner Natasha for another interview. Once in January an attempt was made but was aborted Ė now over eight months have passed since her last one and she finally relented.
Q. It has been so long since you have done an interview. There was that time in January when you were going to sit but backed out, are you getting shy?
A. No, not really. I'm afraid no one could ever accuse me of that. I just didnít have a lot to say. The reason for doing these interviews in the first place was I felt there were things interesting to people that couldn't be told in the context of an essay.
I donít know, once the forum started talking off, I really didnít see a need. I could ramble on all I wanted to in the forum. The questions just seemed more appropriate there.
What is the biggest thing thatís changed since last September -- your last
A. Without a doubt the biggest thing thatís happened has nothing to do with me and everything to do with people that visit my site. Itís just amazing. Towards the end of September I was pretty much running out of steam and really didnít know what else I was going to do, then along came Bert (or The Pragmatic Romantic as he likes to be called) and Wonsug Jung. It was so exciting to hear from other Sargent enthusiasts. Both of these guys were so encouraging to me and the website, and both just jumped right in -- on their own no less -- and contributed tremendously.
Their enthusiasm is contagious and it's changed the whole face and tone of these pages. Wonsug built an addenda pages with Photographs and Caricatures of Sargent paintings, and Bert has contributed enormously in terms of images and his own wonderful site about the Retrospective Exhibition and is working on the catalogue of oils.
I really couldnít be more excited about it. The whole thing has grown far beyond what I've originally envisioned and in the most positive sense has embraced the strength of the ďWorld Wide WebĒ A whole community of people from around the world that share, in one way or another, an interest or love of Sargentís art. Bertís in Canada, Wonsug is in Korea, Iíve heard from Han Timmer, an art historian from the Netherlands; Patrick Van de Velde emailed me from Brussels and Thailand. Iíve heard from an art student from Scotland that donít have access to Sargentís books; and Michele Lener doing research from Italy. I heard from Steve Milton from London. Terry Browne from Dublin. All of these people are just quality people Ė every last one of them. Itís just amazing and so darn cool.
Q. I can see your excited. Is it just the contact with people from various corners of the world?
A. Thatís part of it, but no youíre missing my point. Itís not just my website anymore, itís every Sargent admirerís website. Sure, my thumbprint is all over it, and obviously I run it, but by opening it up, we get to hear from a wealth of people who have some wonderful input.
Again, it stems from what the web should be and not what it is.
Q. What do you mean by that?
A. For the most part the web is just a bunch of billboards -- ďSpend youíre money hereĒ they seem to say. And they got all those flashy graphics and blinking lights Ė itís just God-awful ugly.
Everyone can see right through that. Itís veiled by a very thin, very transparent and superficial cloak of what they call ďcontentĒ. There are exceptions, of course, but most things on the web are just a big phonebook ad.
The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC is one of the coolest websites in the world and itís just getting better and better and better. The van Gogh show they had was actually duplicate on the net with multi-media, and Jpeg images of the gallery itself. Itís like they read my mind on what a gallery should do, and theyíve done it.
People keep saying that the net's not appropriate for scholarly approach to anything and they're just dead wrong. It just hasnít been done right.
Think about it. If you are a Sargent scholar, what do you do?
Well, you start by reading all the
literature on Sargent and then you begin to dig for original source material,
you spend months, you spend years looking through archives and contacting
other scholars that might have something about what youíre looking for.
The web leverages that human knowledge profoundly and at a speed that's
breathtaking. The change in the content and nature of my site since September
is huge, and itís a direct result -- of not me -- but of
the people that have visited my site and have taken the time to add to
Have you heard from any known Sargent scholars?
A. Iíve heard from Harvard.
Q. You have?
A. Kerry Schauber who works at the Harvard University Art Museums, wrote me back in September, I think, and we worked together on identifying which paintings I had at my site that are owned by Harvard.
Q. What did she say?
A. She expressed some legitimate concerns about linking to third-party sources for images of paintings they own when they had the image already online at their site. I was pretty open and honest with her, told her what I was trying to do, and clearly itís better to be linked to the original source. Harvard has notes on a lot of these paintings and biographical information. It was clearly the right thing to do and I was happy to oblige. She was really nice about it, and actually a great deal of help to in identifying some inaccuracies with other items as well. Iím most grateful to her for her help and time.
Q. Have there been any others?
A. One, but for understandable reasons they were reluctant to want to get involved.
Q: Why was that?
A. I think the Internet is still too new of a medium. There are all kinds of issues that are gray areas for people. Things still haven't shaken out as to what is proper protocol and if you take a chance and you step on someone's toes, doors will be closed to you in the future - or so they think.
Q Who was it?
A. That wouldnít be fair to them to say.
Q. they donít see your site as a serious?
A. No . . . . it wasnít that. I think I understand where they're coming from. I donít have credentials and it can be dicey for them. I'm not risking anything but my time. They, on the other hand, would be risking their reputations and their bread-and-butter. To some it would have to take someone like Richard Ormond to come along to give this some kind of stamp of ďlegitimacyĒ -- Although that would be wonderful, I'm not sure that's necessary. In fact Iíve shied away from contacting scholars for that very reason. If they want to write me I'd be tickled to hear from them.
Iíve sort of adopted a scientific
model. Itís open to anyone. And I welcome any contributions to a shared
body of knowledge. I have tried to give credit at every turn, and quite
frankly I think it makes it more interesting when you hear from other people,
so Iím more than happy to move over. People are pretty smart. They can
read through you and
Some people are amazed at just how
open I am about publishing correspondence. If people are like me, which
I always assume they are, what I find interesting is not always the main
story. If people want something off the record, all they have to do it
tell me Ė I have no problem with that. I donít print everything, but I
print a lot of what I get.
Way back in January of 1999 you were asked which painting of Sargentís
you liked best. What are your feelings about that now? Have they changed
A. LOL [Laugh Out Loud for you non-chat people]
That's probably the most difficult question to answer. Donít get me wrong, because I certainly donít feel ownership of these painting, but like a parent that deals with each and every chid over a long time, in many ways they feel like children. I sort of see them in the context of his whole body of work. Itís almost unfair to take them out of that context Ė but there are clearly favorites.
What I told you back in January of Ď99 really hasnít changed too much Ė there's probably more now if anything.
Let me answer the question this way:
The Venetian paintings are so incredibly wonderful and probably some of the best work he ever did, and yet they were almost all studies. I love the idea that he didnít paint the ďusual suspectsĒ but the side streets and the back alleys and the side canales, and I loved that he painted the women doing daily things -- dark interiors and the play of light and shadows -- itís all just so clearly seen there.
Of these, oh . . . . I don't know, itís so very difficult to separate out. How about ďVenetian InteriorĒ for the way he used one brush stroke to indicate a bar of light across the floor, ďVenetian Water Carriers Ē for the spontaneity of the composition that is, at the same time, so wonderfully balanced, and ďStreet in Venice Ē for the inner question that just makes you want to know whatís in the minds of the people he paints AND the people that view his art.
Moving on, I think there is no way I can pass up Madame X Ė itís the most compelling story of any of his paintings, and clearly for that reason alone, itís right up there at the top Ė itís a striking portrait, though it really is a shame that Sargentí repainted the dress strap.
And I personally like French Impressionism so when Sargent starts experimenting with that in Ď86 at Broadway. Iím drawn to the colorfulness of ďThe Old Chair Ē and ďPoppies Ē and the striking blue of the sky and the sense of motion he captures in ďA Gust of Wind Ē.
In Ď89 Paul Helleu Sketching for a number of reasons both conceptually with his wife right there by his side and the boldness of Sargentís strokes -- you can see is so easily in the waving grass.
By 1890 Sargentís attention is diverted towards he Boston Public Library murals, and I donít think itís a coincidence that his other extra calicular paintings start to become diverted.
I do enjoy the commissioned portraits -- there are some great stories there, but they arenít what fuel my passion in Sargent. Likewise the Mural work is fascinating as they contribute to his story, but they arenít my burning favorites.
Both paintings are interesting because these are both much more highly ďfinishedĒ portraits and donít show nearly the bravura style of his strokes. If you read the years previous, the public is rejecting his Impressionist work and I think Sargent is a little scared and is painting clearly to please the widest possible audience Ė trying to find a firm footing and he clearly succeeds.
By 1903 Sargent starts to think a little towards his watercolors, more so than just studies, and I think some really beautiful work starts to come out of that -- such as ďA Spanish Interior Ē and then ďPortrait of Miss Eliza Wedgewood Ē just bowels me over as something that can be so bold and forceful can also be so beautiful and tender. I just love this painting, and if you think about how to try and duplicate something like this, the slightest insecurity would just ruin it Ė these bold washes of color just slide across the entire paper Ė there isínt one ounce of timidity here. Sargent is fully comfortable with his ability.
And then the year 1909 Ė heís traveling with his friends and these are some of the happiest times for him -- it shows in his art.
In the top five of my all-time favorites Ė Iíve got to include Light and Shadows, Corfu. The colors are just beautiful I think I could just stare at it for hours. Itís one of those paintings that brings back childhood memories of warm spring days, carefree, when I use to lay out on the lawn with and watch the shadows and sunlight play through the trees Ė to me itís a real peaceful, beautiful painting and when I think of how one might try to duplicate that with washes of color, it just becomes very complex.
1910: ďStudy of Architecture, FlorenceĒ makes me want to go there. His compositions are very contemporary -- way beyond his time -- he takes only parts of a structure so you can get lost in symmetry of columns but viewed at an unusual angle. Itís personal Ė itís not the usual ďtourist viewĒ, itís conceptual.
Breakfast In The Loggia' as
well as Villa Torre Galli: The Loggia both together Ė the study
of light at various times. Again these work on multiple levels. For
me itís very personal, reminds me Ė in mood Ė of vacations with family
Ė happy times, restful, but these two together are interesting to see how
Sargent painted. Again, they have to be in the top ten for
The Garden Wall, so wonderful for similar reasons Ė itís a watercolor for Godís sake Ė how does he do it?
1913: Gypsy Encampment. The thumbnail isnít all that great but look at the full image and keep in mind his love of Gypsy music and its people. Keep in mind the 1882 El Jaleo. Technically you can see his brush strokes but I just love the composition of the people, of the women. The painting is more unusual than what you might normally see Ė like his Bedouins. You can almost sense that later at night a guitar might come out with singing and dancing.
1914: Graveyard in the Tyrol its melancholy, its prophetic Ė I love it.
. . . . Iím not doing too good am I?
Q. No this is great.
A. There are three paintings that really get to me in a wonderful way that I donít have. One is a watercolor of Madame Roger-Jourdain c. 1883-85. Itís beautiful. She was stunningly beautiful and Sargent has captured her sprawled out on grass with a parasol. Again for different reasons. First for the incredible ability to capture a portrait in watercolor showing her beauty, but also because the story behind it is such a . . . . .. ďsad bunnyĒ story. It just tears your heart out Ė she eventually committed suicide, never having recovered from the loss of her son in WWI.
As she was beautiful, so was her daughter and Sargentís portrait of Mademoiselle Roger-Jourdain oil done in 1889 is a portrait of a child unlike any other of Sargentís work.
And finally, another watercolor -- a portrait of Jane de Glehn in a gondola the exact date and name Iím not sure but around 1910 Ė truly another amazing painting.
Q. I hope you can get those images
A. Me too.
Iíve gone on way too long--
Can I ask one more?
Q. People want to know who I am, would you tell them?
A. You mean whoís interviewing me?
A. Are you sure you want me to?
Q. You've told me you get asked a lot. There's probably more that want to know.
A. Okay . . . . I hate to tell you this dear, but you are an amalgam.
Q. Iím a what?
A. A composite.
Q. That doesnít sound good.
A. well, . . . . it is and it isnít. You are a couple of my friends that I know whoíve helped me. Your part random from people that write me letters and even a bit of myself as Iíve taken your questions and answered them in a conversational way.
I did an interview once for a business journal (long story) and in doing so, all I did was take a recorder and taped a verbal conversation and then I transcribed it. It turned out great because people like to read the way people speak. It's a bit more artificial here, but the idea's the same.
Are you okay?
Q. I . . . I donít think I feel good. . . . feel . . . .
Q. . . . yeah.
A. You did ask.
Take care everybody.
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