Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Artist In His Studio"
By John Singer Sargent, 1903
Oil on canvas 28.5 x 28.25
From the Studios of Garin Baker
Carriage House Art Studios
July 12th 2011

Detail, "Artist in his Studio",  John Singer Sargent, 1903
This little gem is by one of our all time favorites, We all know the name, I'm sure! What has always inspired me about this painting is its pure simplicity. At last night open studio workshop where we have weekly models posing at Carriage House Art studios,  I try and set up a simple pose for 3 hrs with one direct light source attempting, as an exercise to capture in light, form and color a brief figure study and moment. What amazes me sometimes is the complexity we all try to add while the distractions and multiple confusions work their way into our paintings.  If we were to only see the simple masses of dark and light as well as the clear delineation of a cool or warm light vs and cool or warm shadow we would be able to follow through on immediate clear perceptions made in the first few seconds when the model assumes the pose.

When looking at the entire painting by Sargent we can see this very clearly.
One clear light source coming from an open unseen window to the left blankets the middle plain of the painting. Cool in cast with variations of warm shadows. Ok, lets not get confused. When Squinting our eyes (a great and wonderful tool which helps us to see the masses of darks vs lights) the shadows come together as large shapes as opposed to the light masses and shapes in the middle plain. What we all loose sight of in our own works is the "confusion of the grays" or middle tones and how they distract us from the overall impact and graphic nature of a fine work of art that can be read from across the room.  All those middle tones and colors bouncing around taking our attention and leading us astray. 
This painting by Sargent is for me a great lesson about what makes a great  work of art. 
With every stroke of paint, (not one waisted) he pulls together a compelling composition bringing us into the simple room and studio of an old seasoned artist, void of any accoutrements, powerful and purposeful with depth of meaning and form. This work has also inspired me to see my life with all it's complexities and problems as truly something simple to aspire to. "The work" of it all, and the passion to create in the studio, shedding all of life's "issues", for the moment........ 

Make more of them!


  1. One of my favorites too. It goes to show you that artists traveling the globe to find compelling subject matter may often be overlooking the more insightful subjects found all around them. Sargent did travel and he painted what inspired him but what this painting demonstrates is the ability to create a dynamic work of art in any given circumstance.

  2. what I want to know is why is he painting in his bed?

    Also, I wonder what those square shapes are in his palette hand over the brushes. I'm guessing maybe scraps of canvas to test dabs of color on?

  3. Zane, I thinks what Sargent is trying to communicate, is that in the most modest surroundings of his bedroom this old artist Sargent happened upon is creating a large landscape. The square shapes are possibly photo reference or printed postcards. Quite common back in 1903. But I'm only guessing.

  4. Could be (not one wasted) see above paragraph.