Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Sargent: Always a Pleasure

And yesterday it was the National Portrait Gallery for the John Singer Sargent exhibition, Portraits of Artists and Friends, which is, unsurprisingly, brilliant. Such dash, such effortless technical mastery, such dazzling brushwork, such living likenesses - what more could you ask? Well, it's hard to say, but as so often with Sargent, after the initial impact, there's a sense of something missing - it's nothing essential but its lack means that enjoying his paintings is not one of the deeper, most satisfying or lasting pleasures that art has to offer. But so what? Pleasure it surely is, an intense and delicious pleasure - and no one could complain that Sargent's best portraits lack psychological penetration (try his Rodin for size). And many of the best are assembled at the NPG, a lot of them gathered in from various American galleries, notably the two astonishing portraits of Robert Louis Stevenson, the double portrait of the Peilleron children (looking as if they're auditioning for The Turn of the Screw), the wonderful Le Verre de Porto (A Dinner Table at Night), the powerful full-length of the actor Edwin Booth (elder brother of John Wilkes Booth), The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati (a plein-air portrait of Wilfrid and Jane de Glehn) and An Artist in His Studio, a quietly dazzling portrait of Ambrogio Raffele at work in a makeshift studio in his hotel room. It is a joy to see all these - and many more - together. It's only a shame that Sargent's most notorious picture - the Portrait of Madame X - didn't make it across the Atlantic. But for sheer painterly pleasure, this exhibition could hardly be topped. Enjoy!
 (And now I'm off jaunting around for a few days, so there might be a blog hiatus.)

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