Going back to my roots here.
I love Sargent’s portraits. He gives me plenty 0f sheer sensual pleasure: the texture of the paint, the color, his play of light — all that adds up to works that are very pleasing (to me) to look at. And I love his subtle knife: he’s not painting likenesses, simply so. There’s a sense of interpretation, of commentary. He knew wealth; he painted the wealthy; he made a fair sum doing so. But he was able, always to see something in the character…and let that out, however carefully, however it cracked the myths his sitters may have hoped he’d reveal. Hence, I was delighted for the excuse to use this one in the post below:
But even if you aren’t persuaded, even if you see JSS as just another guy who made his way by showing the 1% what they wanted to see, even if you think he’s merely a “pretty” painter — you have to account for this:
Gassed may be the greatest anti-war painting ever made.
(I know that some of you will toss Guernica at me. You could be right….but the debate’s an open one.)
What really gets me, though, is that the same man who could capture the cool reserve of some rich guy in Miami in 1917, (Deering was actually a friend of Sargent’s) could paint that next canvas just one year later.
Merely a society boy? I don’t think so.
And with that: open thread.
Images: John Singer Sargent, Charles Deering at Brickell Point, Miami, 1917.
John Singer Sargent, Gassed, 1918.
Just to say: love the new nym. :)
yeah, i like Sargent, too. a lot.
but the Gassed pic (which might be the greatest anti-war painting of all time) is not Sargent at his best….as far as his style goes. whereas the portrait is pure Sargent (which you describe very well IMO).
if you did not know Gassed was by him, would you ever guess that it was?
and did he ever again paint something else in that style?
(Oops, just posted this in the previous thread, not realizing an Open Thread would so soon follow)
Here’s a shocker. Sullivan is being stupid:
Okay, so Sullivan thinks Obama should have done something different in order to have the opportunity to call the GOP phonies. Fair enough. But wait! What’s Sully’s very next sentence?
Uhh, no. Obama didn’t embrace the BS plan because he wanted to actually get something done in private. What Sullivan wanted was to put politics above policy (Call them phony! Be brutal!), but yet he still wants to claim it’s Obama that played politics.
Would ol’ Sully’s preferred line of action have resulted in any different policy results? Of course not. He doesn’t even pretend it would have.
What a maroon.
I have a recollection of him being awarded that nym where else?–in comments.
I’d not been familiar with “Gassed” but agree about its power and underlying humanity. Always thought “Guernica” was as much about the artist as it is about the subject, not to take away from its impact on the viewer.
Much better to be a pretentious art douche than to throw 17th C. Dutch masters or whoever into a post about the wingnut outrage du jour.
Look at the palm tree wreckage around that guy in the ill-fitting suit.
Memento mori action there, methinks.
@HyperIon: I think you can see Sargent in Gassed — especially when you confront the work in person. (It’s huge.) I had the good fortune to see it not in its permanent home in the Imperial War Museum, but as part of the big Sargent traveling exhibit that went from London to Boston and, I think, elsewhere. When you see it as it was displayed there, as the final work you confront after looking at dozens of his more familiar sorts of things, you get both the shock and the connection.
What Sargent really couldn’t do was landscapes. Harvard has one that ranks in my mind as perhaps the worst painting by a great painter I’ve ever seen.
Jesus. The Tory Git. There was nothing the least bit useful in Bowles-Simpson and it had the double-penalty of giving Alan Simpson what he loves most: camera time.
But hey, another opportunity at an “adult conversation” like the one afforded by the Ryan Plan. Not.
@TG Chicago: There isn’t and never was a Simpson-Bowles plan. They couldn’t get the requisite votes for an official plan, but Simpson and Bowles released their version anyway.
As an aside, Ryan voted against the version Bowles and Simpson released. That fact should be mentioned every time he does an interview.
Been waiting for an open thread so that I could give you all an update on Ellie Wyatt. It wasn’t a fracture but a torn ligament in addition to a dislocated knee. Apparently he has a birth defect which results in his knee dislocating and then reattaching itself (apparently he has it in both back knees). She gave him some shots for the pain as well as some other shots to help his joints, and put him on pain killers and Glucosamine. She suggested letting him settle for a week or so and then going for a orthopedic surgeon consult to see if the knee problem can be solved with surgery.
I am delighted that his leg was not broken and I hope he is going to be alright. Again I want to thank everyone who helped with the vet bill. You have no idea how grateful I am.
Don’t know if anyone has seen Gassed in person but it is massive which makes the feelings evoked even stronger.
@TooManyJens: Uhh…wow. I’m more worried it’s a wingnut.
Also, too, I first read the painting title as “Charles Durning at Brickell Point, Miami” and wondered when he’d lost all the weight.
@trollhattan: Even better:
Charles Durning ATE Brickell Point, Miami.
Yeah, the chopped-up palm wreckage is definitely a poke at something– memento mori, or “Just a Snapshot of JD, Regular Guy relaxing in Sunny Florida.”
The trash and clutter could be from the construction of Vizcaya, his palace (go see it if you’re ever down here, it’s worth it.) Why palm tree trash instead of the half-built palace as a background? Really pokes you in the eye, and it’s obviously a comment of some kind by Sargent– or maybe Deering.
@trollhattan: Well, to be fair, Charles Durning was much thinner in 1917.
As always, I thoroughly enjoyed your post.
Minor Pretentious Art Douche moments at work:
Me: Here’s a rendering of (piece of equipment) for the paper we’re writing, colored the way Colleague #1 wanted.
Colleague #1: “I love it”
Colleague #2: “That looks terrible. Go back to natural colors instead of a primary-color palette”
Colleague #1: “We should go down to the Art Institute and let the experts there decide”
Me: “The software has an option for watercolor rendering, but sadly not Pointilism or Cubism.”
Gassed always reminds me of Goya’s Third of May. Something about the lines, perhaps, though Goya’s moment is just into the action (one death so far, but clearly many more to come), whereas Sargent’s is just after. Either way, I’d nominate Goya into the discussion. Regardless, all three really push hard on the buttons labeled Shock, Horror, and Anger.
When I lived in the DC area, a trip to the National Gallery of Art was never complete without seeing Sargent’s “Repose”, a sumptuous painting of an well dressed woman taking a nap on a couch. Superb work on the folded fabric. A feeling of relaxation flows out of the painting.
Pierce finds a sadsack former Nixon staffer scolding us for not protecting him (Nixon) and the Constitution better during Watergate. A sample:
i.e., “Boff sides do it!”
Yes, it’s Politico, but still…. I expect a spirited “seconded” op-ed from Ben Stein any moment.
@Tom Levenson: Gassed is a huge painting, and so unlike any of the portraits.
It is not a painterly painting but more of a giant illustration. It doesn’t have the technical and communicative genius that Sargent’s great portraits do (nor the intimacy). It has a pretty flat field of vision.
But, like you, I saw it at the end of the traveling exhibit of about 10 years ago….and it announces that the humanity, wealth, urbanity, and rich colors of the 19th century are over — and now we are in hell.
The scale, composition of figures, and colors (all a sickly range of yellowish-greenish-browns) are what make this work.
Davis X. Machina
Sargent’s textiles are always spectacular. Sometimes I wonder if he resented having to paint all those people inside them just to pay the bills.
Mhhh, Sully never understood Boyles Simpson was a terrible plan, bad deal, nothing any Democrat wanted anything to do with. He sure does not understand numbers or economics. Still thinks the deficit is something to worry about right now, in this economy.
Had Obama embraced it, he’d be a lame duck. Maybe 50 dem votes-own party against it.
Sometimes it’s really obvious Sullivan is from some other country-he can be so clueless about how the masses are going to react. Not so much stupid as shaped by different assumptions-different history. I seem to recall Britain had a much more serious deficit problem back in the 70’s than we did. Not that ours was nothing, but not the same. Anyway we aren’t having that part of history repeat itself right now but he thinks we are.
I like the painting by the way but thats all I ever have to say about art. I like it or I don’t. I don’t talk about it. I did used to do quite a bit of art for fun all through my youth but these days I garden a lot more.
Just the overall coloring makes you think: Mustard Gas. My grandfather got the mustard gas, and shook like a leaf for the rest of his very shortened life. I want to say he was lucky to have survived, but I dunno that he felt that way.
Madam X is one of the most hypnotic paintings ever painted, and worthy of a visit every time you are in New York and can visit the Met.
That’s exactly what I thought. And at the top are clouds of gas.
Arkansas Tea Party leader tells horrible racist joke at rally, resigns … but you know, everyone at the rally thought it was hilarious. So what’s the fucking point.
I love Sargent too
I’ve always thoughgt this painting was haunting, painted whhile the disastrous French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War was still very fresh. Click in the link to enlarge.
Villago Delenda Est
Not just a maroon. An ultramaroon.
Villago Delenda Est
What they miss of course is not that the crime was secretly taping conversations. The crime was in the content of the conversations themselves.
That’s what drove Nixon from office. The “smoking gun” tape revealed that Nixon lied about his involvement in the cover-up, even to his own lawyers.
2,000 Yard Stare
“The phrase was popularized after Life magazine published the painting Marines Call It That 2,000 Yard Stare, by World War II artist and correspondent Tom Lea, although the painting was not referred to with that title in the 1945 magazine article. The painting, a 1944 portrait of a Marine at the Battle of Peleliu, is now held by United States Army Center of Military History, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C. About the real-life Marine who was his subject, Lea said:
He left the States 31 months ago. He was wounded in his first campaign. He has had tropical diseases. He half-sleeps at night and gouges Japs out of holes all day. Two-thirds of his company has been killed or wounded. He will return to attack this morning. How much can a human being endure?”
@RobNYNY1957: Ringling is such a terrific museum. If you get a chance, be sure to visit the Circus Museum and John and Mable Ringling’s house, which are on the grounds there as well.
To the best of my recollection/knowledge (though a card-carrying member of the guild of American art historians, Sargent and his period is not my specialty), he never created another work in oils with that subject. He did paint a number of watercolors, oil sketches, and preparatory drawings related to the Gassed commission. I’ve never seen the painting in person, but have viewed several drawings and watercolors in Washington and Boston.
Sargent did, however, create a series of works of a similar scale: murals commissioned and still on view at the Boston Public Library, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Harvard’s Widener Library. The commission from the British War Memorials Committee that led to his painting Gassed came late in Sargent’s career (he died in 1925), and after he had received both praise and notoriety for the Boston murals.
The Encyclopedia Wikipedia has an excellent summary of information on the painting. I learned there, for instance, that its composition may derive in part from Brueghel’s The Parable of the Blind.
For my own tastes, works by German Expressionist artists such as Otto Dix and Goerg Grosz, particularly their prints, have retained their power to convey the savagery and moral corruption of war. And perhaps definitively, Goya’s series The Disasters of War.
Sargent did a couple of other murals of World War I soldiers, in a very different spirit, in Harvard’s Widener library. One of them (“Death and Victory”, 1922) literally shows an angel lifting a (remarkably clean) dead soldier up to heaven. Like most Sargent, it’s technically brilliant, but if “gassed” encompasses your view of war… you’re not missing much.
No art talk, just taking advantage of the open thread to check in from stop #2 on my Tour de Yarn of Santa Barbara: lunch at Crush Cafe. Lunch was a bit meh, but now I can justify a cupcake. Toodles!
Haven’t see Gassed but I remember how powerful Guernica was to see in person. Prints of it didn’t do it justice. It is also a very large canvas and in person it is stunning.
I saw it when it was in New York. Once Franco was gone it went to Madrid where it is now shown in a museum near the Atocha train station, scene of the terrorist bombing in 2004. The circle of
Hey now: there’s nothing wrong with “society boy” paintings.
Gainsborough, Goya, Rembrandt — they made their bones pretty skillfully.
Here’s my buddy Richard Olson’s Vietnam paintings. He was a helicopter pilot very early in the war.
i effing love your pretentious art
as for modern stuff, i’m a biiig fan of Alex Gross
I regret but am not ashamed to have great trouble appreciating the nuances of much art. With the Deering above I’m not seeing the flick of the knife or whatever commentary on character Mr. Levenson is seeing. It is, to my eye, only an image that evokes a scene to me. Attractive and evocative, but only of a visual. Would anyone care to point me towards what I’m missing or to someone else who might open mine eyes? (“Gassed” I think I can properly appreciate, at least as far as one can on a monitor, but partly that’s from extant opinions about war and the Great War in particular.)
I’ll give him credit for Gassed, but I am not a Sargent fan. Terrifically skilled, he was. Too skilled. Facile. And I can’t not see his portraits as luxurious, “expensive hunks of well-regulated area”* designed to intimidate us out of any feelings about the superrich except awe at what beautiful representations of themselves they can afford to pay for.
*Manny Farber, defining “White Elephant” art.
“El Tres de Mayo,” by Francisco de Goya,
@Villago Delenda Est:
Yup, exactly. He oversaw a criminal organization, personally. And one continues to wonder, given all the damning tapes that were eventially released, what the heck was on Rose Mary Woods’ magical erasure?
Listening in on the lunatic anti-semite, anti-everything paranoid Nixon was just a “bonus.”
Thanks for the info. I tried to find the “worst” landscape that TL mentioned in his reply to me and quickly fell into a “search Harvard’s art collection” hole.
re “Triumph of Religion”: I did not know of that work. Ugh.
Yes, I like Dix also.
@Litlebritdifrnt: Thanks for the update!
I hear the liquid glucosamine is the way to go. Easier, too :)
Tom Return of Pretentious Art Douche Levenson
@handsmile: Thanks for this post.
I greatly value Dix’s and Grosz’s war art — I talked about both in my Einstein in Berlin book. Copyright issues keep me from posting them here.
As for the Disasters of War series — I’ve loved them since I first grabbed a crappy little paperback edition of them off my parents’ shelf around 8th grade. I stole some for my junior high school newspaper. I’ve used them before for blog posts — but I find I need to go back to them sparingly. They’re overproof moonshine to the sherry and vermouth of a lot of art — packing a punch from which you don’t always recover.
I love Sargent’s paintings. (Despite my art school’s best efforts to minimize and mock him as a “mere” society painter. Balls. ) He was a visual master of what he did, hyper-adept in his materials, and yeah, he emphasized glamour and power in those society portraits. So what?
Some of his drawings and watercolors, quietly undere-exhibited for years, are striking in their tenderness and (homo)eroticism. Pieces like, “Tommies Bathing”, of WW1 soldiers at momentary rest and respite from war, are very deeply observed and felt. Sargent was a very interesting character. I vastly prefer his Appolonian eye and work over the scads of dreary modernist abstract painters that my art teachers insisted were the true geniuses. (Some of whom I admire; a great many seem passé.) Something of Sargent’s visual power, figuration, and yes glamour seem more attuned to today somehow, than when I was in art school.
JSS is my absolute favorite painter. I appreciate his protraits, for much the same reasons Tom does, but his watercolors, particularly of Venice are stunning.
He is able to capture the essence of things in just a few deft flicks of the brush. No overpainting, no editing or second thoughts- some are so loose as to be abstract, which only adds to the delight.
@Raven: Very haunting, troubling images…and yet beautiful in their way. Your friend is a very talented artist. Thank you for sharing.
The prophet Nostradumbass
@Mnemosyne (iTouch): While you’re there, you should check out Mac’s fish and chips place on State Street, it’s awesome.
Don’t forget that WW1 involved an absolutely enormous percentage of the British aristocracy and upper classes. The numbers of young male aristocrats and scions of wealth slaughtered is staggering.
Of course, the tradition continues, with all our elites here sending their children off to fight for our nation in, um, somewhere I’m sure.
A few years ago there was an exhibit in Denver called “Sargent in Italy.” The effect was so overwhelming that halfway through I turned to my wife and said, “I’ve wasted my life.” The man could paint.
@Tom Return of Pretentious Art Douche Levenson: (#50)
Thanks in turn, not least for your post prompting me to root about among my dustier bookshelves.
On the subject of graphic (in both senses) images of war, I highly recommend the volume, The Plains of War: European War Prints 1500-1825, featuring work by artists renowned (Goya, Durer, Hogarth) and obscure. More than just a catalogue of ghoulishness, the book presents allegories, battle panoramas, arms and armor, and genre scenes between soldiers and civilians. I expect it would be available in a nearby university library, perhaps yours.
Also, I’ve requested your Einstein in Berlin from my local library and do look forward to reading it.
Sargent is a favorite of mine. I remember going to an exhibit at the Whitney of his Venetian interiors (oils, not watercolors). In some ways, they seemed very modern.