Study of Sargent’s Watercolor
I enjoy studying John Singer Sargent’s watercolors because he was a bit of a maverick as opposed to being a watercolor purist. He judiciously used wax resist and white gouache in practically all of his watercolors to emphasize highlights and provide uninhibited sparkle as he felt necessary. To great effect, as they are hardly noticeable in his paintings unless one is looking for them. He painted watercolor boldly with strong color and minimal brush strokes. Purists would never use wax or gouache, and few used bold color in his day. He typically painted on quarter sheets of watercolor, sometimes larger. Keep that in mind should you decide to do a master copy to study his techniques. To make the greatest use of your time, copy only a section at the same scale on smaller paper. This will maintain the accurate scale of strokes and color depth he achieved.
In both mediums he was extremely prolific. Painting around 900 oil paintings and over 2000 watercolors in his career. The watercolors were most often done en plein aire while on various travels beginning in his fifties. Other than the murals he was commissioned to paint for the Boston Public Library, he painted watercolors almost exclusively, save for around 100 charcoal portraits he created for insistent clients. Among all of this, there were untold numbers of sketches and drawings in charcoal and pencil.
Most of his work is in private collections and in many museums around the world. Some of it comes up for auction and Sotheby’s has the distinction of selling all of the top ten Sargent paintings sold at auction. The last one being an oil painting at $23,528,000 including premiums in 2004, it was part of the sale of the property of Rita and Daniel Fraad, well known New York (state) art collectors.
Today, Sargent is considered a master in both mediums and there is much to be learned in studying and copying any of his works. The watercolors in particular communicate detail with only a few strokes of the brush. When one studies the faces closely, it is amazing how little is actually there. Likewise with trees and scenery, fountains and architecture. I can’t recommend Sargent’s work enough as study material for the mastery of watercolor painted in the outdoors.
4 thoughts on “Study of Sargent’s Watercolor”
Sure enjoy your work, my dear friend! Glad to see your enjoying retirement and doing what you love! Take care!
Good to hear from you, and yes, I couldn’t wait to retire back when I was 21! It was a looooong 40 year wait but God kept me here for a reason I reckon.🤔🙂 I’m thankful, blessed and fortunate. Good or bad, every day is a gift.🙏
Hi Don, I retired 6 years ago and enjoying reading folks thoughts about watercolors. I paint more than when I was working but teaching is equally exciting. Your point about being a non-purist is something I am engaging in more often. I teach watercolors in our retirement community and love the joy and learning that my students take from class. Thanks for your post. It reinforces my thinking on pushing boundaries for students.
Thanks for commenting Wally! I think it’s great that you are engaging with the retirement community by teaching watercolor painting. As to the non-purist point, I figure if it was good enough for Sargent, it’s good enough for me.😉