Exhibitions: John Singer Sargent Watercolors

John Singer Sargent: Simplon Pass: Reading; Bedouins

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925). (left) Simplon Pass: Reading, circa 1911. Opaque and translucent watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 20 1/16 x 14 1/16 in. (51 x 35.7 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund. Photograph © 2013 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; (right) Bedouins, circa 1905–6. Opaque and translucent watercolor, 18 x 12 in. (45.7 x 30.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by Special Subscription, 09.814

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This landmark exhibition unites for the first time the John Singer Sargent watercolors acquired by the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the early twentieth century. The culmination of a yearlong collaborative study by both museums, John Singer Sargent Watercolors explores the watercolor practice that has traditionally been viewed as a tangential facet of Sargent’s art making. The ninety-three pieces on display provide a once-in-a-generation opportunity to view a broad range of the artist’s finest production in the medium.

Brooklyn’s thirty-eight watercolors, most of which have not been on view for decades, were largely purchased from Sargent’s 1909 debut exhibition in New York. Their subjects include Venetian scenes (The Bridge of Sighs), Mediterranean sailing vessels, intimate portraits (A Tramp), and Bedouin subjects (Bedouins). Boston’s watercolors, purchased in 1912, are more highly finished than the Brooklyn works. They feature subjects from his travels to the Italian Alps, the villa gardens near Lucca, and the marble quarries of Carrara, as well as portraits. The exhibition also presents nine oil paintings, including Brooklyn’s An Out-of-Doors Study, Paul Helleu and His Wife (1889) and Boston’s The Master and His Pupils (1914).

New discoveries based on scientific study of Sargent’s pigments, drawing techniques, and paper preparation are featured in a special section deconstructing his techniques. Select works throughout the exhibition are paired with videos that show a contemporary watercolor artist demonstrating some of Sargent’s methods.

John Singer Sargent Watercolors is organized by the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibition is co-curated by Teresa A. Carbone, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art, Brooklyn Museum, and Erica E. Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Generous support for the exhibition and catalogue was provided by The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.  

The presentation in Brooklyn was made possible by the Henry Luce Foundation, the Robert Lehman Foundation, Bank of America, Sotheby’s, and the Richard and Jane Manoogian Foundation. Additional support for the catalogue was provided by a publications endowment established by the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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