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Dolce Far Niente

After the turn of the century, John Singer Sargent slowed his production of society portraits, concentrating on landscape paintings that recalled his experiments with Impressionism in the late 1880s. From 1904 to 1908 he spent part of each summer in Purtud in the Val d'Aosta of Italy, where he executed a series of works that display his renewed interest in painting outdoors and in depicting figures within a landscape. The Italian phrase that serves as the title can be translated as "It is sweet doing nothing," reflecting the serene indolence depicted here, with only a leisurely game of chess as entertainment. An interest in "orientalizing" motifs manifested in earlier works also reappeared in Sargent's Purtud images. The artist dressed his travel companions in colorful Turkish costumes, whose luxurious folds sensuously drape their bodies. The figures here are highly decorative, verging on the abstract, and the vibrant fusion of color, light, and texture formed by the heavily applied oil paint calls attention to the two-dimensional nature of painting.


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