John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Charcoal at the Morgan Library

John Singer Sargent charcoal portrait drawings

John Singer Sargent charcoal portrait drawings

John Singer Sargent is known for his bravura society portraits in oil, as well as his masterful watercolors. The latter were painted largely for his own pleasure as he traveled. The former, which were his stock in trade, came to weary him late in his career, and at one point he simply stopped doing formal portraits in oil.

He continued creating portraits, however, but in the form of charcoal drawings. These are wonderfully economical, deceptively simple but insightful and evocative of personality. They are also beautiful examples of the power of charcoal and of chiaroscuro.

The Morgan Library and Museum in New York, which has a history of presenting wonderful shows of drawings, has mounted a show of Sargent’s charcoal portraits drawings in cooperation with the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Charcoal, will be on display at the Morgan Library until January 12, 2020. The exhibition will then move to the National Portrait Gallery, where it will be on display from February 28 to May 31, 2020.

The Morgan Library has a small set of preview images, which I’ve used for my examples, above, and I’ve linked to another source on Wikimedia Commons, though the quality of the reproductions there varies.

There is a catalogue accompanying the exhibition. For those on a budget, there is an unrelated Dover paperback of Sargent Portrait Drawings.

See also my previous post on John Singer Sargent’s portrait drawings.


J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

J.M.W. Turner Sketchbooks

J.M.W. Turner Sketchbooks

English painter and printmaker J.M.W. Turner, who was active in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was astonishingly prolific. On his death, he left over 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolors and more than 30,000 works on paper.

Many of the latter are pages from his sketchbooks, and many of those are in the collection of the Tate Britain as part of the extraordinary Turner Bequest, which brought the museum’s holding of Turner’s works to over 37,000.

The Tate has put a number of these online, in a special section of their website: J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings, Watercolours.

The resource is divided into 5 chronologically arranged sections from different points in the artist’s career, and within that, the works are arranged in subsections by location or other theme. Exploring is a matter of drilling down through the categories to subcategories.

Eventually, you will come to pages in which an individual sketchbook or thematic group of works is available in a slideshow. In the initial window of that slideshow there are usually two tabs, allowing you to choose between “Entry” (the slideshow) and “At a glance” or “Artworks”. Choosing the latter will open up thumbnails of the images arrayed directly on the page, making them much easier to browse.

For example, in the section “1819-29 Italy and After“, there is a subsection for “Rivers of England c. 1822-4” and a subsequent subsection for “‘Rivers of England’ Watercolours“.

From there you can click on a thumbnail to go to the detail page for an artwork, and there click on the image for an enlarged view. Most of the images are available in a nicely large size.

A number of the sections contain sketchbook pages that are so light or barely notated that they may be of less interest, but if you patiently dig around, you will be rewarded with many extraordinarily accomplished works in watercolor and gouache.

The sections for “Loose Studies of Paris and the Seine” and “Meuse-Moselle Gouache and Watercolour” (among others) are particularly of interest to those who are interested in Turner’s masterful handling of gouache as a sketching medium.

This project is so extensive, so wonderful and so engrossing, that I will issue a Time Sink Warning.


Les animaux tels qu’ils sont

Les animaux tels qu'ils sont, how to draw animals

Les animaux tels qu'ils sont, how to draw animals

Les animaux tels qu’ils sont, which Google translates as “The animals as they are” is a book published in France in 1959 that offers 90 plus examples of how to draw animals using simplified geometric forms.

Someone has apparently determined that the book now falls in the public domain, as the pages are available in high resolution on Wikimedia Commons.

There is also a set of pages on this Flickr collection, that makes it easier to view and browse them, but the image files are easier to download from Wikimedia.


Eye Candy for Today; Rembrandt landscape etching of trees, houses and tower

View of some houses with trees and a tower, etching and drypoint, Rembrandt van Rijn

View of some houses with trees and a tower, etching and drypoint (details) Rembrandt van Rijn

View of some houses with trees and a tower, Rembrandt van Rijn

Etching and drypoint, roughly 5 x 12 inches (12 x 32 cm); in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, which has a zoomable image on the website (also downloadble if you sign up for a free Rijksstudio account).

This is one of my favorite landscape etchings by Rembrandt, which, for me, is saying something, because I love them all. This one is just so astonishingly beautiful it boggles my mind.

First, there is the composition, the way your eye is unerringly pulled into the scene and then led through it, delighted with linear and textural effects along the way. Then there is the drama of the values, the dense dark of the trees to the left, balanced by the darks in the primary house, the lighter touches on the path in the foreground and the house to the right, and the echo of darker values on the tower in the background.

Such a feeling of space, texture, time and presence.

An etching, for all of the wonderful characteristics inherent in that medium, is still, first and foremost, a drawing. Unlike Rembrandt’s landscape pen and wash drawings — which as far as can be determined, were done for his own pleasure or practice — his etchings were more formal, intended for multiple reproductions, presumably for sale or at least as gifts for valued patrons.

At their best, Rembrandt’s landscape drawings give me an uncanny feeling of being there — of sitting next to him as he sees and draws his subject — focused, aware and contemplative.

Don’t just take my detail crops as an indication of how wonderful this drawing is, do yourself the favor of going to the Rijksmuseum’s page and zooming in at full screen.


Eye Candy for Today: Sargent charcoal portrait drawing

Portrait of Ernest Schelling. John Singer Sargent, charcoal on paper

Portrait of Ernest Schelling. John Singer Sargent, charcoal on paper (details)

Portrait of Ernest Schelling, John Singer Sargent

Charcoal on paper, roughly 24 x 18 inches (62 x 47 cm); in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum, NY (use zoom or download links above and below image on their page).

Many people are aware of Sargent’s stunning society portraits and his brilliant personal watercolors, but less well known are the hundreds of charcoal portrait drawings.

Sargent’s charcoal portraits are marvels of economy an draftsmanship.

The Morgan Library in New York is having a show devoted to them in October of this year. In the meanwhile, here is one from their collection.


Eye Candy for Today: Anders Zorn etched portrait of Augustus Saint Gaudens

Augustus Saint Gaudens II (Saint Gaudens and his Model), Anders Zorn, etching

Augustus Saint Gaudens II (Saint Gaudens and his Model), Anders Zorn, etching (details)
Augustus Saint Gaudens II (Saint Gaudens and his Model), Anders Zorn

Etching and drypoint, roughly 5 x 8 inches (14 x 20 cm); in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; downloadable large image on Wikimedia Commons

Zorn is one of my favorite etchers (after only Rembrandt and Whistler), and his mastery shows here in his portrait of his friend, Irish/American sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens.

In a tour-de-force of etching chiaroscuro, Saint Gaudens’ face is revealed in half light, and the figure of his model emerges gradually from the background darkness. Zorn’s seemingly casual lines sweep across the figures in sections that vary in direction and textural effect.

Zorn has not used aquatint here, the gray tones appear to be achieved by the way the print was inked and wiped.

For more, see my post on Anders Zorn’s etchings.