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.


Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer

Lucien Levy-Dhurmer, symbolist Artnouveau pastelstyles
Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer was a French pastellist, painter, ceramicist and designer whose influences and stylistic explorations included Art Nouveau, Impressionism, Symbolism, Islamic art, the Pre-Raphaelites and painting of the Italian Renaissance.

In his pastels, Lévy-Dhurmer takes advantage of the soft edges and atmospheric diffusion of color that medium enables to give his images an etherial quality and an air of mystery.


Eye Candy for Today: Peter Lely trois crayon portrait

Peter Lely trois crayon portrait
Portrait of a Lady, Peter Lely

Black, red, and white chalk, on gray laid paper; roughly 9 1/2 x 8 inches (24 x 19 cm); in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum, NY.

Peter Lely, known for his sumptuous and sometimes erotic portraits of royals, nobles and courtiers in the 17th century court of Charles 1, here gives us a sensitively realized portrait drawing in the “trois crayon” method.

This is a method of drawing with three chalks — black, red (sanguine) and white — on toned paper, often cream or buff, but in this case, gray. It’s an approach particularly suited to figure and portrait drawing.

Though it’s difficult to tell if the drawing has faded to any degree since it was done, Lely’s use of white and red chalks are judicious. His application of white is just a hint of tone, subtly raising the value of areas of the face and neck and a few curls of hair.

You can tell he started the drawing of the face with the red chalk, which remains the only outline of the forehead, lower face and nose, though the eyes and brows have been reinforced with black.

I haven’t been through the hundreds of portraits attributed to Lely and his very active workshop in enough detail to know if this was a preliminary for a finished painting, but Lely evidently thought enough of the drawing that he signed it.


Felepe Santamans

Felepe Santamans, pastel still life and figures
Felepe Santamans is a contemporary Spanish artist from Valencia who trained at the Academy Barrera of Valencia, and continued in The School of Fine Arts at the Fuster Academy. He also studied under Jose Espert, who he counts as a major influence.

Santamans’ original training was in oil painting, but he moved into pastel, attracted by the brilliance of color afforded by the medium.

His subjects are primarily figures and still life; in both he achieves a vibrance and presence that also take advantage of the textural effects for which pastel is ideal.

I can’t find a dedicated sited for Santamans, but there are other sites that show a selection of his work.

[Via Jeffery Hayes]


Eye Candy for Today: Watteau chalk studies

Two Studies of the Head and Shoulders of a Little Girl, Antoine Watteau, trois crayon drawing, black, red and white chalk on buff paper
Two Studies of the Head and Shoulders of a Little Girl, Antoine Watteau

Black, red and white chalk on buff paper, roughy 7 x 10 inches (19 x 25 cm); in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum. Use the Zoom feature or download link.

Watteau was noted for his “trois crayon” drawings, in which black, red and white chalks are used on toned paper, usually buff or cream, to great effect in quickly rendering figures or faces.

Here, he has succinctly captured the likeness of his subject with gestural lines, a bit of hatching for shading and some quickly noted white highlights. For all of their simplicity, the drawings have a remarkable presence.


Eye Candy for Today: Jean-Etienne Liotard’s Chocolate Girl

The Chocolate Girl, Jean-Etienne Liotard, pastel
The Chocolate Girl, Jean-Etienne Liotard

Pastel on parchment, roughly 20 x 32 inches (52 x 82 cm). Link is to zoomable version on Google Art Project; downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons; original is in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden.

This is the most famous of 18th century Swiss artist Jean-Etienne Liotard’s beautiful pastel portraits and genre paintings, remarkable for its sublime modeling. August III of Poland, who purchased the painting in the mid-1700s, commented on the absence of shadows in the modeling of the face and compared it to the portraits of Holbein.

I’m also struck by the beautiful effect of the delicate texture of the pastel application.

The painting (and yes, I’m happy to call pastels of this nature “paintings”) shows a maid carrying a tray with a chocolate beverage — at the time a treat too rare and expensive for any but the wealthy.

The image became the inspiration for branding images in the 19th century for Droste chocolate tins, which used a knock-off by another artist, and Baker’s Chocolate products, which licensed the painting for that use (though today it has been reduced to a mere silhouette).