Friday, June 20, 2014


After telling you about Hide and Seek on Tuesday, I thought I’d introduce you to the second painting that “spoke to me”. This one is Fumée d'ambre gris (Smoke of Ambergris) by John Singer Sargent, and it resides at the Clark Institute in Williamstown. Massachusetts. When we lived near there for over twenty years, I was a frequent visitor to this particular piece.

When I first saw the painting, a majestic 64½” x 45½”, rightly voted by museum-goers as their favorite painting during the Clark’s 50th Anniversary celebration, I could get right in front of the painting, even touch it if I’d been so stupid, but I wasn’t. (A few years later, when it came back from a tour of Sargent’s paintings, they moved it to a more secure location and put a guard rail a good bit away from it, outside of touching range, but also, for me, out of study range.)  There is so much to see in the painting: the simplicity of the scene, the grace of her hands, the questions of why she is censing herself, where is she,  and what are the clothes she is wearing.

What absolutely amazed me was the way Sargent depicted silver and shine – the silver of the brazier and her jewelry, the shine on her polished fingernails. I’m sure I’d seen the same effects in many pictures before, but this was the first picture where I was close enough to see the brush strokes. Whew! I was absolutely bowled over, I tell you. Close up: just strokes of white paint; far away: silver and glint.

I’m sure that in your life you’ve come upon a thing or two that amazed you – this was one of mine.

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