Friday, May 27, 2016


...and I wish I could revisit it now!

When the request went out at one of our Living magazine meetings to do a piece on John Singer Sargent, I was happy to volunteer, especially since I'd blogged about his painting two years ago. Sargent, you see, was the creator of one of my favorite paintings Fumée d'ambre gris (Smoke of Ambergris). (More about Sargent tomorrow.) The painting 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 place and 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’d 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, and the questions of why she is censing herself, where she is, 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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