Posts Tagged ‘The Age of Impressionist: Great French Paintings from the Clark’

By Michael Cassin, Director, Center for Education in the Visual Arts

By the time John Singer Sargent visited Venice for the first time in 1880, the Most Serene Republic had been in decline for two centuries. This decline didn’t make any difference to the tourists, who still meandered around the city “elegantly killing time,” sipping espressos at Florian’s cafe. It didn’t deter the artists either; Turner, Whistler, Monet and many others were entranced by the light that shimmered on the city’s waterways and metaphorically dissolved the solidity of its buildings.

But, like an insider keen to show off his local knowledge, Sargent turns his back on “tourist Venice” and leads us off the beaten track, to a little place we’d never find on our own. It might look a bit seedy, with its dark doorways and its walls shedding stucco; we might hesitate to venture down such a narrow alley after nightfall, but Sargent’s confidence is contagious. His painting is a “snapshot” of life in backstreet Venice caught with amazing deftness and painterly self-assurance.

Turning abruptly into the passage we come upon a man and a woman engaged in some private interchange. The man’s attention is fixed on the woman (that salmon pink skirt is pretty distracting!).

The woman has noticed us, though whether she’s pleased to see us or not is hard to say.  As she steps into the wine store she looks at us with…surprise? annoyance? flirtation? Sargent leaves us wondering. And how should we respond?

Personally, I think I’d take a stab at a gracious apology, a “Scusi signora” and head back to Florian’s for another shot of espresso. Or maybe grappa. How about you?

This painting, and three other masterworks by Sargent will be traveling to the Amon Carter Museum of Art in Fort Worth, Texas, this spring! Sargent’s Youthful Genius: Paintings from the Clark will be on view at the Amon Carter from March 11 to June 17, 2012, as part of a joint program with the Kimbell Art Museum, which will concurrently host the exhibition The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Clark, part of the Clark’s international tour of masterpieces.

Image credits:

Carlo Naya (1816–1882), “Venezia. Riva degli Schiavoni” (con l’Hotel Danieli). Numero di catalogo: 88a. {{PD-1923}}

John Singer Sargent, (American, 1856–1925), A Street in Venice, c. 1880–1882. Oil on canvas, 75.10 x 52.40 cm. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (1955.575)

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