You can see paintings and sculptures in art books and even online in the comfort of your own home. Why go through the hassle of driving to the museum? Because, it’s different in person. You see the real colors. You see the texture of the paint. You see sculptures in real 3-D. You see the artwork in its true size. In other words, you actually experience the artwork! That is, if you actually take a good long look at it. So, Saturday I got in my car and drove from Houston to Fort Worth to visit the Kimbell Art Museum to see Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland. I had heard that John Singer Sargent’s Lady Agnew of Lochnaw was in the exhibit, and I really wanted to see her in person. She did not disappoint! I have seen this painting in many art books on Sargent’s work, but now that I have seen her in person, I can safely say that I have never really seen her.
Standing in front of this painting you see the genius of Sargent. Lady Agnew’s left arm draped over the side of the chair is described by such beautiful strokes of paint; very careful, anatomically accurate strokes that appear to be effortless, but they are well considered, showing every joint in her lovely hand as it grasps the chair. How wonderfully the upper arm peeks through the sheer fabric of her tea gown, and the anatomy still holds true with the relationship of the arm and the shoulder being understood despite the ruffles of fabric. And that lavender sash is such a wonderfully forceful compositional element to pull you up to her pendant and then to her face; as if you could miss that powerful gaze. Her face is worked very carefully and the bravura is left to the flower pattern of the chair and the Chinese characters in the silk drapery. Did he really paint those elements with single strokes! Lest we get lost in the perfection of this portrait and feel discouragement creeping in to make us think we should never paint again, Sargent has given us a gift. He has left us clues to know that he too changed his mind, wasn’t happy with his first choice, dared to make an edit here and there. If you could stand in front of Lady Agnew you would see the ghost of the original placement of her pendant and agree with Sargent that moving it was I wise decision. But you would still want to cry to see what a true master can do with paint.
Over the next week I will share my thoughts on some other pieces in this exhibition, but it won’t be the same as seeing them for yourself! The exhibit closes September 20th.