It is nasty out today in Philadelphia. Rain, wind, puddles, general unpleasantness. Looking at some of the paintings from this show of John Singer Sargent watercolors at the Brooklyn Museum, however, makes it all seem a little less bleak. They’re lovely. If I were going to be in New York this weekend, I would go to there.
Sargent detractors who think he was a gifted technician but lacked imagination and formal rigor may profit from re-examining their prejudices in light of his watercolors, his freshest and most authentic work. The show won’t alter the basic conventional wisdom, but it does offer a good opportunity to consider knotty questions like: Was Sargent a modern artist?
He was modern in the sense that he revealed the processes of painting, unlike conservative academicians who preferred to hide their tricks behind veils of illusion. Because of its transparency watercolor has a certain intelligibility; you can see the artist thinking, deciding and constructing the work.
Corfu: Lights and Shadows, 1909 by John Singer Sargent