A Close Look at the Watercolors of John Singer Sargent-The Master of Light

For many years, I have loved the oil paintings of John Singer Sargent, but I did not fully appreciate his watercolors until May of 2017. That was when I was brought to tears by his work in the exhibition American Watercolor at the Time of Homer and Sargent at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The exhibition was long, and it began slowly with the tired,  pedantic watercolors that were typical of early America, I labored through those pieces, until I came to the final room. That was where I came face-to-face with some of Sargent’s paintings of white subject matter. While most of those paintings do not show well in photographs, The following painting does show the magic that Sargent was able to perform by dancing with light and shade on backgrounds of white.

My life was changed forever after I attended that exhibition.

At the time that Sargent was painting both voluminously and vehemently in watercolor, watercolor was considered by most to be the Ugly Stepsister to oil painting.. and let there be no mistake: John Singer Sargent was a masterful oil painter.

But when I had to great fortune to see Sargent’s watercolors up close and personal, my life and my aspirations in my own painting were changed forever.

Sargent’s watercolor palette: Alizarin Carmine, Brown Pink, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Chrome Yellow, Cobalt Blue, Gamboge, Lamp Black, Rose Madder, Ultramarine Blue, Vandyke Brown, Scarlet Vermillion, Deep Vermillion, Viridian, and an opaque white.