John Singer Sargent: Boston Strong

John Singer Sargent

I always have good intentions when it comes to visiting a museum exhibiting a blockbuster show. Sometimes I make it before it leaves town, sometimes I kick myself for having been “too this, too that” to attend. Well, I didn’t “too” anything this time and went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) (with my daughter Katie and celebrated her birthday!) and took in the John Singer Sargent watercolors exhibition, which combined the collections of the Brooklyn Museum and MFA.

Because I am a perennial rookie at using public transportation, I prefer to drive my car but only with my new best friend, “Her”, our phone navigator. Love Her. It makes traveling so much less stressful especially in Boston when one day you can slip right down Storrow Drive and wonder where all the people are, and on another day, you’d swear you are sharing the road with everyone who lives in Boston. This past Wednesday’s trip was an easy day. Except the parking part. So after dropping artwork at the Copley Society of Art on Newbury Street for an upcoming show, we headed to the MFA parking garage only to be the first in line when the garage attendant announced the lot was full. Ughh. So around the block we went and finally decided to go to the Prudential Tower and just park there for the afternoon and take the bus back to the MFA. My strong daughter, a veteran of Boston, saved the day.

John Singer Sargent

After a quick lunch at the café, we noticed the piles of people viewing the show moved along at a good pace. Occasionally we’d overhear someone who has probably never picked up a watercolor paintbrush in their life comment on not understanding what the big deal was. Hmm. Let me turn up the volume on my listening device.

Sargent’s use of fast drying layers of intense color with brilliant use of lighter value colors to indicate sunlight and shadows was fantastic to see up close. Sensitive and confidently drawn lines were understated in most works but still demonstrated what a great draftsman he was. He used soft-focused painted edges to add variety to the textures while rendering his artistic interpretation of what the light was doing. The strengths of Sargent’s talent for color, painting, drawing and composing were evident in each piece and I could have surely spent even more time with my nose pressed almost  against the glass of each piece. I’ll be reading through the exhibition book to see if it discusses Sargent’s techniques in depth. As a watercolor painter, I really enjoy reading all the nitty gritty detail as it satisfies my curiosity of how the artist achieved his style.

Boston should be proud of being called home to such a great painter with permanent artworks installed around the city. This was an amazing show worthy of however many modes of transportation it took to be drenched in the sunlight of a true master.

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Boston Strong on Union Street

June comparison Union Street 2013Scouting out a location in a busy city such as Boston can be an intimidating process. The sheer number of possibilities for making a painting can be overwhelming to evaluate. Choosing just the right location–one with a good view, open space for setting up equipment, safe from traffic, animals, and other oddities is not easy. We found this location on a scouting trip taken with my daughter, Katie Trainor, who lives  in Boston and works at Francesca’s Coffee Café on Tremont Street, right around the corner from Union Street Park. Perfect. Her knowledge of the area and my preferences was invaluable to selecting this spot. Just enough area to setup, a beautiful spring day at the pocket park, and of course, proximity to a bathroom :). Sidewalk location was just right to allow me to set up and allow neighbors to get by–and chat. A win for all. The Copley Society of Art PaintOut was one week after the Boston bombing at the Marathon so the city was still reeling. Good to know this event and sale of my painting helped a little to add to the Boston Strong fundraising effort.