I have to say my preference for art really lies in the Italian Renaissance and a few 19th Century French artists and the wonderful Turner and Constable. However I am am always open to seeing and new and beautiful things. For what is life for if not to collect memories of beautiful things. I had seen several very positive comments about the National Portrait Galleries latest major exhibition about Sargent and decided that I needed to see this for myself.
Firstly art fund card holders you get a decent discount 50% off. If you get an audio guide beware you need to surrender your Drivers Licence or bank card which will be locked in a box that you have the key for as they have top of the range audio guides. A faff and rather a sad reflection on society that they have to do this.
You get quite a bit of exhibition for your buck. You start in Paris and its is clear that Sargent was in the company of some of the greats of the time amongst them Monet and Rodin. The picture that most stood out for me in this section of the exhibition was of Dr Pozzi at home. Pozzi was a leading Gynaecologist of the day as well as being a very handsome Italian stallion. He is pictured at home in a red dressing gown. The final image makes this man of women almost look like a man of god for he looks like he could be at home in Sistine chapel with cardinals.
The next area is a room with a timeline of Sargent work, it is the disabled access entrance
and no pictures are hung here. This leads on to the section of the exhibition names Broadway which covers the years 1885-89. although there are some famous pictures in this room the one that for me was the most beautiful and striking was carnation, lily, lily Rose. The picture is of 2 little girls lighting paper lanterns. The dream like quality of this picture is made though the light and colour palette depicting dusk on the River. It is for me one of the most beautiful images in art. There are qualities in this picture that can be seen in the French art movement of the time and in his contemporaries work, Monet comes to mind.
Also featured in this room, a Picture of Claude Monet paining on a river bank, the wife of American Artist Frank Miller and 2 pictures of author Robert Louis Stevenson in his Bournemouth Home (now a GP Surgery)
The next room displays some of the most beautiful 19th century portraits ever created. For me there is one picture that caught my eye and stole my heart and that is Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth. The dark background is perfect for highlighting the beautiful peacock palette of Ellens costume. Her hair is has the quality of Pre Raphaelite beauty the over all picture is totally spell binding. The frame is even in keeping with the mood of the picture with its Celtic plated knot decoration. For me this picture rivals Rossetti in terms of beautiful tragic redheads in art.
Also in this room there are a collection of sketches that show off Sargent’s talent as an artist my favourite was of Harley Granville (1900) a handsome devil shame he was a banker.
The last small room was a collection of painting in Europe until 1914 although good and pretty none of them had the power or absorbing qualities of the portrait of Ellen Terry or magic of Carnation, Lily, Lilly, Rose.
As I knew next to nothing about Sargent I took out an audio guide. It is very rare for me to say this but I don’t recommend it. The main curator and narrator of the guide is to put it politely a windbag and fails to get to the point of the images so much so I abandoned it very quickly as it was distracting and boring. Sometimes you just need to experience the art for yourself.
I definitely recommend this exhibition and can me seen at the National Portrait Gallery, off Trafalgar Square, London until 25th May 2015.