Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Habit Of Great Painters /John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer


“Habit is stronger than will.”.(Irwin Greenberg)
I like to read accounts of how certain artist worked. I like to get an idea of their intensity and their habits when they paint.
On Watercolor:
The following are some observations that were made of the painter John Singer Sargent.
His only piece of painting equipment was a folding tin box of colors. “I find box color very useful and I use a great many different brushes, keeping my fist full when I work.’
(Richard Ormond, Sargent, Harper and Row 1970)


To see one of Sargent's water colours in the making always reminded me of the first chapter of Genesis, when the evening and the morning were the first day, order developed from chaos, and one thing after another was created of its kind. Having chosen his subject and settled himself with the sunshade, hat and paraphernalia all to his liking, he would make moan over the difficulty of the subject and say, "I can't do it," or "It's unpaintable," and finally, "Well, let's have a whack at it."
Perfect absorption would follow, and after what looked like a shorthand formula in pencil was on the block, the most risky and adventurous


technique would come into play, great washes of colour would go on the paper with huge brushes or sponges, and muttering of "Demons! Demons!" or "The devils own!" would be heard at intervals. All the time the picture was growing surely, swiftly; he worked through to the end, only stopping when it was a subject where light and tide changed before he could get it all in, and two "goes" were necessary. (Mary Newbold Patterson Hale)

Adrian Stokes, who was with him in Austria in 1914, described him painting rocks:
His hands seemed to move with the same agility as when playing over the keys of a piano. That is a minor matter; what was really marvelous was the rightness of every touch. I knew those rocks- I have been struggling with them for days… All was rendered, or suggested, with the utmost fidelity. Parts were loaded, parts were painted clear and smooth, every touch was individual and conveyed a quick unerring message from the brain. It was- if you will- a kind of shorthand, but it was magical!
(Richard Ormond, Sargent, Harper and Row 1970)



The following is an observation on Winslow Homer:

"Once into his forties, Homer rarely went anywhere without rag paper, sable brushes and little pans of color. He took his working vacations in places he knew would give him subjects-the New England coast, the Adirondacks, the tumultuous rivers of Quebec, the Florida Keys and the dark palmetto-fringed pools of Homosassa, the bays and whitewashed coral walls of the Bermudas.


Unfortunately Homer was not as sociable as Sargent, a loner, he never entertained company as he worked. Consequently it is harder to find observations of him as he worked

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