Carnation Lily Lily Rose
16 x 20 in.

Carnation Lily Lily Rose
31 x 23 in.

Broadway, The Cotswolds, England
Francis Davis Millet

Mr. Sargent at work on Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

Sargent painting at Broadway



Study of Polly Barnard for 'Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose'
c. 1885

Dorothy Barnard

Study of Barnard Children for Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (graphite) 

Lily Study for "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" 

Japanese Lanterns and Lilies, Study for "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose"

Back of Child's Head

Studies for Flowers for "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose"

Studies for Flowers for "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose"


Study of Flowers and Lanterns; verso: Studies for "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose;" Comic Heads

Girl with Lantern


Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose  [1]
 John Singer Sargent -- American painter 
Tate Gallery,  London,  England 
Oil on canvas
174 x 153.8 cm (68 1/2 x 60 1/2 in.)
Purchased from the artist, 1887 
Jpg: Tate Gallery

(Click on image to Step Closer)


Conceived under the most unusual of circumstances, and nurtured in a remarkable setting at Broadway, this painting is overwhelmingly held out by the public -- then as well as today -- to be the most favored painting of all his work. It is universally believed to be one of his masterpieces. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, the title lifted from the light-hearted lyrics of a popular song, is a triumph of John's use of light which would never be equaled in quite the same way.

The seed of the idea was first planted in the fertile garden of the Lavington Rectory in 1884 when Sargent was staying with the Vickers. The white lilies in full bloom around the two children in a garden would be the framework on which he would mount this most ambitious project. The idea (a purely fanciful one to be sure) was to capture, not the most perfect sunset, but the affect of the most perfect sunset has, in terms of color, shadows and light on a scene. But it was more than that. How about the artificial light of Chinese lanterns at the precise moment of twilight when lanterns and sun are at perfect equilibrium!  -- Could he paint that magical transient moment that lasts no more than a couple of minutes most -- capture that most perfect color of mauve when the sun is still flush in the sky and the lanterns glowing equally?  Not create the scene from his mind or memory of what it would or should look like, but actually capture it -- could he paint the exquisite beauty between those two minutes?  

Of course not. No one could paint in two minutes and even come close to a faithful adaptation no matter how prepared he or she was prior. But what if he painted only for those magical minutes every day?  If he was faithful, if he kept true to the principles of Impressionism -- painting only what he saw and not what he thought he saw or wanted to see, if he did it every day for two minutes could he capture lightning in a bottle so to speak?

It was silly, but the idea was hatched in a community of people that weren't constrained by the blinders of convention. These were people who could see things that weren't and ask way not? Sargent was going to do the impossible and they were all going to help!

He started off by using Mrs. Millet's young daughter who was only 5 at the time. They put a wig on her to lighten her hair and then  propped the poor thing up as if she were lighting a Chinese lantern. Everyone in the community took an interest, but the demands of maintaining an exact pose every day proved to be too much; so in her place Mrs. Barnard's two girls stepped in of a more appropriate age of seven and eleven.  

Edmund Gosse wrote: "The progress of the picture, when once it began to advance, was a matter of excited interest to the whole of our little artist-coloney. Everything was used to be placed in readiness, the easel, the canvas, the flowers, the demure little girls in their white dresses,before we began our daily afternoon lawn tennis, in which Sargent took his share. But at the exact moment, which of course came a minute or two earlier each evening, the game was stopped, and the painter was accompanied to the scene of his labors. Instantly, he took up his place at a distance from the canvas, and at a certain notation of the light ran forward over the lawn with the action of a wag-tail, planting at the same time rapid dabs of paint on the picture, and then retiring again, only with equal suddenness to repeat the wag-tail action. All this occupied but two or three minutes, the light rapidly declining, and then while he left the young ladies to remove his machinery, Sargent would join us again, so long as the twilight permitted, in a last turn at lawn tennis" 
(Sir Edmund Gosse letter to Charteris , P74-75) 

"The seasons went from August till the beginning of November "Sargent would dress the children in white sweaters which came down to their ankles, over which he pulled the dresses that appeared in the picture. He himself would be muffled up like an Artic explorer. At the same time the roses gradually faded and died, and Marshall and Snelgrive had to be requisitioned for artificial substitutes, which were fixed to the withered bushes . . . .  In November, 1885, the unfinished picture was stored in the Millets' barn. When in 1886 the Barnard children returned to Broadway the sittings were resumed. 
(Charteris , P75) 

For Sargent it seemed the fun was in the process. Edwin Howland Blashfield recalled that when he saw the canvas each morning, the previous evening's work seemed to have been scraped off, and that this happened repeatedly at each stage.

"Never for any picture did he do so many studies and sketches. He would hang about like a snapshot photographer to catch the children in attitudes helpful to his main purpose. 'Stop as you are,' he would suddenly cry as the children were at play, "don't move! I must make a sketch of you," and there and then he would fly off, leaving the children immobile as Lot's wife, to return in a moment
with easel, canvas and a paint-box. 
(Charteris , P74)"


1) The lyrics in an earlier version of Joseph Mazzinghi's song (circa Joseph Mazzinghi's life) has the line punctuated as "Carnation lily, Lily rose." 

I should be the last to point out grammatical disparities (and I'm more than a little surprised I caught it) but reading the title as Mazzinghi might have meant the line to read, lets it roll off the tongue more lyrically rather than the plodding -- thump, thump -- as it is now. 

It would be interesting to see how early in the literature this incorrect form first started. Of course the line was meant to be sung and Sargent's intent would have been in the cadence of the song itself. I wonder if Sargent's title was always writen this way? 

More on the song that
inspired the painting
Ye Shepherds Tell Me
Composed & arranged for the piano in 3 voices (overlapping lyrics and harmony) 
by Joseph Mazzinghi (1765-1844)

[first voice lead]

Ye Shep-herds tell me, tell me have you seen, have you seen My Flo-ra pass this way?  In shape and feature beau- - -ty's queen. In pastoral, in pas-to-ral ar-ray 


Shepherds tell me, tell me have you seen, have you seen My Flo-ra pass this way? Have you seen, tell me Shepherds have you seen, tell me have you seen My Flo-ra pass this way. _____

[second voice takes lead]

A wreath a- -round her head, around her head she wore Car-na- -tion, lil-ly, lil- - -ly, rose; And in her hand a crook she bore, And sweets . . .  her breath compose. 


Shepherds tell me, tell me have you seen, have you seen My Flo-ra pass this way? Have you seen, tell me Shepherds have you seen, tell me have you seen My Flo-ra pass this way. _____

The beau-teous, the beauteous wreath that decks, that decks her head, Forms her descrip-tion, her de-scription true. Hands lily white, Lips crim-son red, and cheeks of ro-sy, ro-sy hue. 

 See more about Song



Mrs. Frederick Barnard 
(mother to Barnard children)

Pop it


Created 1999


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