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Do you know Sargent's Method?  . . . 
Feature article:

John Singer Sargent's later portraits
The Artist's technique and materials 
Jacqueline Ridge and Joyce Townsend
Apollo Vol. 148, Issue 439 (1998)
pp. 23-30
(Go to)

Other Topics
  • Colors in Sargent's Pallete? (Go to)
  • Great book on JSS Watercolor method (Go to)
  • Learning to Paint (Go to)
  • Did Sargent use optical instruments to aid in portraiture?(Go to)
  • Use of photography in Sargent's paintings   (Go to)


Pop it


Subject: Colors in Sargent's Pallete?
From: Jim Niendorff" 
j im> 
Date: Mon, 03 Mar 2003 

Hi Natasha, 

Great job on the JSS site! 

Having read about 5 books on JSS I have yet to come across any information on his palette. He obviously used ultramarine blue and burnt sienna to a great degree, but do you know what his standard palette consisted of? 

Thank you. 

Jim N. 

From: Natasha
A very astute question, Jim -- though your not the first to ask. Read on . . . .

Subject: Sargent's Method -- article in American Artist magazine
From: Judith Q Barnett
j udit hq> 
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2001 

Natasha - 

Thank you for your wonderful website.  It's a treasure trove for an artist like me. 

You might want to pass on the best on Sargents technique that I've ever come across. It comes out of American Artist magazine- August, 1999-page 20-27 [re-published from the Apollo Magazine]. The article is by Jacqueline Ridge and Joyce Townsend from the conservation dept. at the Tate Museum and it examines several paintings from the Wertheimer series  as well as the less formal "Vernon Lee". There are excellent photos accompanying by way of explanation. His palette of colors and procedures are described in more detail than Charteris or Olson. I believe one of his student-friends    -Julie Heyneman  who died in 1942 might have published notes taken  during her  studies with him. I haven't located anything on it however. Maybe somebody out there knows more on this. 

Subject: More in the 'APOLLO'
From: Lucille Schur 
m izl> 
Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2002 

I have a little more to add to the talk on American Artist Mag article on Sargent. I have been fortunate to attend talks given by Richard Ormond and he told us about the original article which appears in 'APOLLO' vol #48 issue 439,  1998. pp.23-30.  I have been unable to obtain this copy. The American Artist /Aug 1999 is a GREAT  read. 

Do you know how we could get a transcript or copy of the Apollo magazine? I think it is a British publication?

From: Natasha

I have contacted the Apollo directly and they do not have anymore copies in stock. [The have granted permission to republish it!!!]

I can, also, excerpt a part from the American Artist magazine which is an abriviated form of their entire wonderful article.

    The information we do have has come from examination of his pictures and direct analysis of his paint. The same commonly available range of pigments is seen in virtually all of the Tate's later portraits and on existing palettes. The range is quite wide but does not include every pigment available at that time. He regularly used Mars yellow (a synthetic iron oxide) and cadmium yellow; viridian and emerald green, sometimes mixed; vermilion and Mars red, both alone and mixed; madder; synthetic ultramarine or cobalt blue; and ivory black, sienna, and Mars brown. The dark backgrounds of many portraits include a mixture of ivory black, Mars brown,and a generous quantity of paint medium: a combination that produces a color similar to the traditional Van Dyke brown. A pale shade of chrome yellow, cerulean blue, red lead, cadmium red, and cobalt violet were found on occasion, but not in every portrait examined. There is a more limited selection of blue and yellow pigments in the later portraits than in the earlier ones. This narrow range of blues,yellows, and greens in his palette went some way to create a color harmony and to fix a cool or a warm overall tone to each painting.

    Sargent mixed lighter colors such as flesh tones by adding to lead white, vermilion, and a selection of other pigments including bone black, on occasion rose madder, and even green viridian. Mixing them together roughly on the palette, he then worked them into and onto adjacent brushstrokes on the canvas to give more subtle variations in tone.

    (Jacqueline Ridge and Joyce Townsend; "How Sargent Made it Look Easy"; American Artist magazine; August, 1999, page 29)

Subject: Great book on JSS Watercolor method
From: Jack White

Jack White

I finally found the book that discusses Sargent's watercolor painting methods. It is "Awash In Color - Homer, Sargent And The Great America Watercolor" by Sue Welsh Reed and Carol Troyen


Jack White

Thanks Jack
Subject: Learning to Paint
From: Edward Materson
e mat> 
Date: Wed, 15 May 2002 


Looking over my notes I discovered some additional stuff from an article in an 1888 copy of the Art Journal which fairly well discusses the benefits of Sargent's early approach to learning to paint. I will leave that for later. 

For now I include the notes I mentioned which are unfortunately not labeled as to book title, etc. Simply "John Sargent". Anyway, here is a start. 

His instruction is passed on from two former pupils, Miss Heyneman and Mr. Henry Haley:

(Editor's Note -- paragraph breaks added with [p] )

    "If you paint your friends, they and you are chiefly concerned about the likeness. You can't discard a canvas when you please and begin anew -- you can't go on indefinitely till you have solved a problem" He disapproved (Miss Heyneman continues) of my palette and brushes. On the palette the paints had not been put out with any system. "You do not want dabs of colour," he said, "you want plenty of paint to paint with." Then the brushes came in for derision. "No wonder your painting is like feathers if you use these." Having scraped the palette clean he put out enough paint so it seemed for a dozen pictures. "Painting is quite hard enough" he said "without adding to your difficulties by keeping your tools in bad condition. You want good thick brushes that will hold the paint and that will resist in a sense the stroke on the canvas." [p]

    He then with a bit of charcoal placed the head with no more than a few careful lines over which he passed a rag, so that it was on a perfectly clean greyish coloured canvas (which he preferred) faintly showing where the lines had been that he began to paint. At the start he used sparingly a little turpentine to rub in a general tone over the background and to outline the head (the real outline where the light and shadow meet, not the place where the head meets the background)- to indicate the mass of the hair and the tone of the dress. The features were not even suggested. This was a matter of a few moments. For the rest he used his colour without a medium of any kind, neither oil, turpentine or any admixture. "The thicker you paint, the more your colour flows" he explained. [p]

    He had put in this general outline very rapidly hardly more than smudges, but from the moment that he began really to paint, he worked with a kind of concentrated deliberation, a slow haste so to speak holding his brush poised in the air for an instant and then putting it just where and how he intended it to fall.

There is quite a bit more equally interesting but that is all I have time for now, Natasha. Let me know if this is the kind of stuff you are interested in and I will send more as I am able. 

Edward Materson

Fri, 17 May 2002 

Through cross-referencing another book I have on Sargent I have discovered that the material on Sargent's teaching and methods of work came from Charteris' book "John Sargent" published in the 20's, I believe. Therefore, if you have it or access to it you may be able to get all that I intended to send you. If not, let me know and I will send more of the notes kept by Ms. Heyneman, one of his pupils.

Below is the material I do not think you have. It is from an article in "The Art Journal", dated 1888 by R.A.M. Stevenson. It is particularly pertinent to the subject of copying the work of other artists with a view toward self-improvement.

From article:

    "Not only by looking, but by copying, he became familiar with the works of the Venetians and other painters before he began his professional training as one of the first pupils who came to the studio of M. Carolus Duran. Here he showed himself American rather than English by a practical common sense and a reasonable docility which led him to put himself in reality, and not in name only, into the position of a pupil. He had none of the obstinacy which leads some Englishmen to think they know more than their professor. These false pupils fear the loss of an originality which they may never have possessed, and which, unless they acquire facility of expression, must remain for ever unrevealed to the world. A vague feeling of originality which cannot be expressed is a very doubtful possession, and may only consist in ignorance of what can be done with paint. People who have never seriously grappled with Art fail to realise how much the  strangeness of certain works is involuntary, and arises from the inability of the authors to make them correspond to their intentions. Anyhow it cannot but be good practice to learn to keep to an ensemble of a certain kind, even if it be not of one's own discovery. Thus the artist acquires facility, certainty, and a standard with which to gauge success when he would realise an intention of his own....Mr. Sargent devoted himself to the routine of the studio without seeking to appear original."
Edward Materson



Subject: Did Sargent use optical instruments to aid in portraiture? 
From: Simon Heath 
si monj>
Date: Fri, 04 Jul 2003 

On the issue of Portraiture with JSS, are you aware of David Hockney's theories on the use of visual instruments in portraiture of the old Masters. As JSS is perhaps the last great portrait artist of the traditional school it could be quiet interesting if he used these instruments or not.

    [From the moment David Hockney began to suspect that the Old Masters had created many of their paintings with the help of lenses—in effect tracing their subjects— he insisted he was not saying they cheated.

    "Optical devices certainly don't paint pictures," Hockney said. "Let me say now that the use of them diminishes no great artist."

    Yet as he studied prints of five centuries' worth of paintings on a "Great Wall" in his Los Angeles studio, there was an unmistakable gotcha to his mission. He knew that many art historians would be horrified at what he was suggesting.

    Did Vermeer use a lens to help him capture the intricate patterns in the folds of a tablecloth? Or Caravaggio, to re-create a curving, foreshortened lute? Even Rembrandt fell under Hockney's gaze. He could not have been looking through a lens while creating his haunting self-portraits. "But," Hockney said, "he might have for the helmets and armor." . . . ]

go to:

For a clearer discussion on this matter.

                                 thanks, Simon Heath

From Natasha

It is an interesting thing to think about and I loved the link.

My own thoughts on this is to remember that Sargent was well after the use of cameras and the idea of photography was well established. To think that photographs and optical imagery wouldn't play a part in influencing him, or any artist for that matter, would be like us today denying that computers have any influence on the Graphic Arts. I mean its like the 800 pound gorilla that's sitting there at a tea party -- you might try to pretend she's not in the room, but she just doesn't extend that pinky finger the right way as she holds her cup and saucer.


That's not a very good analogy but I had so much fun thinking of it not use it.

Did Sargent EVER take a photograph and then use it to compare vanishing points, perspective and shadings or use an optical devise in anyway in developing his art? I'm sure he did, but from what I can tell, especially with his alignment with the Impressionists, it was never about capturing it "exactly". Also, in regards to portraiture, he seems to have done very little in the way of sketching out (underneath the paint).

A lot more on Sargent's method coming soon.

Subject: Use of photography in Sargent's paintings  
From: kristin parker
kp ark
Date: 10/6/2003 

Hi Natasha, I wonder if you could refer me to anyone doing research on the use of photography in Sargent\'s paintings? 



Sargent's Technique Lives

(Zorn's, Sorolla's, Boldini's, Loomis' for that matter!) ...It lives 

[ (go to)  off site]

The major part of his technique (if I may add IMHO) was pure VISUAL ANALYSIS. His detachment from "emotional content" and virtuosity in rendering the superficial are what set him apart. Quite simply (and at a level no one else had achieved thus far) he knew; right colour... right place.


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