Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sargent and the Sea

Today went to the Royal Academy of Arts in London to see the exhibition "Sargent and the Sea" (it has been another quiet weekend). You can download an overview by clicking here.

It has had mixed reviews - take this one from The Observer, which scorns the curators and artist for showing in John Singer Sargent's work "the lack of sincerity, the evasiveness, the faint boredom, the sense that everything is seen, but very little felt."


While I can see what the she's saying it seems unfortunate is that the reviewer has in my mind picked the wrong pictures, as have the RA when selecting pictures to show online, which means its hard to give countering evidence.

It is true that a lot of pictures of Sargent's time at the seaside resorts on the French and Italian coasts are pretty mundane to the point of boring, and it is fair to say you could skip those rooms with a clear conscience.

Obviously the sea pictures were to me more interesting than the beaches, and Sargent had crossed the Atlantic twice, once in a storm as in the picture above. It's not that great a picture, it's title of "Atlantic Storm" would be better described as "Inaccurate memories of an Atlantic Storm when back in the studio in Paris".

The problem of bad selection comes up here too, as the RA should in my mind have used in its publicity not the picture above but the one next to it. This was called "Mid Ocean, Mid Winter" and while still not brilliant it has a more solid feeling to the waves, again the twisted wake and white crests but in this case a haze of rain on the horizon.

Even better were the line drawings of ships and their workings, which alas do not seem to be available by Googling apart from the one below from the show guide (again not my first choice).

Spars were lovingly drawn with tackles and sails, the sort of detail that says its true even if the art is not the mould breaking genius of Turner:
And that's probably his undoing: these are competent drawings, interesting for their capture of the mechanics of sailing in the great age of sail rather than ground breaking art.

So there is possible something more to see in the exhibition if you are into sailing, which I'm guessing The Observer reviewer wasn't.

But in no way does it match up to last year's great Turner and the Masters exhibition.

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