Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Capturing the Light

Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose 1885-1886

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose is the refrain
from an old song.

John Singer Sargent

Originally I was going to write about the recent couple of days that I spent with my sister.  I found this photo of a painting in a new book I found at Big Lots of all places! I was going to use it because it had two girls in it to represent sisters.  So much has happened and now there are more recent things to write about.   Also, I Googled some information on this painting and loved the story behind the painting. I couldn't help but cut and paste in on here.  Dear readers, I don't expect anyone to take the time to read it all, this blog is one of my "just a note" blogs for right now.

Last night was another sleepless night at the Ellisons. Clint had to prepare for that dreaded five year colonoscopy and I was worried about  him because he felt hot and sick all over.  He slept on the other side of the house. I was to awaken him at five am this morning to repeat the process from the previous night. We both are lacking sleep but we will survive.

He made it through the procedure this morning
and was told by the doctor he was fine!

One of the world’s most beloved depictions of a garden is “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” by American painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). How Sargent came to capture that magical moment at the end of a summer’s day in his portrayal of two little girls standing amidst flowers is a fascinating one.

In 1885, the 29-year-old Sargent was feeling somewhat discouraged. Although he had built a reputation in France as a promising new artist, his months of hard work on a painting of a Parisian society matron, “Mme. Pierre Gautreau” (now called “Madame X”, and one of his most famous paintings) were met with controversy and scandal. He sought a change of scenery and traveled to England

The inspiration for a new painting came from a boat trip down the River Thames that Sargent took with fellow painter Austin Abbey. Sargent describes it in a letter: “I am trying to paint a charming thing I saw the other evening. Two little girls in a garden at twilight lighting paper lanterns among the flowers from rose-tree to rose-tree. I shall be a long time about it if I don’t give up in desperation.

At Broadway, a village on the River Avon, just south of Stratford, Sargent joined an informal colony for the arts, where the company included American author Henry James. Here the scene which had so delighted him on his boat trip came to occupy him for two whole summers. Just after sunset, Sargent would race to his large canvas, on which he had originally planned a scene of a young girl lighting a Chinese lantern in the twilight. His first model was little Kate Millet, his host’s daughter. Because he thought her brown hair too dark for his painting, he found a blonde wig for her to wear when she was posing.

But when illustrator Frederick Barnard and his two daughters arrived in Broadway, Sargent’s plan changed. Polly and Molly Barnard were blonde, so no wigs were required, and they had the added benefit of being seven and eleven--a little older than Kate Millet and thus better able to hold still as they posed. So the painting became a portrait of two girls rather than one. Progress on the painting was painstakingly slow, since Sargent could capture the light of dusk (which of course came earlier and earlier each day) for only a few minutes.

Sargent’s daily routine never varied--he painted landscapes creating a complete sketch, which the next day he would paint over. Art critic Edmund Gosse, also summering at Broadway, wrote “I often could have wept to see these brilliantly fresh and sparkling sketches ruthlessly sacrifice."

Sargent worked just after sunset for about 20 minutes to record the effect of the light as his little models held their Chinese lanterns. With the warm glow of the lanterns against the dusky purple of the summer twilight, he told Robert Louis Stevenson that he was seeking to capture “a most paradisiac sight [that] makes one rave with pleasure”.[3] The painting came to be called “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” after the refrain of a popular song of 1885.

In a letter to his sister Emily, Sargent wrote, “ I am launched into my garden picture and have two good little models and a garden that answers the purpose although there are hardly any flowers and I have to scour the cottage gardens and transplant and make shift...Fearful difficult subject.”[1] Sargent walked through the village offering to buy flowers from the residents’ gardens. By November the air was chill and the little girls wore wool cardigans underneath their summer frocks. Because the rose bushes were bare, his hostess tied on artificial flowers for Sargent to paint. His painting was far from finished, though, so the canvas was stored until the following year.

Sargent was prepared for the second season of painting. In April, he had sent fifty Aurelian lily bulbs to his hosts in Broadway--twenty to be put in pots for him to use for his painting, and the rest for the garden. When he returned to Broadway in the summer of 1886, he once again worked to capture the few minutes of light with his little models. Sargent finally finished by the end of October 1886. He entered "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" in the1887 Royal Academy exhibition in London, where it was both a critical and popular success. Soon after it went on view, it was purchased for the Tate Gallery.

The completed oil on canvas, which measures 68 1/2 inches by 60 1/2 inches, depicts two young girls in white smocks standing amidst a garden of carnations, roses and white lilies. The paper lanterns held by the girls shimmer against the summer twilight. Despite the fact that it took two summers for Sargent to complete it, the painting does not seem labored over--it appears as fresh as the girls and the flowers themselves.

This story about the painting appeals to me because recently I have been excited about painting in oils. The part of the story above about "capturing the few minutes of light" jumped out at me.  Yesterday I saw a scene near the river, the field was lit a very bright green atop a hill. By the time I grabbed my camera from the car, the light had changed and the field was once again dark. I have been doing some research online and have bought some new supplies.  I need to stop talkin' about it and Just Do It!  :~)

It took John Singer Sargent two summers to complete this painting. 


Carol Blackburn said...

Hi Cindy,
Glad Clint is OK! I had been trying to get a photo of a cemetery on a hillside in the setting sun for over a year. I finally got a shot but in the afternoon sun not setting sun. Oh well, there's always next year.

Cindy Ellison said...

Thank you, Carol. It is amazing how quickly scenes of nature change. I can yell at Clint to come see some clouds, sunrise/sunset and it will have changed by the time he gets there. It just occured to me how fleeting rainbows are, too. We wouldn't appreciate them if they were present all the time. Love your new profile picture, Carol! Thank you for your comment!

Clint said...

Paint, Cindy!...Paint!

Aishah said...

Thank you Cindy, I love stories behind paintings and this one is indeed very beautiful. And I learned so much about it too and of the painter of Madame X, I am curious about that story too. I fell in love with Vermeer's the girl with an earring because I read the book about the story behind it but it was a fiction, but still to me, it felt true.

From his comment, looks like Clint has completely recovered from his trauma:)

Cindy Ellison said...

Thank you, Aishah, for reading the story behind this painting. I love Sargent's Madame X very much, too. If you have not read the story behind Madame X, to me it is interesting. I like the true stories behind the paintings. Clint has recovered and back to his old self, he has been kidding and joking with me about today. Glad he can laugh about it now, it was not so funny last night about 11 PM. ;~0 Thanks again, Aishah.

Shady Del Knight said...

I'm late getting to you tonight, Cindy, because you sent one of your wicked Tennessee storms down my way. It knocked out electricity, cable, phone and internet for several hours.

I'm happy to know that Clint's ordeal is "behind" him. I had the same procedure done in 2003 and need to do it again in 2013. I'm glad Clint checked out okay.

I am also very happy to see evidence that you are getting back into your art. Thanks for the fascinating story behind the making of this enchanting painting. Mrs. Shady would love this one because she is also an artist and always chooses young maidens as her subjects. A few years ago she enlisted our three nieces to pose for oil portraits.

I wish I had artistic ability but all I can do is appreciate art and I think I know good work when I see it. “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” is a delightful painting.

Thank you very much for an informative and heartwarming post, Cindy!

Cindy Ellison said...

Shady, it is such an inconvenience when the electricity goes off. We don't realize how much we depend on it until we don't have it. How many times do I forget and turn on light switches, think to myself I'll cook a little something until it comes back on ... good gracious! Hope you all didn't have any damage. How interesting that Mrs. Shady is an artist and I would bet she is a very talented one, too! You have great artistic ability, it is evident in your blog and writing! Shady, thank you for your thoughts and glad you saw the light again last night!

LaWendula said...

I always loved this picture. :)

Cindy Ellison said...

Hi LaWendula, thank you for visitng my blog. I don't recall seeing this painting before I posted it, I am mostly familiar with Sargent's "Madame X". You have a great blog!