A COMPARISON OF IMPRESSIONIST OR GENRE ART IN THE UNITED STATES DURING THE MID 19TH CENTURY: AN EXPLORATION OF THE ART OF MARY CASSATT(1844-1926) AND JOHN SINGER SARGENT (1856-1925). PART2.

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In Part two of this post on Cassatt and Sargent I will continue to develop further the talents of Cassatt and Sargent. Baigell continues to show how Cassatt drew her figures and their relationship to other factors in her composition.

” Nevertheless like Degas she invariably positioned her figures in careful relation to each other and to the edges of the canvass. In this regard her work merits studied comparison with that of her contemporary Thomas Dewing”.[1].

Dewing I will consider in a future posting.

” Beginning in 18880 Cassatt began seriously to explore the theme of mother and child which she is most closely identified with. She created many quiet intimate scenes of family life in Oil, pastel , drypoint and aquatine”. [2].

” After the exhibition of Japanese art at the Ecole de beaux in 1890 Cassatt began once again to emphasise more purely decorative arrangements now modified  by her bright Impressionist palette”. [3].

Baigell continues to argue that Cassatt  in most of  her works understood the importance of Impressionism as a contributory factory to the development of European modernism.

” But her works of this period reveal the keenest understanding and most original interpretations of European Modernism until Maurice Prendergast’s paintings of the late 1890’s”. [4]. Prendergast is another artist who I will consider in a future posting.

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Tamara Garb in Modernism and Modernity and in her chapter on Gender and representation comments on the Opera pictures that Cassatt painted.

” Cassatt tackled the subject of the opera producing at least eight variations of this theme. Cassatt puts herself temporarily into the shoes of the male artist. It was not until 1879 that she began her own series of Women in Loges”.[5].

Garb here is of course putting a feminist perspective as besides Cassatt and Morisot there were few women artists painting in this period.

” Most daring of these were Women in Black at the opera a painting which seems to subvert the gendering of looking encoded in both La Loge at the Theatre des italiens”. [6].

” Cassatt seems to have taken the idea of the demure clothing and profile positions of her model but instead of capturing the poised expectation of youth and accompanying  the day costume with frills she eschews all such decorative paraphernalia and represents a single mature woman austerely clad in black”. [7].

Paraphrasing Griselda Pollock an American feminist Art Historian Garb comments on the role of Middle class women enjoying leisure and other pursuits.

” In contrast to her male colleagues their subjects are largely those of bourgeois leisure and recreation and private and domestic activities familiar in Middle class households. They represent the social and pictorial spaces of Feminity”. [8].

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I now return to Baigell’s commentary on Sargent in which he feels that there are some weaknesses in how Sargent used pictorial space.

” John Singer Sargent never fully understood the revolution in  composition and pictorial structure that occurred around the turn of the century”. [9].

” Sargent viewed the picture surface as the traditional window through which one looked at a three-dimensional scene and as a surface upon which the human figure assumed preference over intricacies of design”.[10].

I think that Baigell has misunderstood Sargent’s role . If Sargent was trying to create three dimensional space surely that was a revolutionary way of painting rather than using a flat surface like the Impressionists Sargent was trying to create something different and attractive to the viewer.

” There were brief moments in  the late 1870’s and again in the 1880’s when in a few semi-impressionist landscapes it seemed as  if (Sargent) would develop a Modernist style but he subsequently pursued more orthodox means of composition”. [11].

” Now in the late 20th Century when modernist concerns for the two-dimensional pictorial organisation is considered more a point of view than an article of artistic faith Sargent’s fluid and flowing brushstrokes , his ability to evoke character by the posture of the sitter aroused renewed interest and excitement about his art”. [12].

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Sargent was at this time drawing Genre scenes of Venice as Baigell recounts.

” In Venice in 1880 where he met Whistler and again in 1882 he painted dark austere genre scenes but soon after he returned to  his fluent manner of painting”.[13]

” In London he developed into one of the most successful portraitists of the age because of his ability to flatter his sitters without polishing all personality out of their faces”. [14].

Baigell shows how Sargent dabbed with Impressionism for a time but it was never to be the most important facet of Sargent’s pictures.

” For a change of space from his busy portrait schedule Sargent experimented with Impressionist techniques during vacations in Broadway in 1885-6 and again at Chalcot and Fladbury in 1889. e visited Monet at Giverny and maintained a friendship with him for several years”. [15].

” Although Sargent never adopted Monet’s palette entirely nor atomised forms to the same extent he shared with Monet an interest in Boating scenes and outdoor figure studies”. [16].

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Sargent who always experimented with different techniques according to Baigell did try and organise his paintings and unify the compositions.

” Perhaps the impressionist necessity of immediate organisation also prompted him (Sargent) to unify his composition more tightly in the 1890’s and to add a new vitality to the poses of his sitters”. [17].

” One of Sargent’s finest group portraits is the Wyndham sisters. in a suggestively open interior the 3 Sisters have arranged themselves in distinct poses each revealing a slightly different state of mind-elegance pervades in a manner totally foreign to say Thomas Eakins’s portraits and even those of whistler and Cassatt”.[18].

The art Book depicts one of Sargent’s outdoor scenes of Paul Helleu and his wife sketching.

” The handling of the paint is also Impressionist short sharp strokes of colour define the reads and the grasses. Sargent was not one of those Impressionists but he was clearly trying to emulate their style in this picture”. [19].

This concludes my exploration of two important artists in the mid-nineteenth century in the USA. Both the Impressionist Cassatt and the Genre art of Sargent were an important influence on the art that was to follow later in the Century.

FOOTNOTES.

  1. A CONCISE HISTORY OF AMERICAN PAINTING AND SCULPTURE MATTHEW BAIGELL. PG.145
  2. DITTO.PG.145
  3. DITTO.PG.145
  4. DITTO.PG.145
  5. MODERNISM AND MODERNITY FRENCH PAINTING IN THE 19TH CENTURY GENDER AND REPRESENTATION. TAMAR GARB.PG.262
  6. DITTO.PG.262
  7. DITTO.PG.264
  8. DITTO.PG.269
  9. A CONCISE HISTORY OF AMERICAN PAINTING AND SCULPTURE MATTHEW BAIGELL.PG.147
  10. DITTO.PG.147
  11. DITTO.PG.148
  12. DITTO.PG.148
  13. DITTO.PG.148
  14. DITTO.PG.148
  15. DITTO.PG.148
  16. DITTO.PG.148
  17. DITTO.PG.148
  18. DITTO.PG.148
  19. THE ART BOOK PHAIDON.PG.411.

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2 thoughts on “A COMPARISON OF IMPRESSIONIST OR GENRE ART IN THE UNITED STATES DURING THE MID 19TH CENTURY: AN EXPLORATION OF THE ART OF MARY CASSATT(1844-1926) AND JOHN SINGER SARGENT (1856-1925). PART2.”

    1. Paul , again thanks for your great praise I’m amiss at not praising your work enough I have just been looking at the Work of Albert Pinkham Ryder and I can see why you like his work I will be looking at Elihu Vedder who I think was a great Painter especially the Sphinx and everything to do with Ancient culture Laurence

      Liked by 1 person

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