Sargent Lecture at the Portrait Society Conference

I’m looking forward to speaking at the Portrait Society of America’s conference in Philadelphia next month. It will be a great event with approximately 800 artists from around the world in attendance. On Friday evening, one of my duties will be to present a program on the life, work, and technique of John Singer Sargent. My favorite artist to study, I recently ran across this interesting piece of information in a tiny “conversation piece” written by a personal friend of the artist, Martin Birnbaum nearly 70 years ago. In speaking about Sargent’s personal assistant, Birnbaum said:
 “Niccola would often prime an old canvas with white paint mixed with raw umber, on which blues especially were silvery and brillant, but this pigment has an unfortunate tendency to eat through, if the paiting had not dried thoroughly, and then the picture is almost past repair.” 
Anyone who has read James Montgomery Flagg’s “Roses and Buckshot” know of a particular case where this could be the trouble. Pay close attention to the portrait of William Merritt Chase at the Metropolitan Museum each time you visit. You just may see something appear and then disappear!
4 Responses to Sargent Lecture at the Portrait Society Conference
  1. Art Lady

    I was speaking to a fellow artist yesterday who was talking about an old masters technique of painting a very detailed red grissaile (sp?) then after that dried, one with diluted india ink, then painting thinly (but not glazing) on top of the ink: The desired effect being the red paint and ink should eventually show through the paint on top of them, lending a desireable “glow”. Would the situation you describe be similar? Any idea why the appearance and disappeaarance of the phenomenon on the Chase portrait?

  2. MIchael Shane Neal

    hi “art lady”! in washington, but home this weekend and will try to answer in more detail. i short, i do not believe it was due to the process you described. i think it has more to do with poor combinations or mediums, varnishes, improper handling of new paint over older dry paint, etc,etc. Sargent was not known for paying close attention to the “archival-ness” of his work. The Chase portrait is painted over an old canvas…an abandon portrait of Asher Wertheimer. Sargent flipped the portrait and started Chase. The head of Mr. Wertheimer sometimes begins to appear in, let’s say, the LOWER area of the portrait! Thanks for stopping in!

  3. pljarizona

    Shane,
    I heard both your presentations at the PSA conference in Philadelphia and was entranced by your knowledge, personality and gift for presentation. I learned so much from you and wanted to THANK YOU for your gift to our membership. You were the HIGHLIGHT of the weekend.
    Pamela, mesa,az

  4. MIchael Shane Neal

    Thanks, Pamela! What a GREAT weekend. I learned so much and was honored to be asked to participate. So appreciate you attending my lectures and hope to see you again soon!