The Met Fifth Avenue – American Painters in Italy: From Copley to Sargent

All pictures were taken by the author during his visit to The Met Fifth Avenue, New York. Texts sourced from exhibit label scripts.

Elihu Vedder, Cypress and Poppies, 1880-90

Although best known for his visionary and mystical works, Vedder developed a lifelong interest in painting the Italian countryside during the 1860s while living in Florence. He associated with a group of artists known as the Macchiaioli, who eschewed academic practice and drew inspiration directly from nature. Probably painted in Rome in the 1880s, Cypress and Poppies reflects the enduring influence of the Macchiaioli landscapes on Vedder, with its soft atmosphere and splashes of bright color.

John Singer Sargent, Boboli Garden, Florence, 1906-7

Boboli Gardens in Florence were designed in the mid-sixteenth century for the Medici court. Sargent’s depiction of a sculpture by Giovanni Battisca Caccini of a figure playing a pipe, set against lush foliage, is a study of contrasting light and shadow. He employs layers of dark pigments of varying opacity to suggest depth and shadow in the background, and renders the sunlight filtering through the branches with pale-hued pigments. He depicts the pietra serena (a light-colored Tuscan limestone) of the statue with warm tones applied in transparent washes.

John Singer Sargent, Garden near Lucca, 1910

Lucca, a charming Renaissance walled city in Tuscany, where Sargent spent the autumn of 1910. Here, Sargent uses a low vantage point to set off the richly carved urn against a brilliant blue sky. He enlivens a static subject by placing the urn close to the top edge of the composition and depicting the vine of vivid pinkish blue blossoms as if it is cascading from the urn, using feathery brushstrokes.

John Singer Sargent, Venetian Passageway, 1905

Sargent’s interest in geometric of the scene, with its numerous horizontal and vertical divisions, is apparent in the carefully ruled underdrawing visible at the left. The proximity of the building’s facade to the picture plane is underscored by the precise rendering of the bright white, carved spiral stone column at the left in contrast to the recession of the dark corridor. By leaving the illuminated area at the rear of the sotto portego ambiguous, Sargent evokes the tangle of streets and passageways so characteristic of Venice.

John Singer Sargent, Giudecca, 1913

A picturesque charm has long been associated with Giudecca, attracting artists for many centuries — both Francesco Guardi and Joseph Mallord William Turner painted view of it. However, their images almost always include recognizable landmarks. In his rendering, Sargent avoids identifiable Venetian monuments in recording the characteristics of a typical neighborhood. The inclusion of sailing vessels invoke the city’s historical importance as an Adriatic port.

John Singer Sargent, Venetian Canal, 1913

For the focal point of this watercolor, Sargent chose the relatively obscure yet scenic eleventh-century tower of the Church of San Barnaba. He positioned himself close to the water to present the view looking down the Rio de San Barnaba toward the Grand Canal. Sargent’s watercolors are admired for their fluid spontaneity, evident here in his rendering of the rippling water of the canal as it reflects the nearby architecture and bright sunlight.

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