Friday, 6 May 2011

Bite 105: John Singer Sargent - Paul Helleu Sketching with His Wife, 1889

Paul Helleu Sketching with His Wife, 1889, oil on canvas, 66 × 81 cm, Brooklyn Museum, NY
Paul Helleu sketches en plein air, his wife at his side. An artistic collaboration as well as marriage, their bright hats mirror as they sit close on the grass. Yet Paul, head down, regards his canvas, deftly applying paint from his palette, while Alice, almost deathly pale, looks meditatively into the distance. They appear content to sit in silence, within their own worlds.

Painted by their good friend John Singer Sargent, the complex composition and framing reflects the influence of the invention of photography on 19th century painting. The cropping of Alice on the right and the canoe at left transforms the intimate scene into a vignette of a larger scene, adding dynamism and realism to the representation.