Sargent was born 12 January 1856 in Florence, Italy. His parents were American expatriates and he grew up summering in Switzerland, Germany, or northern France; and wintering in Rome, or Nice, or Florence.

After finishing his studies in Paris Sargent stayed on. He exhibited in the 1882 Salon, “El Jaleo”, that was purchased by a Boston patron, T. Jefferson Coolidge. In 1883 he rented a house in the boulevard Berthier, in west Paris.

Though variously described as reserved or diffident he had an inner confidence in his talents and clear view of his direction.

I’m inspired by the sheer brilliance of his execution (the light in “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose”), and deep, keen understanding of colour. A skilled portaitist he revealed in the sitter an essence of their emotion. As in the 1884 “The Misses Vickers” we see the individuality of the three sisters and the haughty almost disdain of Sargent in his 1906 “Self Portrait”.

In his quiet way he did develop many friendships and moved easily through the several strata of Parisian and later English and American society. I like his strength and productivity, and while having an opinion he never became embroiled in the drama of artists like Whistler.



Practice makes perfect. Sounds good, but it needs to be perfect practice. Well what is that??

I have heard it advocated that one should ‘paint a picture a day’ and this will speed one to artisthood. Maybe this comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s observation that it takes about 10,000 hours to become a ‘Master’. Maybe it does, but standing over a canvas on the floor and drizzling paint out of a bucket for 10k hrs. will not make you Jackson Pollack, sorry. No it has to be 10k hrs. of actually doing something. Let’s stick with Pollack. There is a lot going on in a Pollack painting, and it isn’t jump out at you illustration. You have to “contribute” to a Pollack to get something out of it, whether it is the landscape, or the portrait, or the still life. And they didn’t get into the painting by just drizzling paint. Look up some of the videos of him at work, it’s work.

If you look at the larger body of some Old Master’s work, someone who’s left a lot of paintings, and sketches, and etchings, etc. you see that there are the same, or very similar, poses and figures. Here in Guido Cagnacci’s Death of Cleopatra he has used the same face and he is able to put the different emotions on it, not by chance surely.

There is no quick fix nor is quantity alone an answer. You won’t become a Master by turning out one piece of crap a day, but you will get better if you turn out one perfect hand/leg/arm/nose every drawing session. Discover, recover, uncover the basics of drawing a hand, foot, etc. and then do that, drill the basics. When it becomes your own it will not leave you.

Hugh MacLeod in a talk made 20 points about success here is what he says about mastery:

“17. In a word: MASTERY. They’ve MASTERED something. Something inte­res­ting and valua­ble. They are MASTERS of their craft. It may be an old-fashioned word that makes peo­ple uncom­for­ta­ble, but that’s only because it’s something that elu­des most people.

18. Though, having watched these mas­ters care­fully first-hand, I can honestly say MASTERY is more satisf­ying than money. If you’re up for it, yes, MASTERY MATTERS MORE THAN MONEY, MASTERY MATTERS MORE THAN SUCCESS.

19. And it’s por­ta­ble. It tra­vels with you, whe­re­ver you go. No land­lord, no boss, no reces­sion, no Wall Street analyst, no news­pa­per cri­tic can take it away. It’s something that truly belongs to you, for always.”

I like that last, “It’s something that truly belongs to you, for always.”


Been working on my paint chops recently and I am finding Portrait Painting Atelier by Suzanne Brooker quite informative. Chapter Five: The Painting Process is particularly useful, in 14 pages laying out a way of systematizing the approach. The breakthrough for me was in the section ‘Working in grisaille’* because I never fully understood the relation of the underpainting to the finished piece.

Also under ‘Handling the brush’ I found “Brushwork is the signature of a painter. Every brushstroke interprets light, volume, space, movement, direction, or texture. This means that your intention must be clear before the brush touches the canvas.” So true in anything, the intention is what will pull it off.

**Grisaille (French: gris ‘grey’) is a term for painting executed in monochrome or near-monochrome, usually in shades of grey. Many grisailles in fact include a slightly wider colour range. Paintings executed in brown are sometimes referred to as  brunaille, and paintings executed in green are sometimes called verdaille.  A grisaille may be executed for its own sake, as underpainting for an oil painting (in preparation for glazing layers of colour over it), or as a model for an engraver to work from.


Giovanni Boldini was born in Ferrara, Italy in 1842 the son of a painter of religious subjects. He went to Florence in 1862 to study painting. He trained on the Italian Renaissance masters and combined work and study for many years, in Paris and London, and Holland and Germany. He developed his own, distinct style, and his portraits grew in fame, helped greatly by a portrait commissioned by Giuseppe Verdi in 1886, the biggest celebrity of his day.

Portrait of Guiseppe Verdi

Verdi gave Boldini an introduction into the world of opera, which led to many commissions for portraits, and to many intimate paintings of opera fans in theatres and cafes around Europe.

Boldini lived in Paris from 1872, where he moved in the Impressionist’s circle, a friend of Edgar Degas. He also became the most fashionable portrait painter of the time in Paris, with a dashing style of painting which shows some Impressionist influence but which most closely resembles the work of his contemporaries John Singer Sargent and Paul Helleu.

Boldini’s paintings showed his subject in soft-focus, elongated, in movement, alive, and sophisticated. His portraits were flattering. The brush work was swift and bold. It is this masterful brushwork that gives his paintings the sense of motion.

He also painted landscapes in the naturalistic style of his day, influenced by the Macchiaioli schooled artists he knew in Florence, and worked on engravings, with pastels, watercolors and etchings. It was only toward the end of his life did his style change, becoming more impressionistic (possibly due to his failing eyesight), using mainly dark, rich colors. His subjects changed as well. No longer having to rely on portraits for a living he began painting the subjects he wanted to paint, which seemed to be the female nude.

Yet another change that came late in life was that bachelor Boldini married; in 1929, aged 86.

He died of pneumonia 11 July 1931, and is buried in his hometown of Ferrara, Italy.


As I have previously defined an Italian word (a language I do not know), disegno, let’s look at another one.

The Oxford English says “2. The treatment or disposition of the light and shade, or lighter and darker masses, in a picture.” and cites John Opie’s 1806 Royal Academy Lectures on Art “Chiaroscuro includes not only light and shadow as it effects each separate part, but the proper division and distribution of the whole surface of a picture into bright or dark masses, whether the darkness be produced by shadow, or by the proper colour of…the objects represented.”

The word comes from Italian for “light-dark”, chiaroscuro is defined as a bold contrast between both light and dark. A certain amount of chiaroscuro has the effect of light modeling in painting, where three-dimensional volume is suggested by highlights and shadow. A departure from the pre-Renaissance flat field styling.

A few examples of chiaroscuro painters include Rembrandt, Giovanni Baglione, and Caravaggio.


I like Vettriano for his capture of mood. Though generally noir, something in it speaks to me that I find appealing.
And he’s self taught, he was a laborer when he decided he wanted to learn to paint.
And he’s philanthropic, giving major support to a few causes he feels for.
And his style is simple, he doesn’t frill up his pictures, presenting only the elements needed to tell the story, with a limited palette.
And he works from the model, the traditional source.
And he took good marketing advice, building an international brand.
And those are what I admire about him.
And that is why he inspires me.


Edouard Manet born 23 January 1832, Paris. Died 30 April 1883, Paris (aged 51).

Manet wanted to belong, be recognized by society, but only on his own terms. He was no stranger to society, his father being a senior civil servant and his mother the daughter of a diplomat. Appearing a bit of a dandy he was tougher than appeared, because though craving official recognition he never modified his style for the sake of success.

Dejeuner sur l’Herbe isn’t about naked women in the woods, it’s about friends passing time together and, obviously, how they passed it. The painting was rejected by the Salon of 1863, but hung in the Salon des Refuses ordered by Napoleon III.

And he didn’t paint his Olympia to shock, he painted it because whores were a part of the social fabric of the day. It hung in the Salon of 1865.

In the view of most he is linked strongly to the Impressionist, yet never exhibited with them. In 1881 the French government awarded Manet the Légion d’honneur.

I find his unswerved desire for recognition, on his terms, to be inspirational.