100 Days of Art History Jinjins


Lady Agnew of Lochnaw

John Singer Sargent's portraits (his paintings in general actually) are so lovely. His brushwork is loose, in places just blobs, but his colors are so accurate and well-placed that your brain sees a three dimensional person anyway, complete with life and personality. This lady has an intelligent little smirk on her face, as if the two of you are sharing an inside joke, which makes this a lot of fun to look at and imagine what she's thinking.

The loose brushwork actually made this one hard to accurately copy. It's much easier to exactly reproduce a perfectly blended shadow than some loosely placed streaks of color. That was a good lesson for me.

John Singer Sargent had a great career, but ended up getting kind of pigeonholed making society portraits like this one and eventually got sick of it. My first impression on seeing portraits of his like this is that the subjects are beautiful and interesting, but after realizing they're mostly the filthy rich, they take on a different dimension. Is it worth making them look this important? Maybe I'm the one whose ordinariness should be elevated via a painting like this. That's the kind of thought I was trying to get across with this project.

The subject of this painting is Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, the wife of a Scottish Baronet. I think the most notable thing about her is this portrait. Another similar painting which I didn't end up copying, but also enjoy, is Mrs. John Jay Chapman. Its subject has a similar challenging expression on her face.

When I painted this, I was more focused on trying to create a convincing human head than on making it my face specifically, so it looks pretty different. Good thing I have my glasses as a shorthand to signal that it's supposed to be me.

Reference image is from Wikipedia. It is now in the National Galleries of Scotland.

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