Provenance: Professor Henry Tonks, His Sale, July 29th 1937, lot 36. Spink & Son, London By descent to the current owners
Exhibited: Tate, London, 1926.
Literature: Evan E. Charteris Esq., John Sargent, (1927) page mentioned on pp. 133.
Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurary, John Singer Sargent, Figures and Landscapes 1874-1882, (2006) mentioned on p. 221, note 2.
Note: You cant do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.
Between 1900 and 1914 John Singer Sargent produced seven hundred watercolors ranging from quick travel notes to elaborate compositions.
He had turned increasingly to the medium after 1900 as he grew tired of the demands of portrait painting. By 1907 he had forsaken nearly all portraiture to concentrate on landscape painting, having established a reputation for mastering the subtlety of the medium as early as 1903, following successful shows in London and New York.
An inveterate traveler since childhood, Sargents European journeys had often consisted of long spells in Venice. Early trips focused not only on the architecture of the city, but also on the relationship between the local people and their surroundings. However by the time Sandali was painted, c. 1905, Sargent had given full expression to his fascination and love of Venice and by the end of his life he had produced a body of some 150 oils and watercolors depicting the city. His wonderful relationship with the city is the subject of the current exhibition there, Sargent and Venice, which is at the Museo Correr 24 March 22 July 2007 and which follows the Turner and Venice exhibition of 2003-04.
Sargent had trained under Carolus-Duran and understood the beauty of a subdued palette and the need to paint exactly what he saw. At the same time, a number of his Venetian works such as the present work, suggest the influence of his friend Claude Monet. Many of these Venetian scenes were painting from a gondola or a wharf-side bench. They were executed with remarkable speed, in an attempt to capture a moment when shadows fell in a certain way or light and shade produced a particular effect.
By this stage in his life, Sargent traditionally spent the high summer in the Alps and then usually descended to Venice in September. He loved the play of light and shadow (by this time softer and longer than in high summer), and above all the resonance between the shapes of the buildings and the palette of often brilliant colors.
The watercolors he produced as he captured the different scenes and moments in Venice are timeless and usually devoid of people. The artist presents the viewer with a modern interpretation of the city, but one that is respectful, and rooted in an understanding of the history of the place. They clearly express the vibrant joy that Sargent found in these trips to Venice, often in the company of friends such as Jane and Wilfred de Glehn or his sister Emily, a close companion since childhood. Perhaps more than any other of his works they exemplify his ability to capture light and form in a few strokes. The degree to which Sandali is a preeminent example was confirmed by Evan Charter is in his definitive book, John Sargent (1927).
He registers another order of beauty than that attained by Monet. Here and there, it is true, a watercolor of Venice (notably one in the possession of Professor Tonks) will give the aerial effects aimed at by the Impressionists, but they are attained by another technique, and the effects are more quiescent and les impermanent.
Provenance: Although Sargent was internationally renowned by the time he painted Sandali, he made no effort to exploit these watercolors commercially. He did hold one-man shows at the Carfax Gallery in London in 12905 and at Knoedler in New York in 1909, (work for the latter was bought in its entirety by Augustus Healy on behalf of the Brooklyn Museum.) But many were given freely as gifts, indeed Sandali may well have been presented to Sir Henry Tonks, (who had become a close friend of the artist for many years and was a regular visitor to the studio in Tite Street from his own house nearby in Chelsea). The painting remained in Tonkss collection until the dispersal sale following his death in 1937.
Around 1890 Tonks had turned to art after a distinguished career as a surgeon. Having studied under Frederick Brown, when Brown was elected Slade Professor of Fine Art at University College, London in 1893, Tonks went with him as his assistant. Together with Wilson Steer, who was appointed teacher of painting, they effected a transformation in the way in which art was taught, as George Charlton described in Tonkss entry in the Dictionary of National Biography: Their students were imbued with a new sense of art and especially draughtsmanship. When Brown retied in 1917 Tonks replaced him as Slade Professor and remained until his retirement in 1930.
His friendship with Sargent would have been fostered at the New England Art Club, of which they were both members and the provenance from the artist to such a distinguished member of the British art world of the 20th Century adds enormously to the paintings appeal. At Tonkss sale in 1937 the watercolor was acquired by Spink from whom it was purchased and has passed by direct family descent.