John Singer Sargent
Stable in Cuenca, 1903
Oil on canvas - 57.1 x 72 cm
Washington, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Photo : Smithsonian American Art Museum
6/3/14 - Acquisition - Washington, Smithsonian American Art Museum - Best known for his society portraits, a manner he learned from Carolus-Duran, and in which he displayed an undisputable virtuosity, John Singer Sargent did not just paint elegant women posing in refined interiors ; he also treated more prosaic subjects, as shown by the donkeys in a stable, a painting recently acquired by the Smithsonian Art Museum from a private collector.
An American, who was born in Florence and died in London, Sargent traveled extensively and notably in Spain where he produced this painting in 1903, probably from life. The work marks an important change in his art. Saying he was tired of commissioned paintings and wished to paint for himself, he began depicting landscapes and a picturesque universe closer to the people, conveying their vitality and simplicity. Far from the brilliant and facile art of the society world, in this canvas he uses large and swift strokes to set down an image which is both timeless and instantaneous, an impression given by the dynamic focus he uses here : the donkey in the foreground is cut off while the man on the left appears to be walking out of the painting. The artist goes to the opposite extreme, revealing a taste for a more authentic world, inhabited by weavers, stonecutters and olive pickers, even the Bedouin tribes he represented during a trip to the Middle East.