Did Sargent place himself in this landscape painting? Thomas Jefferson Kitts, on the work that turned him onto plein air painting.
By Thomas Jefferson Kitts
“Home Fields, 1885” is one of my favorite paintings by J.S. Sargent. It isn’t one of his better-known works, but nonetheless it is an important landscape painting. It is worth a close look because it reveals something about the artist few people realize. Sargent was a nascent Modernist and a formalist painter, an artist who might have felt perfectly comfortable painting as an abstract expressionist during the mid-20th century. Sargent liked to challenge his audience with his innovative compositions, and he cloaked his most extreme experiments with his power of descriptive might.
I first saw a reproduction of “Home Fields” in 1983 while still in college. I found it in a used book and it wasn’t a particularly good reproduction. But it still had enough power to stop me from turning the page. I didn’t know much about Sargent at the time. In fact nobody did, and I had only heard of him because he was in the process of being reintroduced (rehabilitated? re-assessed? re-inducted?) into the pantheon of great painters by a couple of noted critics who had become interested in Sargent during the waning days of Modernism — this being a time when many artists were beginning to become interested in more traditional ways of painting again, and starting to reject some of the fundamental precepts of Modernism.
This is the landscape painting that turned me into a plein air painter. The fresh and immediate handling of the paint, the observation of light, the unusual and bold composition resonated deeply within me. “Home Fields” became my touchstone.
I spent hours looking at my reproduction, and then one morning I had an epiphany. I realized that Sargent had placed himself in the painting. (Oh snap! Can you see him?) Yet I have never heard or read anything in print which comments on this fact … Visit www.thomaskitts.com to continue reading this post, and to learn a few of the mechanical nuts and bolts of painting at the same time.
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