Art Chowder May | June 2017, Issue 9 - Page 41

John Singer Sargent was an innately gifted artist. He studied and worked very hard and long through- out his life. As Michelangelo’s “theory” pointed out though, hard work is not enough and one of Sar- gent’s secrets to the appearance of effortlessness came from adherence to a central principle cham- pioned by his teacher Carolus-Duran (1837-1917). “In art, all that is not indispensable is unnecessary” was one of the precepts which Duran had formulat- ed after his study of Velázquez. He urged his stu- dents to make copies of the pictures of Velázquez in the Louvre, not laborious copies, but copies “au premier coup,” that is, in one go. Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660) was one of the outstanding luminaries in the entire history of painting. This artist’s working methods, too, offer insight into how he achieved the appear- ance of labor without effort. Scientific analysis of his works at the Prado Museum in Madrid reveals that he also painted with extreme economy of means. Diego Velázquez The Surrender of Breda 1634–5 on canvas 121 x 144” Museo del Prado, Madrid His The Surrender of Breda commemorates an event during the Thirty Years War when Dutch forc- es were forced to give up the city of Breda to the Spanish Army under General Ambrogio Spinola in 1624. Like Sargent, Velázquez did not paint from a completed drawing; only a very few drawings can be attributed to him. Velázquez must have had some initial conception but this large, very complex history painting with landscape, underwent a great deal of improvisation directly on the canvas. The artist suggested the atmosphere of smoke and clouds in the background, using very thin oil colors that leave much of the canvas texture visible. X-rays reveal significant alterations in the clothing and po- sitioning of the figures. Interestingly, the magnifi- cently arranged lances were originally a great deal shorter. The masterpiece is also a testimony of ci- vility after the bitterness of war, as General Spinola touches the shoulder of Dutch General Nassau in an expression of consolation, before receiving the key to the city. Velázquez’s Pope Innocent X, painted on the sec- ond of the artist’s two tours of Italy in 1650, has been called by some the greatest portrait of all time and brought the artist immediate fame. “It is made of nothing, but there it is.” said an admiring Italian contemporary observer. In her 1982 monograph on the artist, leading British Velázquez authority Enriqueta Harris had this to say about the picture, “No reproduction can convey the almost physical impact of the original painting of this stern, ugly old man, seated in an enormous chair…or give an idea of the brilliant combinations of various shades Diego Velázquez Pope Innocent X 1650 oil on canvas 141 x 119” Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome of crimson of the curtain, the chair, the cape and biretta. Even the pope’s complexion is ruddy, and the crimson is broken only by the dazzling white of the surplice, painted almost without shadows. And even in the original, it is difficult to see how the strong modeling of the head has been achieved with hardly visible brush strokes.” 3 May|June 2017 41