Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum/The Inscrutable Eye: Watercolors byJohn Singer Sargent in Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Collection

A Tent in the Rockies, 1916

Link to the Exhibition Website:

Co-Curators: Oliver Tostmann, William and Lia Poorvu Curator of the Collection, and Associate Curator Anne-Marie Eze

The PR Buzz: "This exhibition offers a look at the vibrant watercolors Sargent made for his own pleasure that were avidly collected by Gardner towards the end of her life. With their brilliant technique and fresh colors, these pictures reveal the stupendous quality of Sargent's draftsmanship"

Recommended For: More Sargent goodness, just steps away from the show at the MFA

The Experience:
I found The Inscrutable Eye something of a tease. It had a number of intriguing elements that did not hang together as a coherent experience for me. Instead of reciting my frustrations, let me tell you how I wish I had seen the show.

The first thing I should have done is get the exhibition brochure, available inside the gallery, and retreated back out to the Spanish Cloister. I then would have read the concise and eloquent essay, A Singular Friendship, by Associate Curator of the Collection, Anne-Marie Eze, while relishing in the moody passion of Sargent's El Jaleo. Once I'd finished the essay, I would return to the Fenway Gallery to take in the selection of watercolors on display.  I would have started with the Italian views on the left and then worked my way around to finish with the case of letters and ephemera.

For me, there were two standout works in the show. I was stunned by the delicately glowing A Tent in the Rockies. Sargent's ability to capture the play of bright sunlight on the exterior and interior of the canvas tent is truly masterful. Finally, there is the tender and heartbreaking Mrs. Gardner in White, a picture made all the more poignant if one has read Ms. Eze's essay.

After taking in this show, and the MFA show, the Sargents hung in the adjacent rooms of the palace leapt off the walls for me without needing to resort to the room guides.

As I left the museum back into the chilly Fenway, I found myself wondering, "Why was it called The Inscrutable Eye?"

-Vident Omnes

Mrs. Gardner in White, 1922
While You’re There: See Sophie Calle: Last Seen, the art of the unhealed wound.

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