John Singer Sargent’s watercolors of the Marble Quarries in Carrara

The path to lunch has led many a great artists to the Apuan Alps and the marble quarries of Carrara – from the Ancient Romans to Michelangelo, and from Henry Moore, in the 60s to those master sculptors working in stone, today, in Carrara and Pietrasanta.

A Path To Lunch – an interesting blog about living … and walking “La Dolce Vita” – has brought us to a series of watercolors painted by John Singer Sargent in the early 1900s. (Thanks Mike for sending this in!)

John Singer Sargent was born in Florence, in 1856; he was an American artist active when the art world was interested in Impressionism, Fauvism and Cubism – he preferred a more “realistic” approach to painting and was considered the leading portrait painter of his generation.

During his long career he painted over 900 portraits as well as countless sketches and drawings which he made during his travels abroad, from Venice, to the Tyrol, the island of Corfu, the Middle East, as well as from his travels stateside.

His many trips to Italy led to his sensitive and naturalistic Venetian street scenes – as well as a series of beautiful, self-confident watercolors of the marble quarries in Carrara – some of which we post here. Sargent was a keen observer of nature and his research into color and light took gorgeous form in his watercolor paintings of the life and work in the Carrara quarries.

An intensely private man he stated once that one of the benefits of retiring from portrait painting was not having to entertain his sitters with banal pleasantries.

The Wikipedia article about him sheds light on his early life, much of which was spent in Italy and we quote:

Before Sargent’s birth, his father, FitzWilliam (b. 1820 Gloucester, Massachusetts), was an eye surgeon at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia 1844–1854. After John’s older sister died at the age of two, his mother, Mary (née Singer), suffered a breakdown, and the couple decided to go abroad to recover. They remained nomadic expatriates for the rest of their lives. Although based in Paris, Sargent’s parents moved regularly with the seasons to the sea and the mountain resorts in France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. While Mary was pregnant, they stopped in Florence, Italy, because of a cholera epidemic. Sargent was born there in 1856. A year later, his sister Mary was born. After her birth, FitzWilliam reluctantly resigned his post in Philadelphia and accepted his wife’s entreaties to remain abroad. They lived modestly on a small inheritance and savings, living a quiet life with their children. They generally avoided society and other Americans except for friends in the art world. Four more children were born abroad, of whom only two lived past childhood.

Although his father was a patient teacher of basic subjects, young Sargent was a rambunctious child, more interested in outdoor activities than his studies. As his father wrote home, “He is quite a close observer of animated nature.” His mother was quite convinced that traveling around Europe, and visiting museums and churches, would give young Sargent a satisfactory education. Several attempts to have him formally schooled failed, owing mostly to their itinerant life. Sargent’s mother was a fine amateur artist and his father was a skilled medical illustrator. Early on, she gave him sketchbooks and encouraged drawing excursions. Young Sargent worked with care on his drawings, and he enthusiastically copied images from The Illustrated London News of ships and made detailed sketches of landscapes. FitzWilliam had hoped that his son’s interest in ships and the sea might lead him toward a naval career.

At thirteen, his mother reported that John “sketches quite nicely, & has a remarkably quick and correct eye. If we could afford to give him really good lessons, he would soon be quite a little artist.” At the age of thirteen, he received some watercolor lessons from Carl Welsch, a German landscape painter. Although his education was far from complete, Sargent grew up to be a highly literate and cosmopolitan young man, accomplished in art, music, and literature. He was fluent in French, Italian, and German. At seventeen, Sargent was described as “willful, curious, determined and strong” (after his mother) yet shy, generous, and modest (after his father). He was well-acquainted with many of the great masters from first hand observation, as he wrote in 1874, “I have learned in Venice to admire Tintoretto immensely and to consider him perhaps second only to Michelangelo and Titian.”

Read the rest of the Wikipedia article, linked here.

See more of John Singer Sargent’s watercolors of the marble quarries of Carrara and read the rest of  A Path To Lunch‘s insightful post, linked here.


Oxen, Carrara 1911-13 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925



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