Visual Response: Two Ladies with Their Pets

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the National Gallery, In Washington, DC. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. With so many renown works of art available in one place, the hour I had available to enjoy its collection was water running through my fingers! Many paintings grabbed my attention, some that I recognized from art books and documentaries and others that I can’t quite remember ever seeing before; like these two paintings I’m sharing with this post.

John Singer Sargent: Miss Beatrice Townsend ,1882

John Singer Sargent: Miss Beatrice Townsend ,1882

This portrait by John Singer Sargent shows the daughter of a close friend. Upon doing some research, I read that in this painting, Beatrice is approximately twelve years old, and her portrait was completed two years before her passing. For me, it is clear that the Spanish Baroque made an influence on how Sargent created this painting. The ornate collar defined with loose brushstrokes and the sharp contrast made by red against black or brown reminds me of other portraits done by Velasquez or Murillo. When I first saw this painting, I was captivated by the young girl’s posture. The negative space between her left elbow and her hipbone in conjunction to her stand is very similar to a fashion model, but contrary to a fashion model, in this painting, the subject is not presented in an idealized manner. Beatrice seems lively, almost impatient or eager to move on. Clearly, this is the portrait of a young person that’s full of confidence and self-assertion. Therefore, aside from physical likeness, Sargent also delivers a character study.

Cecilia Beaux:  Sita and Sarita . 1921

Cecilia Beaux: Sita and Sarita. 1921

With this portrait of her cousin, Cecilia Beaux, designed a very intriguing painting emphasizing her subject within a modern composition and very creative use of negative space. As I did a quick research about this painting, I learned that the original is now in the collection of Musée d'Orsay, in Paris, and what’s currently hanging in the National Gallery is a  copy that the artist painted for herself before the original was shipped overseas. For me, the eye contact from the cat in combination with her wandering gaze creates the illusion of a snapshot. Viewing this painting almost feels as if the cat is moving on her shoulder while she’s casually trying to keep it under control. Similarly to the one above, Beaux was able to create a portrait that transcends technical accuracy. I couldn’t help feeling in the presence of a young woman who had a great sense of humor and natural ellegance.

Having visited the National Gallery was very stimulating. I left feeling very motivated to look deeper into the subject and attempt to learn its essence.