It was a boat ride on the Thames that inspired the masterpiece that launched John Singer Sargent into the firmament of English painting. The artist was in Pangburne, coming off the Parisian scandal of Madame X, when the spectacle of Chinese lanterns hanging between the trees and flowers set a new idea working in his mind. In two years, he would finish Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, the atmosphere of which, with its vibrant lights, still overwhelms visitors to the Tate Britain today. The work depicts two children in white garb, intent on lighting paper lanterns. Around them, the lush nature of an English garden with lilies, roses and carnations. With Polly and Dolly, daughters of illustrator Frederick Barnard, Sargent worked outside, waiting nightly for the ephemeral enchantment of sunset. Capturing “the warm light of the lanterns against the dark purple of the summer sunset” turned out to be an arduous task. It is a “terribly difficult subject,” the painter wrote to his sister, “The brilliant colours of the flowers and the lamps are impossible, and the more intense green of the lawn in the background. The paints aren’t vivid enough. And besides that, the effect only lasts ten minutes.” But the efforts of the American artist were compensated. In 1887, the exposition of the work at the Royal Academy decreed the launch of Sargent as a portraitist in the United Kingdom. Two ingredients made the painting irresistible to the Victorian public and critics - the innocence of youth and its setting in an English garden.
Poussin and Dance. An Outright Celebration at the National Gallery
The French painter as you’ve never seen him before - works on loan from around the world reveal the emotional and Dionysian side of the artist, with influences from classical art and inspirations from the Italian Renaissance.