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John Singer Sargent Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose


Price: Sale Price: $116.79
Regular Price: $145.99


Two young girls wearing white nightgowns playing in the wilderness with lanterns with flames inside


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Item # 26509 Finished size:
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Product #: R26509-AEAEAGOELM
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It began as a single-figure composition with Kate, the five-year-old daughter of Frank and Lily Millet, as the model. She was replaced by the children of the illustrator Frederick Barnard, Polley and Dolly, who were older (eleven and seven), picturesquely fair-haired and who posed in specially made white dresses. There was a considerable process of development and refinement: a sequence of pencil studies in a sketchbook records Sargent working through differences of viewpoint and variations in the disposition of the figures and includes a detailed sketch of lilies; these drawings also chart the way the composition moves from a single figure in a spacious setting to a tight, densely decorative two-figure work. Oil studies also indicate experimentation with the figures: one study shows the firls with their backs to each other (Private Collection) and an X-ray of a portrait of their mother, Mrs Frederick Barnard (Private Collection), painted around the same time, shows beneath the portrait a sketch of a single girl with lanterns, roses, and lilies. There are two further oil studies of Dolly and one of Polley (Private Collections), and beautifully rendered presentation sketches of their faces in pencil (Tate Gallery). Preparatory works also suggest that the composition was rectangular until a relatively advanced stage; Abbey described it as "seven feet by five" and, in an undated letter to his sister Emily, Sargent drew a rough pen-and-ink sketch with the figures in close relationship to those in the finished work, but still framed as a distinct rectangle. After he had worked out the position of the figures, Sargent extended the composition at the top and reduced it at the side so that the finished canvas is almost square. In this compressed pictorial space, the figures are clearly the focal point but Sargent lays out a flat and stylised arrangement of flower patterns around them creating an aesthetic, decorative design. The project was beset by practical and technical difficulties. In the letter to Emily alrready quoted, Sargent wrote: "I am launched into my garden picture and have two good little models and a garden that answers the purpose although there are hardly any flowers and I have to scour the cottage gardens and transplant and make shift ... Fearful difficult subject. Impossible brilliant colours of flowers and lamps and brightest green lawn background. Paints are not bright enough, and then the effects only last ten minutes." He was aiming faithfully to transcribecomplex natural and artificial light effects, the cool waning light of early evening and warm candlelight illuminating the lanterns and reflected off the girls' faces, their white dresses and the lily petals. Working with a lyrical palette of white, grey, blue, mauveand pink, he used subtle tonal phrasing to create a poetic image: seen through a veil of blue-grey shadows, the tangled grasses take on a mysterious quality, and detail is elided, so that the lanterns and lilies, their means of support barely visible, seem to float in an ethereal dusk.
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