John Singer Sargent
When Mr. John Collier was writing his book on The Art of Portrait Painting he asked John Singer Sargent
for an account of his methods. Sargent replied:
As to describing my procedure, I find the greatest
difficulty in making it clear to pupils, even with the palette
and brushes in hand and with the model before me; to
serve it up in the abstract seems to me hopeless.
With the assistance, however, of two of his former pupils, Miss Heyneman and Mr. Henry Haley, it is
possible to obtain some idea of his methods.
When he first undertook to criticize Miss Heyneman's work he insisted that she should draw from models
and not from friends.
If you paint your friends, they and you are chiefly con-
cerned about the likeness. You can't discard a canvas
when you please and begin anew -- you can't go on
indefinitely until you have solved a problem.
He disapproved (Miss Heyneman continues) of my palette and brushes. On the palette the paints had not
been put out with any system.
You do not want dabs of color, you want plenty of paint to
Then the brushes came in for derision.
No wonder your painting is like feathers if you use these.
Having scraped the palette clean he put out enough paint so it seemed for a dozen pictures.
Painting is quite hard enough without adding to your
difficulties by keeping your tools in bad condition. You
want good thick brushes that will hold the paint and that
will resist in a sense the stroke on the canvas.
He then with a bit of charcoal placed the head with no more than a few careful lines over which he passed
a rag, so that is was a perfectly clean grayish colored canvas (which he preferred), faintly showing where
the lines had been. Then he began to paint. At the start he used sparingly a little turpentine to rub in a
general tone over the background and to outline the head (the real outline where the light and shadow
meet, not the place where the head meets the background), to indicate the mass of the hair and the tone of
the dress. The features were not eve