Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


John Singer Sargent’s Carrara Watercolors

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Carrara, I’m not ashamed to admit, is because James Bond had a car chase there. Switchbacks, stone, and big machines, sign me up. Another reason is Edward Burtynsky’s stunning photos. His book, Quarries, features Carrara on the cover and first convinced me that the landscape would be beautiful. But probably the biggest reason is the series of paintings by my favorite watercolorist, John Singer Sargent. I’ve never seen them in person and I’m not sure how many he actually did, but for years I’ve grabbed them off the internet whenever I’ve seen them. They might not be as important as his paintings of Venice and I’m sure I attach more importance to them than most other people, but it’s the world’s greatest watercolorist painting one of the world’s great cultural landscapes. Fantastic.

Titles and dates for most of them can be found at the John Singer Sargent Virtual Gallery, along with some pencil studies that are interesting to see. As I understand it, he visited the quarries twice, in 1911 and 1913, the era of dynamite and oxen at the quarries, before the workers had the big machines and the wire saws they use today. I love how many of the paintings show workers carrying ropes up the mountain. The weight of the stone is obvious, but I’m fascinated too by how heavy the ropes would have been and how much effort would have been put into just moving them around. Not an easy place to work.

Another dozen more are below.

One Response to “John Singer Sargent’s Carrara Watercolors”

  1. November 1st, 2018 at 2:18 pm

    Katie says:

    This speaks to me for a variety of reasons, including my love for watercolor and one of my best friends was a charismatic, gifted, old-school stone mason. I am envious of your lovely travels and have fond memories of visiting Rome thereabouts several years ago. On my bucket list is to see Venice in person after seeing gorgeous paintings in Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

    John Singer Sargent has popped up quite a bit in my blog readings the past few months, particularly of the famed “Madame X”. I wasn’t aware he did watercolor… until your post. Thank you for sharing.

    ps – I still miss dreams of your wisteria shower.
    pss – Fairy lanterns were quite prolific this past spring even on the CA Central Coast.

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