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John Singer Sargent watercolours bring a splash of summer colour to Dulwich

a watercolour sketch of a woman reclining by a stream

John Singer Sargent, A Turkish Woman by a Stream, c. 1907. Victoria and Albert Museum. Bequeathed by Miss Dorothy Barnard. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Dulwich Picture Gallery lines up a sumptuous show of John Singer Sargent watercolours for summer 2017

Whether it was society ladies in dappled glades, exhausted soldiers resting in a farmer’s field or Turkish women reading by babbling brooks, John Singer Sargent imbued his watercolours with a sense of languid repose that was always his own.

The eminent painter whose elegant portraits cut a swathe through late Victorian and Edwardian society was an inveterate watercolourist and this glorious summer show has assembled some of his best.

Sargent: The Watercolours brings together nearly 80 works from arguably Sargent’s greatest period of watercolour production between 1900 and 1918, a period when he honed his technique during expeditions to Southern Europe and the Middle East, where he developed a distinctive way of seeing and composing.

A key selection of works from over 30 lenders, including The lady with the umbrella, 1911, on display in the UK for the first time, will offer what Dulwich Picture Gallery say is “an alternative perspective on Sargent”, demonstrating a technical brilliance and striking individuality.

a watercolour sketch of domed buildings seen through the rigging of boats on the water

John Singer Sargent, The Church of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, c. 1904-9 © Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon. Photo: Catarina Gomes Ferreira

a watercolour sketch of four soldiers in kilts resting on a mound of hay

Highlanders resting at the Front. Sargent, 1918. © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

a colour sketch of a woman reclining beneath a white parasol

John Singer Sargent, The Lady with the Umbrella, 1911. Museu de Montserrat. Donated by J. Sala Ardiz. Image © Dani Rovira

a watercolour of a fountain with carved female figures

John Singer Sargent, The Fountain, Bologna, c. 1906. Private Collection

Whilst these watercolours have often been dismissed as simple sketches or travel souvenirs, the Dulwich exhibition will show how they were an integral part of Sargent’s artistic production.

Sargent practiced the art of watercolour from a young age and continued to use it throughout his career, his style developing in tandem with his work in oils. By 1900, aged 44 and at the height of his career, he had grown restless and sought escape from the confines of his studio and the pressures of portrait commissions.

“We hope to demonstrate Sargent’s mastery of the medium and the scale of his achievement”.

Working en plein air he explored subjects of his own choosing, travelling to remote spots where he could work undisturbed. For this purpose he regularly turned to watercolour, a medium that allowed him to paint rapidly and without much preparation any scene that caught his eye.

Richard Ormond, co-curator of the exhibition, who is also the artist’s grand nephew, says Sargent’s watercolours reveal “his zest for life and his pleasure in the act of painting”.

“The fluency and sensuality of his paint surfaces, and his wonderful command of light, never cease to astonish us,” he adds. “With this exhibition we hope to demonstrate Sargent’s mastery of the medium and the scale of his achievement”.

That said, in his sketches of Spain and Italy there is a striking similarity to the photographic snapshot, and his landscapes, with their informal compositions and abrupt cropping, seem to capture a moment in time.

a colour sketchb of a golden globe with a figure on the top of a tower

John Singer Sargent, The Dogana, Statue of Fortune, c. 1909-11. Private collection.

a sketch of a series of classical pillars

John Singer Sargent, Villa Borghese, Temple of Diana, c. 1906-07. The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Presented by Mrs Ormond, the artist’s sister, 1937. Image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

a colour sketch of a group of men in caps and red trousers resting on steps

John Singer Sargent, Group of Spanish Convalescent Soldiers, c. 1903, Private Collection

a black and white photo of a man with umbrellas and easel seated on a hillside

Unknown photographer, Sargent painting a watercolour in the Simplon Pass, c. 1910-11, Sargent Archive, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The show opens with some of the best examples of Sargent’s ‘fragments and close-ups’. He rarely painted buildings as complete and coherent entities and his sliced angles and perspectives and unorthodox viewpoints require the spectator to imagine their complete form.

In The Church of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, c. 1904-1909, the domes of the great church are obscured by the rigging of ships in the canal so that they become part of a pictorial pattern.

His paintings of everyday life in Venice are often captured from canal level, with the city seen from the gondola perspective. Works also depict the less glamorous side canals, with their narrow passageways, their strange geometries and the mysterious play of light and shade.

Painting some of the most famous sites in other cities, Sargent chose to only give a glimpse of their grandeur, concentrating more on the pattern and form surrounding as in the earlier work, Constantinople, 1891, in which he depicted a strikingly horizontal view of the historic center of Istanbul.

Sargent: The Watercolours is at Dulwich Picture Gallery June 21 – October 8 2017

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    [openingHours] => Tues-Fri 1000-1700
Sat-Sun 1100-1700
Bank Holiday Mondays and Good Friday 1100-1700
Closed Mondays (except Bank Holidays).
    [charges] => Permanent Collection Only

• Adults £6.00 (£5.00 without donation)
• Senior citizens £5.00 (£4.00 without donation)
• Free for unemployed, disabled, students (valid student card must be available)
• Free for Art Fund members and Museums Association Members 
• Free entry for children under 18
• Free entry for Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery

Temporary Exhibition (includes viewing of the Permanent Collection)

• Standard £11.00 (£10.00 without donation)
• Senior Citizens £10.00 (£9.00 without donation)
• Unemployed, disabled and students £6 (£5 without donation)
• Free entry for children under 18
• Audio guide £3
• Free entry for Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery

Become a friend of Dulwich Picture Gallery - £35 Single and £50 Joint annual membership entitles you to free admission to the permanent collection and all temporary exhibitions and displays including Director-led Private Views.

Free Guided Tour on Saturday and Sunday

Visit Dulwich Picture Gallery on a Saturday or a Sunday and you can have a free guided tour of the permanent collection at 3.00pm.   

(You will need to pay the appropriate entrance charge to take advantage of this free guided tour).
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The paintings in this collection are housed in England's first purpose-built art gallery, designed by Sir John Soane in 1811. The remarkable story of the Gallery's foundation adds another dimension to its special charm. The collection was put together by two art dealers, Noel Desenfans and Sir Francis Bourgeois, for the King of Poland. When the King was forced to abdicate in 1795 it was left in their hands and subsequently bequeathed to Dulwich College 'for the inspection of the public'. In this way England's first public art gallery was founded. The founders are still buried on site in the Mausoleum and the collection is still here to enjoy. 

A new wing, designed by Rick Mather, was completed in 2000, providing spaces for education, lectures and for a café. The collection is unmatched for a gallery of this size: three Rembrants, seven Poussins, eleven Rubenses, seven Gainsboroughs, four Murillos, two Claudes, two Canalettos and a Watteau.
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    [travelDirections] => By Train

Take the train in under 15 minutes from London Victoria to West Dulwich or from London Bridge to North Dulwich. Trains leave approximately every 15 minutes. Both stations are a 10 minute walk from the station.

By Tube to Brixton

Take the Victoria line to Brixton and then take the P4 bus (bus stop T) and alight at ‘Dulwich Picture Gallery’ or take the National Rail train from Brixton rail station to West Dulwich.

By London Overground

Take the London Overground to Peckham Rye and then take the National Rail train or the 37 bus (bus stop N) to ‘North Dulwich Station’.

By Bus

P4 to College Road outside the Gallery café (from Lewisham bus stop C or from Brixton bus stop T). Alight at ‘Dulwich Picture Gallery’.

3 to West Dulwich Station (from Crystal Palace bus station bus stop D or from Oxford Street bus stop RF). Alight at ‘Croxted Road/Thurlow Park Road’

37 to North Dulwich Station (from Peckham Rye bus stop N or from Putney bus stop F). Alight at ‘North Dulwich Station’.

P13 to Dulwich College (New Cross to Streatham). Alight at ‘Dulwich College’.

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There is FREE PARKING on Gallery Road directly outside the Gallery.

Disabled parking spaces are available by driving through the Gallery gates on Gallery Road into the parking area. Booking is not required. Please do not obstruct the entrance so that emergency vehicles have access at all time.


The Gallery has ample bike parking facilities.
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Dulwich Picture Gallery

London, Greater London

Dulwich Picture Gallery, founded in 1811, was England's very first public gallery. The stunning collection houses masterpieces by Rembrandt, Rubens, Watteau, Gainsborough and Van Dyck amongst many others. The gallery also runs a world class exhibition programme. The entire collection of this gallery is a Designated Collection of national importance.