This week, it was my privilege to see one of the most fascinating art exhibits I have ever experienced. The show was called Sargent and the Sea, and it was tucked away in the basement of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (www.mfah.org).
Their collection of John Singer Sargent portraits has long been a backbone of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston collection, but these 80 new pieces are much less well-known. They represent some of Sargent’s early works, while he was developing his style as a young artist of 18 to 23. Instead of formal society ladies, the subjects are the boats, beaches and fisherfolk of the Breton coastline. Most importantly, this exhibit traces the evolution of a composition, from his earliest sketchbooks, through intermediate paintings, and finally to finished exhibition-grade work. It is also possible to see the same subject treated differently for his two separate audiences – the more formal world of European painting, and the breezier American market across the Atlantic.
I was not the only one impressed. I struck up a conversation with a visitor from San Francisco as we both stood (slack-jawed!) in front of the gorgeous portrait of an unknown Spanish lady. This visitor was in town on business, and she made a point of dropping by the MFAH during her stay. Her comments? “Of course, I knew Houston’s art museum was world class – but I never expected anything as good as this.” Her words, not mine!
Next stop for this exhibit is London, where Sargent and the Sea will be featured at the Royal Academy of Arts. Hurry! You need to enjoy this exhibition while it is still here at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.
The Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) is located just 3.2miles from downtown West University Place. Easy access to great civic venues like this is one of the benefits of living in West U.