John Singer Sargent painting: “Zuleika”. The farce — and artifice — of beauty.

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Gorgeous, wouldn't you say? It was painted by the 19th Century famous portraitist,  John Singer Sargent. His abstracts were always of friends– usually other artists, such as himself. I wonder if that was because he felt his clients demanded something more meticulous, whereas perhaps these were painted on the fly? His version of toting a camera was to relax with easel, canvas and paints, be it oils or watercolors.

This one is entitled "Zuleika," was completed in 1907, and hangs in the Brooklyn Museum. The name is a genus of moth. It is also Persian in origin, meaning "fair, brilliant, lovely." 

She certainly looks that way, here.

Who was she? The wife of a friend, perhaps? There are a series of poems based on a character by that name. Turns out Sargent was friends with humorist Max Beerbohm, who was working on a contemporary novel by that title, about a woman by that name whose beauty was so great that her merely stepping off a train to visit her grandfather in Oxford caused men to obsess over her — to the point of committing mass suicide.

This Sargent painting and Beerbohm's novel might have been the very first product cross-promotion — multi-platforming in its earliest form. 

More than likely, it was Sargent's way of jibing Beerbohm — payback for the latter's caricutures of the revered painter.

Notice the subject's eyebrows are  just one wave of black paint. Sargent's downward point-of-view is filled with realistic shadowing. The grass is a riot of green, blue and yellow hues which play tricks on the mind: we envision individual blades of grass, and dappled sunlight.

I love that he caught her reading. Is  Proust? Dickens? Baudliere? Possibly The Works of Max Beerbohm.

 Art is fun, and can be funny, too,

— Josie

 


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