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MFA : John Singer Sargent watercolors

The first day of the New Year is always a special day, symbolically anyway. We had a pretty awesome 2013 and are really looking forward to 2014. What made 2013 extremely enjoyable was that we spent less time in the office and more time out in the field. Our goal for this 2014 is to do even more of the same. What better way to both wrap up 2013 and to kick off 2014 than to stop by the MFA during the Holidays to have lunch and take in the John Singer Sargent watercolors?

We have dined at the MFA numerous times, but had not yet eaten in the New American Cafe located in the recently opened, glass-enclosed Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard. The high ceilings and airy space made the dining experience both comfortable and relaxing. We found both the food tasty and service efficient. The Cafe’s menu includes hot and cold small plates, entrées, and salads complemented by North and South American wines and craft beers.

After lunch we spend some time strolling through the John Singer Sargent Watercolors exhibit. The two most significant collections of Sargent’s watercolors are held by the MFA and the Brooklyn Museum. This exhibit is the first time the two collections, with a combined total of 92 works, are shown together. Sargent painted these watercolors during his trips throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Venetian architectures, villa gardens, and other subjects were wonderfully captured in what we consider to be one of the most challenging visual arts mediums.

One way we like to view a watercolor is to imagine the order in which it was created. The order in which the layers were laid down can often be deduced by careful examination. With practice, one can almost start to “see” its creation from start to finish.

Another way we like to enjoy a watercolor painting is to appreciate the painter’s technical mastery of the medium. Watercolor, unlike oil and other media, is not forgiving of mistakes. It is difficult to cover up something with another layer of paint. A skillful watercolor artist has to be able to work both freely and deliberately. The loading of paint on the brush, the pressure applied as the brush moves across the paper, and the control the artist has over the brush are all revealed upon close inspection of the stroke. Blunt or stunted movements cannot be hidden from the viewer any more than a missed note by a musician or a stumbled step by a dancer. The only difference is that paint on paper is a permanent record of the act.

To see all the “dances” performed by Sargent in one place was incredible. As always, we were “museumed-out” before making it through the entire gallery. Good thing the tickets to the Sargent exhibit lets visitors return for free if done within ten days.

In addition to the Sargent Watercolors, there were other exhibits which we wished we had time to explore (Audubon’s Birds and She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World). Clearly we will need to return to the MFA soon. We can’t think of a better way to start the new year than with another visit. Happy New Year!

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