Twilight - Homage to Sargent's "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose"

 On show at the 140th Anniversary Exhibition of the 

Dublin Painting and Sketching Club in the Concourse Gallery, 

County Hall Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin

31th March to 13th April 2014

“Twilight” Homage to John Singer Sargent’s “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” 1885-86


In a letter dated 10th September 1885 to his colleague, Edwin Russell, Sargent wrote,

“I am trying to paint a charming thing I saw the other evening. Two little girls in a garden at dark, lighting paper lanterns hung among the flowers from rose-tree to rose-tree. I shall be a long time about it if I don’t give up in despair, and at any rate two months longer in England”.

Indeed, it took Sargent nearly two years before “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” was finished due to the limited window of twilight time that was available to him in the garden of a friend’s house in Broadway, Worcestershire, England. The finished piece measures 7 x 5 feet, painted entirely en plein air.  Here Sargent captures the soft light and faery-like atmosphere of his two young models, Dolly and ‘Polly’ Barnard in the Impressionist style.

I’ve always loved this painting because of the magical quality it evokes, especially in the muted colour scheme of soft mauves and oranges. In painting “Twilight”, my homage to Sargent, I was concerned with trying to capture the nostalgia of the past; of my own childhood memories of playing out in the twilight of the long summer evenings; of the memories of my daughters, Jennie and Annie when they were that age; and of old photos I have of my grandmother wearing a similar white pinafore to the girls in Sargent’s painting.

As I couldn’t reconstruct my scene to paint it en plein air as Sargent had done, I resolved to set the scene as a still life, including the predominant flowers of lilies and roses, my grandmother’s old china tea cup and a ‘reproduction’ of the painting propped up in the arrangement, depicting images of my own children.

The cameo of Sargent’s masterpiece is painted in a loose watercolour style, to suggest a sketch, hastily done, of a fleeting moment in time. The romantic and luxuriant depictions of flowers in the still life are interspersed with torn pieces from Sargent’s many letters and painting notes. I wanted to create an ‘old fashioned’ atmosphere, cluttered with sentimental ornaments, imagining the heady scent of the profusion of flowers in Sargent’s painting. To counter balance the old, I set some collaged photos of roses into the scene, (printed on mulberry tissue paper) which gives a translucent layered effect to the watercolour. The modern touch this adds to the painting, hints at the present day while the main atmosphere reflects the past and the passing of time.

"Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" John Singer Sargent 1885-86

Working sketch for the Cameo inset of Sargent's painting.

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