JOHN SINGER SARGENT: Painting Alla Prima, Wet in Wet Oil Painting

Alla Prima, Single - Session Method of Painting. Paintings catching the immediacy of a scene.

Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood - by John Singer Sargent

The Art: Alla prima is “direct painting”; we can say that it is “wet on wet” oil painting. The word ‘Alla Prima’ literally means ‘at first’, if we look at the Italian dictionary for reference. While painting alla prima, an artist completes entire painting in one or two sessions, and does not wait for drying of the paint layers. It is almost like wet-in-wet technique as in watercolour.

In the above painting Sargent have used alla prima method and accomplished the painting within one session. Such method produces the most remarkable work because of its nonstop and authoritative nature.

Alla Prima: Under this technique, an artist would use the concept of immediacy. No waiting and no alteration in the painting done. It would be just a raw presentation of the artistic wave that would be present in mind of an artist. These raw and rough sketches, born in on the spot in the heat of inspiration, express the ideas floating in the mind of their author. Alla prima technique would not allow any modifying effort on the side of an artist. It would not provide any room for hindering the liveliness of those artists who do not know where to stop painting or working on a canvas.

History: Though introduced by Flemish painter Frans Hals (c.1582-1666), alla prima took its flight in the era of impressionism. This technique suited impressionist artists vey much, as their prime focus was on catching the soul of a scene they would paint. During nineteenth century, many artists prefer to paint using alla prima technique. When these impressionist artists paint out of the doors, the same set of principles of painting also followed. But while working in alla prima or wet in we oil painting, it would be hard to sort out the chaos of colours. I would not be an easy task to keep their tonal values beautifully maintained. But the impressionists artists maintain their fine balance. ( Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The Artists: The impressionist artist like John Singer Sargent and Claude Monet wanted to retain the feelings that come as they painted. Here in this painting, John Singer Sargent had caught the immediacy of his friend Monet painting a lady. The artist’s emphasis was on retaining the freshness and spontaneity of the scene and feelings the characters in frame were experiencing at the very moment. This was the subject Sargent had in mind while doing this painting; here he had caught the immediate visual impression and reflected the light through his small brush strokes.

Sargent mostly drew and painted from live sources, from live objects. He rarely used photographs. While painting Sargent would fix his wooden easel in a way that he could see the model and the painting from a distance.

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw

Sargent was used to walk frequently up to the place the model sat and again would concentrate on his canvas. He would inspect the model and the painting in its totality. That was his masterly habit. He would have preferred seeing the model and the canvas in the same intensity of light. In this portrait of Lady Agnew pf Lochnaw, we can see how the artist has tried depicting every gesture of the woman portrayed. Look at the position of left hand, resting on sidebar of chair. Such precision on the part of artist would show how comfortable the model was feeling herself while sitting before the artist. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

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