I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) yesterday to see a Caravaggio exhibition.
(This Caravaggio painting is not from the LACMA show. It was on view some years ago at the National Gallery in London. Appropriately, my former Latin and Roman history teacher picked out the postcard for me there.)
After seeing the Caravaggio exhibition, I of course had to stop into the gift shop and see what they had in the way of postcards. I was with a friend, and as we stood before a big wall-mounted rack of art cards, this is the one that popped out at us both:
Mr. Edward Livingston Davis was a socially prominent lawyer in Worcester, Massachusetts. Some sources say Sargent painted the portrait of Davis’ wife and son in the family’s stable, because of its atmospheric shadows and because it was tall enough to accommodate the large easel required for a full-length portrait.
It was funny how this piece struck my friend and me after just viewing the Caravaggio show. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is considered the master figurative sfumato painter, so recognizable for his portrayal of bright pale skin quickly disappearing into pitch black shadow. While I respect him greatly on a technical level, his paintings seem to me to be trying too hard for drama, which means melodrama. It’s seems that nearly three-hundred years later, in Portrait of Mrs. Edward L. Davis and Her Son, John Singer Sargent captured what Caravaggio was really going for–eye-catching contrast of dark and light in figurative painting. In particular, Mrs. Davis and Livingston’s faces are not emoting anything as in Caravaggio’s work, and yet they are so real. My photo of a photo (the postcard) does not capture their wonderful faces well, but even in the fairly neutral frontal portrait, they are clearly a real grown woman and a real little boy. In fact, Mrs. Davis’ face looks almost photographic.
And I just thought this one was clever: