Val d'Aosta: A Man Fishingc. 1907
22 1/4 in. x 28 1/4 in. (56.52 cm x 71.76 cm)
Sargent turned fifty in 1906, which was roughly the period when he painted Val d'Aosta: A Man Fishing. Feeling the burden of his success, he was accepting fewer portrait commissions and made a habit of leaving England on late-summer painting holidays, often spending the first part of the trip in the Alpine countryside that he had learned to love as a youth. On these occasions Sargent indulged in his one sure antidote to formal portraiture: he painted bravura oils and watercolors to celebrate informal moments and savor fleeting visual pleasures. He probably executed Val d'Aosta: A Man Fishing during a stay at an inn in the remote hamlet of Purtud, near Courmayeur.2 Although the title names the valley in the Italian Alps extending west of Aosta to the foot of Mont Blanc, the imagery connects the work to a group of fanciful pictures that evoke a vaguely Oriental world of blissful idleness. This example presents two men reclining in dazzling sunlight by the side of a shallow stream. The fisherman holds his rod in one hand and dangles one foot in the water; his loose clothes and brightly colored cap suggest traditional Turkish costume. Although the other figure is represented only by his legs, he brings an element of surprise and humor, while serving as an important formal device in the unconventional composition. The mood of the picture can be described by an Italian expression for the pleasure of doing nothing: dolce far niente.3
When painting Val d'Aosta: A Man Fishing Sargent positioned his models at his feet, giving the viewer the sense of standing over the two men and looking down on the water. From this vantage point the fisherman's chest is not visible and his limbs are foreshortened. The artist resolved this challenge with seemingly effortless accomplishment, setting the head and shoulders in dramatic relief from the rest of the body. He cropped his composition tightly and showed no horizon line, forcing the viewer to scrutinize the two bodies, the play of strong sunlight and shadow, and the lively movement of the stream. After studying and collecting the art of Monet in the 1880s, Sargent developed his own "Impressionist" style of mimetic brushstrokes for such outdoor motifs as rippling water and lush vegetation. The long, flickering strokes that evoke these elements in Val d'Aosta: A Man Fishing contrast with the carefully encrusted paint that depicts the spots of strong light on the men's legs and on the rocks near the top of the composition.
Sargent's valet, Nicola d'Inverno, was the model for this painting. He is recognizable as the fisherman, and may have assumed the pose for the legs of the second figure. In another painting from the same group (The Chess Game, c. 1907, The Harvard Club of New York City) Nicola wears a more exotic costume, including baggy crimson trousers; he lies beside the stream, with his legs crossed in roughly the same manner as the foreground figure in Val d'Aosta: A Man Fishing. The artist's holiday companions obligingly acted out such scenarios, posing in the costumes he had brought from London.4 Sargent was charmed by this idyllic place and its brook, which he also enjoyed painting without human beings: for example, Alpine Pool (c. 1909, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) records a moment of quiet stillness when the light is low.
Trevor Fairbrother, Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 460-61
1. Quoted in Charles Merrill Mount, John Singer Sargent: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1955), p. 232.
2. He first visited Purtud in 1904 with two Italian artists, Carlo Pollonera and Ambrogio Raffele. In 1905 the bachelor artist stayed there with a group of relatives and friends, returning with a large party on several occasions before war broke out in 1914.
3. Sargent used the Italian expression for the title of another painting with "Oriental" figures: Dolce Far Niente (c. 1907, The Brooklyn Museum, New York).
4. For example, The Brook (c. 1907, collection of the Ormond Family) depicts two demure beauties in flowing Oriental robes, reclining in reverie beside the same Alpine stream; the models were the artist's adolescent nieces, Reine and Rose-Marie Ormond. Sargent's holiday props included Turkish costumes, splendid, old-fashioned Victorian dresses, bonnets, and shawls, and even a stuffed gazelle, which he depicted twice in The Hermit (c. 1908, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
This object was included in the following exhibitions:
- Loan to Governor Dummer Academy Governor Dummer Academy , 1/13/1958 - 7/3/1959
- Loan to Lanam Club Lanam Club , 7/30/1959 - 8/1/1969
- A Change of Sky American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters , 3/4/1960 - 4/3/1960
- Americans Abroad Bowdoin College Museum of Art , 8/7/1960 - 9/15/1960
- Italian Influence on American Art and Literature The Grolier Club , 10/17/1961 - 12/10/1961
- The Private World of John Singer Sargent The Corcoran Gallery of Art , 4/17/1964 - 1/3/1965
- Selections from the Addison Gallery of American Art William Crapo Gallery , 10/27/1965 - 11/23/1965
- The Works Addison Gallery of American Art , 11/7/1969 - 2/22/1970
- Mary Cassatt, James A. McNeill Whistler, John S. Sargent Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/9/1981 - 2/8/1981
- Masterworks of American Art from the Addison Gallery Collection Hirschl and Adler Galleries, Inc. , 10/6/1981 - 10/31/1981
- The Seasons: American Impressionist Painting Madison Art Center , 12/8/1984 - 2/3/1985
- John Singer Sargent Whitney Museum of American Art , 10/1/1986 - 4/17/1987
- At Work and Play: Selections from the Permanent Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 5/15/1987 - 7/31/1987
- Boys and Girls, Men and Women Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/12/1990 - 6/10/1990
- American Masterworks Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/5/1990 - 12/16/1990
- Point of View: Landscapes from the Addison Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/16/1992 - 12/20/1992
- Masterworks from the Permanent Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/29/1993 - 1/9/1993
- Masterworks from the Permanent Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/21/1994 - 4/3/1994
- Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/13/1996 - 7/31/1996
- Pleasures of Spring Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/18/1997 - 5/11/1997
- America: the New World in 19th-century Painting Österreichische Galerie Belvedere , 3/17/1999 - 6/20/1999
- Masterworks from the Permanent Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 2/22/2000 - 3/26/2000
- Foundations: Building the Addison Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/12/2001 - 4/1/2001
- Sargent and Italy Los Angeles County Museum of Art , 9/22/2002 - 9/14/2003
- Eye on the Collection: Copley to Hopper Addison Gallery of American Art , 12/21/2004 - 6/12/2005
- Eye on the Collection: West to Hopper Addison Gallery of American Art , 6/17/2005 - 10/16/2005
- Nature Study Addison Gallery of American Art , 3/3/2006 - 4/9/2006
- 75 Years of Giving Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/11/2006 - 7/31/2006
- Coming of Age: American Art, 1850s to 1950s American Federation of Arts , 9/9/2006 - 9/7/2009
- Mix and Match: A Conversation between Paintings and Works on Paper Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/23/2007 - 4/8/2007
- Eye on the Collection: Landscape Impressions Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/28/2007 - 7/31/2007
- Inside, Outside, Upstairs, Downstairs: The Addison Anew Addison Gallery of American Art , 9/7/2010 - 3/27/2011
- 80 @ 80 Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/15/2011 - 12/31/2011
- Eye on the Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 1/19/2013 - 3/10/2013
- Natural Selections Addison Gallery of American Art , 9/14/2013 - 3/16/2014
- Exterior Spaces, Interior Places Addison Gallery of American Art , 9/2/2014 - 1/4/2015
- Searching for the Real Addison Gallery of American Art , 5/30/2015 - 7/31/2015
- Selections from the Permanent Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 4/30/2016 - 7/31/2016
- Eye on the Collection Addison Gallery of American Art , 9/1/2017 - 7/31/2018
- John Singer Sargent Nationalmuseum , 10/13/2018 - 1/13/2019
- Currents/Crosscurrents: American Art, 1850–1950 Addison Gallery of American Art , 10/16/2020 - 3/7/2021
- [permanent collection, 101-105] Addison Gallery of American Art , 6/25/2022 - 1/29/2023
This object has the following bibliographic references:
- merchandise associated with Coming of Age exhibition . Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.
- merchandise associated with Coming of Age exhibition . Dulwich Picture Gallery.
- . US History Exam in for Texas High School Students . Pearson Education. 2007 (for 5 year period)
- Ellen Hardy. Non Sibi Calendar . Phillips Academy. 11/2006
- David Areford. The Look of Thought: Sol LeWItt's Vertical Lines, Not Straight, Not Touching . College Art Association.
- Physical Therapy, Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association . American Physical Therapy Association. July 2015
- . Nationalmuseum. 2018
This object is a member of the following portfolios:
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