John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925)
No visible signature, titled and dated to c. 1909 in the catalogue raisonné (see below), titled on an unattributed hand-written label affixed to the frame backing, with two labels from the Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences and a label from M. Knoedler & Co. affixed to the frame backing.
Watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper mounted to pressed paperboard, 12 1/4 x 18 in. (31.1 x 45.7 cm), framed.
Condition: Sheet fully mounted to pressed paperboard and affixed to the window mat with tape to the perimeter of the pressed paperboard (on the reverse), small unobtrusive accretion u.r., very gentle toning, acid burn to the reverse.
Provenance: Purchased from the artist by the Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, New York, (through M. Knoedler & Co.) by special subscription, April 16, 1909; deaccessioned through M. Knoedler & Co., New York, January 28, 1926 (stock no. WC 2090); John S. Ames, Boston, March 1927; his heirs, 1959; through to the estate of Elizabeth M. Ames, Boston.
Literature: Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: Figures and Landscapes, 1900–1907, Complete Paintings, Volume VII (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012), cat. no. 1347, illus. p. 214.
Exhibitions: Probably Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours, London, 1907, no. 233, as In a Florentine Villa; Water Colours by John S. Sargent, R.A., Carfax & Co., London, June 1908, no. 43 (or no. 1348), as Bologna Fountain; Water Color Drawings by John Singer Sargent and Edward Darley Boit, M. Knoedler & Co., New York, February 15–27, 1909, no. 49, as Bologna Fountains [sic]; possibly Paintings and Sculpture by Leading Living American Artists, Dallas Art Association, Texas, February 5–25, 1927, no. 123.
N.B. Internationally renowned for his luscious portraits of society ladies, John Singer Sargent had become disenchanted with those commissions that had earned him fame and fortune by the turn of the 20th century. Around 1900 he turned his attentions to plein-air paintings, often in watercolor—a medium he masterfully transformed to accommodate his bold, painterly brushwork and a formal style more akin to the truncated scenes and unorthodox viewpoints of Impressionism than to the precisely drawn and thinly painted watercolors of contemporary convention. He took his materials with him as he traveled throughout Europe and the Middle East, capturing architectural elements, bucolic landscapes, and scenes of friends and family at leisure. Italy was a regular stop on Sargent's annual tour, and he worked on several views of the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune Fountain) in Bologna. The Sargent catalogue raisonné deems this work, "…one of the most subtle and beautiful of Sargent's architectural studies."
With these watercolors, Sargent could fully express his aesthetic ideas and beliefs without the constraints of a portrait or mural commission, and he initially intended to keep these for himself or give them as gifts to friends. He did not paint them with a view toward the commercial market. However, his friend and fellow American abroad, Edward Darley Boit, convinced him to participate in a joint exhibition of their watercolors in 1909 at Knoedler Gallery in New York. Relenting a bit, Sargent agreed that if some collector or institution might wish to purchase his contribution to the exhibition as a whole, he would consider an offer. Indeed, the Brooklyn Museum did just that, and included in the exhibition and the 83 works that Brooklyn acquired was Bologna Fountain. Because Sargent painted the works in the 1909 Knoedler exhibition without the intention of selling them, most were unsigned. Based on the success of that show, Boit and Sargent planned another joint exhibition in 1912. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, made an early request to purchase works from that show, and Sargent pointedly painted larger, more finished works, and signed them, knowing they would join the MFA's collection.
Provenance: The estate of Elizabeth M. Ames.
The small accretion lies near the upper edge at right. There are several pencil and blue crayon inscriptions to the reverse: "The Fountain", "2" within a circle, "2037" crossed out, "up", "down", "X", and "49". A label from C.M. May & Son, Gilder & Picture Frame Manufacturer, is affixed to the frame backing.
Framed dimensions are 21 x 26 inches.
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