I have always loved John Singer Sargent’s work. I have a book of his watercolors on my bookshelf which I refer to often, but his oil paintings of figures I search out to see “in person”. So when I had the opportunity to see “Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last summer (2015), I jumped at the chance. His colors are so rich and his figures look so grounded, graceful and comfortable in their own skin.
I was lucky when I was at the exhibition. It was busy, but not overcrowded. I was able to spend quiet time with some old friends, and make some new ones. I had never seen Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth which Sargent painted in 1889.
Ellen Terry was a famed Shakespearean actor in London. Sargent had seen her performance in the role of Lady Macbeth and she agreed to pose for him in costume. The robe was of green silk and blue tinsel adorned with thousands of beetle wings which created an iridescent effect. The colors in the painting were magnificent, highlighted by the gold trim, the impressive gold frame and the crown (which she never actually held over her head this way in performance…a dramatic pose devised by the painter). I decided to put an undercoat of gold to exaggerate this golden tone.
When I saw the woman with the red locks and red-orange sweater tied around her waist approach the painting, I knew I had the proper audience that would connect directly to the painting. The stunning red braids in the painting looped with gold were mirrored by the young woman in front of the painting.
I darkened the skirt of the woman in the background on the right, moved figures in the initial sketches to create the dramatic “V” from the foreground to the painting and the red-haired girl. After days of working on Lady Macbeth’s robes with translucent layers of thinned paint, I then worked on connecting the painting to the viewers with the reflections on the floor.
The last stage was refining the details in the red curls of the museum guest and placing a glowing reflection around her, while making the other figures less defined. If I were Queen was finished.
If I were Queen, oil on linen, 18″ x 24″, showcasing John Singer Sargent’s Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibition