84 Feet of Sargent

On a recent trip to plein air paint in Boston, we inspired ourselves by revisiting the Boston Public Library to study the grand mural sequence, The Triumph of Religion, by John Singer Sargent, located on the third floor of the McKim building. The gallery is named for Sargent, who spent 29 years traveling the world to collect research materials and working to create this amazing artistic tour de force. The gallery is enormous, measuring 84 feet long, 23 feet wide and 26 feet high, and Sargent created his most imaginative and masterly paintings for the space. At the time they were unveiled, they created a national sensation.

The Sargent Gallery in the Boston Public Library.
The Sargent Gallery in the Boston Public Library.

The Library was designed by McKim, Mead and White to be "a monument to the aspirations of the American Renaissance," referring to an attempt to unite all the visual arts. The architecture and decorations of the building are filled with outstanding examples of sculpture and painting which reflect on and reinforce the intellectual collections stored within.

Commissioned by McKim in 1895 to create the murals for the new library, Sargent chose as his subject the history and evolution of Judaism and Christianity:

"Given its public context, the subject Sargent selected may seem odd to us. In his own time, however, his approach to religion was quintessentially modern, democratic, and American. According to Sargent, religion's highest achievement was precisely the privacy of modern belief, an ideal fundamental to American religious liberty. Freed from superstition, fanaticism, and the veneer of established creeds and institutions, religion could become an interior matter, to be entered into by each individual according to choice."Boston Public Library Sargent Murals.

Sargent's model for the project.
Sargent's model for the project.

Sargent plunged into the work immediately, even before he had a contract from the library. From 1891 to 1895, he worked in E.A. Abbey's 64-foot long studio in Fairford, Gloucestershire, England. In 1895 he moved to a spacious new studio near Fulham Road, London, where he created a one-third scale mock-up of the library gallery, a huge, modular construction that allowed him to test and manipulate his small-scale models and maquettes for the space and figure out how to paint the work he'd taken on. To create three-dimensionality in the friezes, he experimented with papier-mache, plaster, gilt, glass and a type of gilded, corrugated wall covering called Lincrusta-Walton. Sargent personally oversaw certain stages of the installations, adjusting the angles of some of the three-dimensional elements to reflect light in the way he desired.

We recommend a visit to anyone interested in the mural work of Sargent, Abbey or Puvis de Chavannes. It is well worth the trip.

Join us on The Artist's Road for interesting and informative articles about great places for outdoor painting, interviews with contemporary artists, and step-by-step demonstrations.

–John and Ann

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John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.