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 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
"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 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
--John and Ann