John Singer Sargent concluded a series of paintings during his 1878 trip to Capri, including Staircase In Capri. During this time, the artist had a studio in the Latin Quarter of Paris, a bohemian location where many artists lived. He traveled to the island of Capri on the coast of the Mediterranean, outside the Naples bay in Italy. During this period, this was not a tourist location, but it attracted many artists because of its breathtaking landscapes and its distinctive architecture. It was during the same trip that the artist concluded the portrayals of his muse Rosina Ferrara in the paintings entitled Rosina, Capri and Rosina.
The painting Staircase In Capri is a portrayal of Sargent’s fascination with the landscape seen on the island. The off-white walls and steps created a challenge for any painter to work with a captivating color palette. Sargent was classically trained with an academic formation, and he traveled to study past masters like El Greco and Diego Velazquez. After Sargent became Carolus Duran’s student, his style and technique took an exciting shift. The artist broke with some rigid rules implied by the academies and began working more freely.
This artwork shows how Sargent was able to create a beautiful balance between the modern and classical techniques. He gives considerable attention to perspective and composition, even though he doesn’t define all of the steps seen in the picture and uses visible brush strokes. Giving an idea of the image but not revealing it completely was a characteristic of the Impressionists who worked with fast paintings en plein air, or outdoors. Although Sargent was not part of the traditional formation of the group, he worked similar to the artists of the movement during the end of his career.
While the painting is mainly shades of light ochre, it is possible to see Sargent’s play on warm and cool tones. The sun shines from the top right corner, creating a large area of shade over the staircase in with blue pigments to darken the pigment. The first steps have darker contours in warm brown paint, and the areas with shinning sunlight have hints of yellow pigments. There is a tree with orange and green leaves on the top of the stairs with a dark background, creating a contrasting area with the rest of the almost monochromatic painting.
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