John Singer Sargent’s Street in Venice, part of a wider series and painted in 1882, shuns the celebrated image of Venice for a more felt and directly experienced reproduction of a local scene. Most probably painted during the siesta due to the empty street and the closed shops, Sargent’s canvas juxtaposes the sombre vitality of the young woman with the looming length of the shadows. Two men, cast into obscurity and rendered slightly malevolent within the gloom, observe the scene deep in conversation. Blown from behind by a sharp gust of wind, this is an image of Venice that was intended to provoke and offend the Paris Salon that had a quite different conception of the fabled city in their minds. Displaying a clear influence of Velázquez, Sargent also employs the embryonic art of street photography to capture what appears to be a ‘snapshot’. Featured almost in monochrome save for some brief flashes of red fabric adorning the girl, Sargent’s Venice was certainly a world away from the popular tourist trails.
Street in Venice, painted in the post-Impressionist style that was being forged by artists such as Cezanne, Paul Gaugin, Georges Seurat, and Vincent Van Gogh, Sargent creates an experiential rendering of a backstreet off the Calle Larga dei Proverbi, near the Grand Canal in Venice. The inquisitive glare of the two men almost appears to increase the young woman’s speed as she walks down the street, perhaps challenging the viewer to question their own gaze. Sargent, born to American expatriate parents and spending much of his life in Europe, returned to Venice many times during his life like many other artists of his schooling. Yet, Sargent chose to shun the architectural wonder of the city to create experiential reproductions of the dark back-streets, combining the broad expressive brushstrokes of Impressionism with something much newer, cropping his image to impart the feeling that the painting had been captured in a single instant.
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