Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sargent's "Signet" Palette

Sargent's "Signet" Palette
// Gurney Journey

Curators at the Harvard Art Museum have completed their study of one of John Singer Sargent's palettes, which was given to the Signet Society.

The palette still contains a lot of paint, and it's arranged in the normal way for a 19th century painter. The colors start with a large amount of white forward of the thumbhole, and proceed through the yellows, reds, browns, blues, greens and black at the back, or far left in this photo.

UV illumination reveals two kinds of white paint: lead and zinc. It also shows "numerous droplets of resinous material which fluoresces orange in UV, scattered predominantly around the white paint, and one reasonably large blob of wax on the palette surface."

The colors include vermilion, red lake, red ochre, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow, a green containing chromium, Prussian blue, cobalt blue, ultramarine, and umber. Observers watching him work said his colors were piled in "miniature mountains," and they were the ones in ordinary use, the earth colors predominating.

Although Sargent kept his brushes meticulously clean, he was not as scrupulous about keeping the colors on his palette separate from each other. The paint is mixed in the areas where the paint was squeezed out, rather than keeping the edge-colors distinct, as some painters do.

The palette was re-used without full cleaning, as revealed "by a darkened paint layer underneath the top layer, especially visible beneath the white paint."

Some of the paint is flattened from having something put on top of it before it was fully dry. One of the red pigments has a surface of paper applied to it, presumably to keep the paint active longer.

Julia Heyneman, a contemporary of Sargent, wrote that his palettes were weighted. The weight (probably lead) appears on the underside of the palette (lower left of image above), which is made of a double-thick layer of wood. There is also a metal fence made of zinc clipped to the edge of the palette that would touch the artist's left sleeve, preventing the paint from getting on Sargent's sleeve.
2017 Newsletter of the Signet Society of Harvard College
Pall Mall Gazette, 1907, Volume XXXIX, pages 643-651
Previously on GJ: Palette Arrangements
See Also: Another palette Harvard collection reputedly used by Sargent.

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