Herbert Colborne Oakley   (1869 - 1944)
His Admiration For John Singer Sargent

Southampton, England, June 1919

as reported in: "The Southern Daily Echo" (spelling unchanged)

The Art Of Sargent

Lecture by Mr. H. C. Oakley

Mr. H. C.Oakley gave an interesting lecture on "John S. Sargent, R.A., Biography, work, and influence," on Friday, at the Art School, at which Mr. W Burrough Hill presided.  The latter said that Mr. Oakley needed no introduction, and the speaker was sure that many like himself were greatly interested in the lecturer's subject, for Sargent's work, and its wonderful handling of light and shade, was characteristic of his fearless style of painting.

Mr. Oakley said that he had studied Sargent's works for 30 years, and his motive in giving the address on this great genius was that others should have his talents presented to them as they appeared to the speaker.  It was as much the business of the artist to learn his business as it was that of any of the craftsmen.  Though artists were often accused of being unbusinesslike, yet if they mastered their craft they were businessmen.  Sargent had mastered his business thoroughly.  In the old days the work of artists was the only means of pictorial record, and they concerned themselves with detail at all times as the only means of expression.  But now, thanks to methods of reproduction, artists were not called upon to exhibit acienline facts, and an artist might be excused in these days if he left out detail.  Velasquez never pandered by presenting things that didn't matter, but he dealt with things essential, and Sargent possessed the same traditions, courage, and point of view.  Where Velasquez refused to be carried away by the opinions of the Court of Spain, Sargent in his turn withstood the world.  People were always keen on cataloguing a man, of expecting certain things from him, even as one always associated B. W. Leander with paintings of streams and woods, even as Mr. Stone was associated with love scenes.


In the history of art great men refused to be catalogued thus.  Raphael, for instance, was a decorative artist, besides being a portrait painter.  When Sargent was a boy he evinced great talent in art.  He was an attractive lad, born in Florence, and his parents were American.  Quite early his wonderful gift of technique showed itself, which ended in his being one of the finest of draughtsmen, possessing the essential vitality, purity and decision of line, whether he drew in pencil or charcoal, for he respected every medium.  He never tried to please anyone, but he painted according to his high artistic conscience, and he was faithful to his gift, determined to do the best in him.  His first work was by a singularly happy thought, a beautiful painted portrait of his master, Carlos Duran.  From that time Sargent had never gone back, but had put all his drawing into each of his works, thus doing full justice to his great master.  His paintings of some beautiful ladies of the English aristocracy displayed to the full the grace of English womanhood.  But it made no difference to him if his subject was a man, woman, or child; he did each equally skillfully, because he was so great.  Lately he had declined to paint portraits, save only those of people who interested him, and he devoted himself to painting Tyrolese landscapes and French scenes, of which "Gathering Olives in Albania" and "The Sketches" were beautiful examples.  His war picture of a group of men gassed called upon an epic of suffering, although there was nothing dramatic about it.  It simply and truly depicted a fearful tragedy, and showed the feeling of intensity.

"Despite the fact" concluded the lecturer, "that Sargent is 63 this year, there is not the slightest falling off in his work; he is as versatile in his painting as ever.  He has always given of his best, and on very high plane; and it is good to recognize his greatness."  Mr. Oakley thanked his listeners for a very patient hearing, whereupon Mr. Burrough Hill a hearty vote of thanks to him, which was endorsed by Mr. MacFadden.

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