As I continue to settle into my new apartment, my housemates and I unpack a bit more each day between classes. Yesterday afternoon I stumbled into the living room to see that one of my roommates placed a new book on our coffee table: The Garden in Art. I flipped through the pages quickly and briskly but froze the second my eyes saw John Singer Sergeant’s “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose“.

It was only a matter of seconds before I mentally added it to the list of my favorite paintings. There is something so whimsical and magical about the piece. I was immediately breath-taken. The girls appear to be lighting lanterns in a fairy-like realm. It seems to be painted with such ease, as if the brush strokes were softly flicked onto canvas without much thought. Therefore I was completely surprised when I read how difficult the making of the painting truly was.

Sergeant painted this scene of his friend’s daughters on an evening in August. Trying to repose the girls in the days to come and recapture the correct lighting for the painting was very tricky. As summer faded and fall was born the span of time where the lighting was just right grew smaller and smaller. Sergeant wished to paint the evening as he saw it – the moment when night sweeps over day – where the earth is a soft, glowy blue, with hints of a deep sunset in the far distance.

Along with the light changing, so did the garden. The garden was once filled with flowers of many kinds but they withered and died as the months rolled by. In an attempt to maintain the overwhelming beauty of the garden Sergeant bought flowers as replacements for the ones that died. This way he could look at real flowers when painting, and get a sense of the magical lightness that the evening had once put forth.

Although much of the set up had to be staged and fabricated to get the painting just right, it looks as if he had painted it in one sitting, with the girls and garden and evening light right in front of him. The moment Sergeant captured is so beautifully innocent. This small scene of little girls in a garden seems to serve as a reminder – beauty can be found in the tiniest of moments, in the lives of regular people.

I would give anything to have witnessed this moment beside him, and to watch him overcome the struggles he faced when creating this masterpiece.


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