By 1900, John Singer Sargent’s notoriety as a portrait painter had earned him a ceaseless flow of commissions from prominent families in both England and the United States. But he grew tired of the demands and restrictions of these grand manner portraits, and began spending part of each year in Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and Spain. On these trips, Sargent completed a number of vibrant plein-air oil sketches. Valdemosa, Majorca was painted during the autumn of 1908, when the artist accompanied his sister Emily and her friend on a trip to Valdemosa, a small town in Majorca, part of the Balearic Isles off the east coast of Spain.
This expressive study reflects Sargent’s assertion that “enormous views and huge skies do not tempt me.” Avoiding the broad, panoramic views of conventional landscape compositions, the artist instead used vibrant colors and loose brushstrokes to depict a small patch of rocky ground tangled with vegetation. With its freedom of subject matter and technique, Valdemosa, Majorca: Thistles and Herbage on a Hillside, reveals a different side of the artist best known for his formal society portraits.
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