The new exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery brings together 80 John Singer Sargent watercolours that celebrate life and colour. 

KEY_35 The Church of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice_smaller
The Church of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice c. 1904-09, John Singer Sargent. (c)Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon. Photograph by Catarina Gomes Ferreira. 

Prepare to be whisked to far off lands and see the world in a different light thanks to Dulwich Picture Gallery’s beautiful exhibition devoted to the watercolours of John Singer Sargent.

This might seem a fanciful and overblown way to start, but the selection of work on display has been beautifully selected to create a fascinating and detailed examination of John Singer Sargent’s technique when it came to his watercolours.

Beginning with some of his intensely focused perspectives boats and buildings and ending with some of the figures that he painted in his lifetime, the gallery has created a comprehensive but detailed display of his work that makes the visitor appreciate the quality of the artist’s work.

Not only does Sargent manage to take something ordinary as shown in Venice Steps of a Palace and make it seem extraordinary, filling it with detail and colour that realistically wouldn’t be noticed by many but Sargant also offers a new perspective of subjects.

For example, in his piece The Fountain, Bologna Sargent chooses to concentrate on not the central figure of the fountain but the lower section and the basin to bring attention to something that perhaps people would not think a lot of if seen in person. This is a constant theme throughout the exhibition, with pieces such as Mountain Trough showing just how much beauty there is to be found in focusing on a different perspective.

In turn, this theme then rubs off on the exhibition, delivering a new outlook on his work and allowing visitors to concentrate further on details of his work that perhaps they had never noticed before. Of course, not all of the pieces will equal in fascination – the watercolours featuring boats in the first  look rather dismal in comparison to the liveliness of the landscapes and cities that he portrayed in his work.

Talking about the exhibition, Richard Ormond, co-curator for the display said: “In Sargent’s watercolours we see his zest for life and his pleasure in the act of painting” – and this is very much true. Through all his work displayed here we see the land and his joy for it through his eyes, encouraging us to look at our surroundings in a different light.

Overall, it is a very vivid and colourful exhibition that makes for a wonderful summer visit that delights as much as it fascinates.

Sargent: The Watercolours will be on display at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until the 8th October. For more information visit:


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