John Singer Sargent Carnation Lily, Lily Rose was a pioneering double portrait painted in 1885.
On its initial exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, the artist Sir Frederic Leighton was astounded by its skill and originality. Encouraging London’s Tate Gallery to purchase the work, this success and the resulting public acclaim marked a turning point in Sargent’s career.
Currently displayed at Tate Britain, the painting is one of the museum’s prized items. But what’s the story behind this fascinating work?
Who painted the girls with the lanterns?
The girls with the lanterns, otherwise known as Carnation Lily, Lily Rose, is one of the most famous paintings by John Singer Sargent. Today, it’s also one of our collection’s most popular oil painting reproductions.
Indeed, art lovers worldwide adore the painting’s finesse and beauty. For this reason, Carnation Lily, Lily Rose remains one of the 100 most famous paintings.
When was Carnation Lily, Lily Rose painted?
John Singer Sargent painted Carnation Lily, Lily Rose in 1885. It depicts two young girls lighting paper lanterns. As the sun sets and dusk arrives in the beautiful English garden, they illuminate the scene.
Flowers surround the children, standing out against the dark green background. These flowers include pink roses, yellow carnations, and white lilies.
The title stems from a popular song by the British composer Joseph Mazzinghi. Titled Ye Shepherds Tell Me, it contains the refrain “a wreath around her head, around her head she wore”, identifying the flowers as “carnation, lily, lily rose”.
Where is this famous Singer Sargent located?
John Singer Sargent Carnation Lily, Lily Rose depicts two children in a garden at Farnham House in the town of Broadway in the Cotswolds. Owned by Francis Davis Millet, Sargent was good friends with the family.
Sargent moved to England (from Paris) to escape the scandal following his Portrait of Madame X (1884). However, he spent the entire summer of 1885 staying on Broadway.
The two girls are Frederick Barnard’s daughters. As mutual friends of Sargent and Millet, they spent many happy days relaxing in the beautiful garden. Dolly (eleven years old) appears on the left-hand side of the composition. Polly (seven years old) is on the right.
Millet’s daughter, Katherine (five years old), was initially chosen for the portrait. However, Sargent changed his mind as he preferred the Barnard children for their blond hair.
What does Sargent's Lantern painting represent?
Lilies are one of the most symbolic flowers in art. Often associated with devotion, humility, and innocence, they’re a typical decoration for weddings and christenings. Indeed, these flowers evoke ideas of femininity, fragility, and purity.
As such, John Singer Sargent Carnation Lily, Lily Rose represents this symbolism through the two young girls.
The two children wear demure white dresses, seemingly lost in hanging their Chinese lanterns amongst the exquisite foliage. Their white dresses blend with the flowers, further reinforcing the childish innocence and beauty theme.
During Sargent’s time on Broadway, the author Robert Louis Stevenson joined the Millet family. Writing his A Child’s Garden of Verses, these poems further inspired Sargent. He also saw paper lanterns while boating on the River Thames near Pangbourne.
What Style of art is Carnation Lily, Lily Rose?
Amongst Singer Sargent paintings, this artwork demonstrates his impressionist stylings. Its expressive brushstrokes and attention to light are particularly notable.
In addition, the double portrait exudes technical brilliance. British contemporary tastes favored heavily detailed and highly finished artworks. As a result, Sargent’s work pays close attention to color, form, and composition while capturing fleeting beauty.
Sargent was determined to capture the precise light of a dusky English evening. He consequently painted en plein air (outside), an essential impressionist technique.
He painted for just a few minutes almost every day during September and November 1885. Sargent’s style meant the light was perfect each time. He could then always depict the precise purple-pink tones of the setting sun.
Sargent’s lengthy method meant the garden flowers died as autumn progressed. To deal with this, he replaced them with artificial creations. Sargent finally finished the painting in October 1886.
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