If you are one of those who enjoy statistical probabilities, then you would agree with me that John Singer Sargent has a high likelihood of appearing in an art gallery. This was my thought when I entered the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum, Aberdeen, Scotland. I was not disappointed.
Mrs. J. W. Crombie, an oil on canvas, painted by John Singer Sargent in 1898, radiated grace and elegance. The notation to the side read “Sargent has caught the serious gaze of the young woman and at the same time has emphasised her femininity. His later portraits, such as this one, display his apparently effortless virtuosity. The dashing brushstrokes, particularly evident in the sparkling rings and brooches and in her feather boa, seem entirely spontaneous.”
I was immediately drawn to this young women who had lived at the turn of the 20th century. Her name was Minna (Marina) Watson. Her husband, John William Crombie, came from a family of woollen manufacturers. A respected poet and folklorist, he gave up his career as a Director of J. & J Crombie, Ltd, to become a Liberal Party politician. They had two children, a son and daughter.
The painting was completed during the first years of marriage. John Singer Sargent captured the optimism and determination of youth. There was also a foreshadowing of strength that would sustain her when her husband died a mere ten years later in 1908. Their son Eugene, a Captain in the Gordon Highlanders and a WWI war poet, was killed in 1917. With his passing, Mrs. J.W. Crombie learned braille and worked tirelessly to translate many books for the visually impaired. She was distinguished for her philanthropic endeavours.
“Cultivate an ever continuous power of observation. Wherever you are, be always ready to make slight notes of postures, groups and incidents. Store up in the mind… a continuous stream of observations from which to make selections later. Above all things get abroad, see the sunlight and everything that is to be seen.”
John Singer Sargent