The Smoky Thames
For my research paper I will be using the piece, ‘The Smoky Thames’ from 1885 by John Singer Sargent. The theme I will be discussing is, ‘How does understanding a design and its aesthetic reflect the cultural context in which the designer/artist worked in the example you have chosen’. John Singer Sargent uses only gray scale and a dreary, inactive background to show the disarray and loss of hope in the Thames at the time.
John Singer Sargent was an American painter who was, “…known as the most fashionable portrait painter in the 19th century” (Ormond). Since Sargent was a child he had his sights set on becoming an artist, thus most of his energy went into pursuing his dream. Eventually Sargent and his father decided he should study in Paris in the studio of Carolus-Duran. During his studies he really paid attention to Velazquez, “ …Frans Hals was also an important influence on his brushwork”(Ormond). Sargent was known through out Europe for his exquisite portraiture skills, and did many commissions for people all over the world. Even though he was mainly recognized for his portraiture, Sargent also worked on landscapes and watercolors.
The River Thames has much history and is a very recognizable landmark in London. The earliest mention of the Thames is from 54 BC. When civilization started to take place in the United Kingdom, the River Thames was used as a main water source. As civilization began to spread out and more freshwater sources where discovered, “The Thames was used as a means of disposing waste produced from the city of London, effectively turning the river into an open sewer”(Sinclair). When the Thames started to be more occupied with pollution than with fresh water they had to evacuate the buildings around the river because of the smell. There were also four serious cholera outbreaks that killed tens of thousands of people, after this the city started to take the sewage problem more seriously. One of the worst river wrecks in England’s history happened on the Thames when, “…the crowded pleasure boat Princess Alice collided with the Bywell Castle, killing over 640 people” (Sinclair). Over it’s history; the River Thames has experienced many horrible happenings.
The Smoky Thames shows the River Thames on a cloudy day. The focal point is a man in a rowboat, with objects on either side of the man. On the left there is a line of steamboats emitting smoke, which could possibly be Sargent’s way of commenting on the economical state of the Thames in 1885, when the city was having trouble with pollution in the river. On the right side of the man are miscellaneous boats that seem to have been in a collision with each other.
There is a possibility that this is Sargent paying homage to the victims of the Princess Alice crash, which killed 690 people. In the background of the painting there is the skyline of London, as well as a bridge. In this piece Sargent used mainly browns and grays to show the general...