How to Look at John Singer Sargent & Ansel Adams

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The famous society portraitist is actually a master of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. In addition, he carries on the Anglo-American portrait tradition.

The veritable imprecision of his landscapes and city pictures resolves at a distance into a solidity that may be read back at close hand for its brushwork, and the rest. He follows a line from Rembrandt, not Vermeer. So you may have the distinguishing point from Homer.

The narrow-minded prejudice that would not see in American pictures anything at all is mistaken.

John Singer Sargent
Mrs. Ralph Curtis 
oil on canvas

Stieglitz found a perspective that would move the world, like a lever. To this Adams applies a countinghouse discretion in his chiaroscuro, and a thirst for clarity. So he places the camera correctly, dissolves obstacles by burning and dodging with a painter’s hand, and it emerges, the picture, with a definitive and pristine expression.

Ansel Adams
Aspens, Northern New Mexico

The obliging Calder mobiles in the reflecting pool at the County Museum don’t dance like the great George Rickey on the plaza, they recombine into fresh pictures, or quiver like models.

Sargent and Italy suffered in the Robert O. Anderson Building from not having enough distance to look at the pictures properly. Ansel Adams at 100 finally brought photography home to the County Museum, which has not understood it at all, any more than it understands contemporary art. Such attainments were at one time within its easy grasp, but that was before the remodeling and the new guards, etc.

What’s left of the Pereira design, vastly superior to any of the additions, is a tender sight at dusk.