John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent was fond of making studies in watercolor or oil and often sketched the everyday scenes or incidents that caught his eye during his frequent travels throughout Europe. He executed this painting of bead stringers at work during one of his two trips to Venice: the first in 1880, when he had a studio on the Palazzo Rezzonico, or the second in 1882, when he stayed with his cousin Daniel Curtis in the Palazzo Barbaro on the Grand Canal. In this painting, only one of the women holds the shallow wooden tray customarily used for this type of tedious work. The other two figures are grouped close to her, as if engaged in a conversation, yet each appears to be absorbed in thought. Here, Sargent experimented with shaping a composition out of muted tonal harmonies. The subdued, restrained palette of dark browns, grays, and black is accented by luminous gradations of white. The work’s subtle atmospheric play suggests the impact of Diego Velázquez (Spanish, 1599–1660). Sargent particularly admired his work and encountered numerous examples of it during a trip to Spain in early 1880.