In 1907–1908, John Singer Sargent declared that he was “shutting up shop in the portrait line” to focus on landscapes, informal figure studies, and mural paintings. Let your eye wander over “Simplon Pass,” painted in 1911. What is the first color or texture you notice?
The artist undertook his landscape and figure paintings on leisure visits to picturesque locales. Here, he depicts a great Alpine pass in Switzerland near the border of Italy. He visited and sketched the view depicted in “Simplon Pass” as early as 1904, returning for extended visits in 1909, 1910, and 1911. The view is a study of the clear Alpine light and air on the rocky terrain. Sargent’s vibrant brushwork enlivens this landscape, describing the rushing stream at left, the colorful vegetation, and the dazzling sunlight sweeping across the foreground. The darker, drily brushed middle ground sets off the majestic peak. Light and shade define strong masses. While the mountain is mostly in deep shadow, passages of mauve emphasize its steep face.
John Singer Sargent, “Simplon Pass,” 1911, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Bequest of James Parmelee)