Keep Sargent's 'A Game of Bowls' at Ightham Mote
As part of our special exhibition, we've borrowed John Singer Sargent's 'A Game of Bowls, Ightham Mote, Kent, 1889'. It depicts the hostess of the house, 'Queen' Palmer and her daughter Elsie (who was soon to be featured in one of Sargent's most significant portraits), Sargent's sister Violet, architect Frederick Jameson and his wife, and Alma Strettell. With your help, we can buy this painting for our visitors to enjoy for ever.
The painting captures a fragment of Ightham Mote's past, that we knew about, but that we don't normally get to show. By keeping this painting here, we will continue to be able to keep the story alive for future generations. With few commissions and time on his hands, Sargent had returned to plein-air landscape painting. Whilst staying at Ightham Mote, he was inspired to paint his friends playing bowls on the lawn to the north of the house.
" The opportunity of bringing this exceptional picture back to the place where it was painted is too good to miss. It is a record of a place and its occupants at a particular moment in history, it is strong in atmosphere and character and it is a remarkable work of art."
Why is the painting so special?
The painting is a unique experiment in Sargent's art, a large-scale landscape in the English manner, but painted in a modernist French style. Due to the size of the painting, it was clearly composed with exhibition in mind, and it appeared in Joe Comyns Carr's New Gallery in 1890. This was Sargent in his experimental mode; he was the friend and protégé of Claude Monet and a member of the British avant-garde, but his work was yet to be fully accepted by either critics or the public. As with many of his previous pictures, this was classed as 'eccentric'.
" There are a few Sargent portraits in oil and drawings in National Trust houses, but none remotely like 'A Game of Bowls'. It is a unique piece of art."
There is a touch of theatre in the way the figures are grouped, posed before a historic landscape. The figures are framed by yew hedges and the buildings, yet there is a sense of mystery in the way they stand, four women in black capes in a line, a younger woman in brown and a lone man in knee breeches and deerstalker hat.
The artist's feeling for the subtelties of light, especially the twilight tones, is clear throughout. Sargent's handling is bold and free, concentrating on effect rather that detail, which creates a haunting mood of wistfulness and nostalgia.
How can you help us?
We have a target to raise £100,000 from our visitors and supporters this year to help us purchase the painting for Ightham Mote. You can donate when you visit us or by calling the Supporter Services Centre on 0344 800 1895 to donate over the phone.