02 August 2011

Let Me Nerd Out For a Minute

Here is a color analysis paper I wrote for my color theory course. I really enjoyed writing this, because I loooove the John Singer Sargent!

Portrait of Edouard and Marie-Louise Pailleron by John Singer Sargent
Julie C. Morrison
Color Theory M-F 12pm
2 August 2011
Writing Assignment 01

                  John Singer Sargent introduces viewers to the Pailleron children in Portrait of Edouard and Marie-Louise Pailleron. The Pailleron family often employed Sargent, who also painted the children’s parents. The oil painting is a landscape-oriented portrait of the children in a small room that contains many carpets and draperies. Both of the children are seated on a backless couch that is covered with a carpet, which then continues to slip under their feet. Edouard, the older son, is wearing a black suit with a white collar, and is seated to the left of the composition. Marie-Louise, the younger daughter, is seated in the direct middle of the composition, fully facing the viewer. She is wearing a white dress with white stockings. The background of the painting is covered in various shades of red. Today, Portrait of Edouard and Marie-Louise Pailleron measures sixty by sixty-nine inches. Edouard and Marie-Louise easily fill up most of the compositional space.
                  Sargent mostly employed an analogous color scheme of red, red orange, and red violet. At first glance, the children appear to be dressed in stark achromatic neutrals, but the black and white they don both contain small hints of color. The boy’s black suit is a tone of red that is very dark in value, almost so dark that it is a neutral. The girl’s dress has a hint of a neutral brown in it. Her shoes look like they could be a tone of red, but this could only be confirmed in person.
The carpet under them is mostly covered in a red shadow, but the highlights reveal green, yellow and white in the pattern. Sargent had two light sources for this painting. The most apparent light is the one illuminating the children, but there is also a light casting shadows on the drapery in the background. Positioned to the left of the composition, Sargent has interpreted the most intense part of this second light as a tint of red orange. The light tumbles over the folds of the drapery across the background, all the while creating shades of red and deep tones of red violet in the shadows. Red dramatically warms this painting. Since the composition is closely cropped to the children, almost hugging them if not for the empty right side of the couch, the warmth and small space creates a stagnant feeling to the painting.
The poses that the children have taken also echo this stagnant feeling. Edouard is not facing the viewers, just casually looking over his shoulder in a hunched position with a bothered look on his face. His hand is slightly resting on the couch, as if he could get up at any moment to walk away. Marie-Louise is sitting up straight, slightly leaning towards the viewer. The tension in her body suggests that she was picked up and placed there. Her left hand in particular is almost clenching the couch she is seated on.
The color choice of the children’s clothing is also of interest. Edouard is wearing that very dark suit, which implies that he might be entering manhood and should be taken seriously since he is wearing dark, serious colors. Meanwhile, Marie-Louise is still a little girl, wearing all white. Looking closely, she is wearing a big, pink bow in her hair. It was probably knocked askew when her parents wrestled her down to sit for the painting. Sargent painted these children in what could be a mature or romantic red, but when the little details of tension are taken noted, the red embodies the anger of the children.
Having these children sit for a portrait must have been quite an ordeal for Sargent to include all of these details, and use this dramatic shade of red.


  1. It's the name Edouard that makes him so sullen. Give him a break, he's got a tough load to carry.


  2. brilliant analysis, Jules!