This is an example of Sargent using a very limited palette, yet the color is striking. If I had to guess, I would say he used ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, and alizarin crimson. As is most of Sargents canal scenes, his perspective is from another boat. It is as if the reclining figure on the right is thinking to himself, “I wonder if he is painting me”.
Look how Sargent carried the dark shape of the building’s entrance right into the gondolas. The viewer is drawn immediately to the sharp contrast of the reclining figure, follows on down his body to the other figure who is also sharply contrasted against the bright base of the building. One lingers there awhile before moving on down the facade into the distant background.
Great care was given to making sure his perspective was accurate. From Sargent’s vantage point, the horizon line runs right at eye level to the gentleman in the gondola on the left. When the light source is coming from directly overhead, the reflections are lighter than the object of their reflection. This is evident on both gondolas.
It never ceases to amaze me how Sargent can capture personality and attitude in his subjects. With a few brush strokes on the reclining figure, you just know this man is curious as to what Sargent is doing.
Another interesting observation is that with just a few scratch marks accurately placed, Sargent has defined intricate architectural detail in the arch over the entrance. He has given you just enough information to permit your mind to fill in the blanks.
I am intrigued by the way Sargent uses his values to define the shape of objects. Look at the end piece at the entrance as well as the top of the gondola on the left. Nothing is boring in this picture. Sargent even wiped a streak of light in the distant sky to break up that wash. Truly an exciting painting.