A Painter’s Dedication: Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent, Impressionist Artist

Painting fine art requires dedication, perseverance and grit just as any other profession. The most famous works of art are frequently backed by years, if not a lifetime of hard work and practice and are often very difficult to achieve. John Singer Sargent‘s most famous work of impressionist art is no exception.

John Singer Sargent framed art print hanging in a living room
“Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” framed canvas print


One of the most treasured paintings in the Tate, Britain collection, “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” was painted over two summers during 1885 and 1886 but for only a few minutes each evening. According to the Tate, “the inspiration for the painting came during a boating expedition Sargent took on the Thames at Pangbourne in September 1885, with the American artist Edwin Austin Abbey, during which he saw Chinese lanterns hanging among trees and lilies.” The painting shows the two daughters of illustrator Frederick Barnard, Polly and Dorothy (Dolly), lighting paper lanterns among the flowers at twilight. Sargent initially chose Millet‘s daughter Katharine as his model, but opted for the Barnard girls as his subjects because they had the precise hair color he was hoping for within the composition.


Before the light was just right Sargent would acquire help to quickly set up his outdoor studio and get his young models into place. Once prepared and the timing was right, he would paint feverishly, attempting to catch the subtle color palette of the golden hour, which, consequently, only lasted anywhere from two to twenty minutes. It is said that Sargent was very physical while he painted, bouncing back and forth between the canvas and studying the scene, making marks between the movements. Some even say he appeared to be “fencing” with the painting.

Giclee print of impressionist art Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent
Giclee print of “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose”


Sargent’s masterpiece is a stunning example of impressionism, however, no great work of art is without it’s critics. When viewed up close, some believed that the painting appeared unfinished, such as the area of the child’s hand. But that’s the beauty of impressionism: artists create the “impression” of their subjects, leaving brushstrokes un-blended but placed carefully to represent highlight, shadow and form.

Detail image of a hand painted in Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent
Detail of “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose”

No matter what an artist creates, there will always be someone who disagrees with the vision, methodology, or even subject matter of a work of art. The risk of ridicule may be the most difficult part of being a fine artist. Apparently, even being the good friend of an influential and boundless artist such as Monet (which Sargent was) does not gain you special favor in the world of impressionist art.


No matter how many years are spent honing the craft of painting, criticism is inevitable and perfect lighting conditions require patience. For fine artists, dedication, perseverance and grit are as important as the inspiration, the paint and the canvas. Because of these characteristics, we can be thankful for the beautiful work of art Sargent has left us to enjoy for generations to come.

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