Rembrandt van Rjin, 'Sarah waiting for Tobias'

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606 -1669)  Sarah waiting for Tobias, 1647, oil on canvas, 81.3 x 68 cm


We trekked up to AGNSW for the second time to see The Greats – masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland. It’s this year’s summer blockbuster and well worth the repeat visit.

Works on show were from the 16th to late 19th century, including not only outstanding Scottish practitioners such as Raeburn but Titian, Botticelli and Velasquez.

My favourite, though, was always going to be Rembrandt. Sarah waiting for Tobias is  a moving and intimate painting, most likely based on the history subject of Sarah from the Old Testament, whose 7 husbands were each killed by a demon on their wedding night. She is portrayed  looking, it is thought, at the 8th (and ultimately successful)husband.

The intimate portrait of a young woman, probably Rembrandt’s mistress, looking out from her bed, is typical Rembrandt – marvellously but not meticulously described, fleshily mortal and full of character. I love her clunky, human hands. I love her tremulous face, which holds so many emotions.


John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925) Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892, oil on canvas, 124 x 99.7 cm

The sexy star of the show, featured in so much of the promotional material, was the famous portrait of Lady Agnew by John Singer Sargent.

It was necessary to literally drag oneself away from this work, such was the compelling nature of the piece. What a babe!  And how wonderfully described. When you get up close to the work, the brushwork is actually quite loose and even the carefully worked face bears no trace of being overly laboured.

There were many brilliant works of art. The technical virtuosity was breathtaking and at the same time, inspiring. (I must get back to the studio. I must do better.)

Lastly though, check out the composition of this fabulous piece, really one of my favourites. Degas was well known for his unusual choice of perspective and compositional decisions.


Edgar Degas (French, 1834 – 1917) Diego Martelli, 1879, oil on canvas 110.4 x 99.8cm

This long commanding blue column on the right, with it’s ‘return’ along the back; the warm earth tones on the left side of the canvas answering. The mass of chattering angles on the objects on the bed, echoed by the angle of the figure and that wonderful, only-just-adequate seat. And lastly a blast of red/orange from the insides of the slippers. The whole thing is masterfully held together and yet the subject matter is so apparently prosaic. Genius.