John Singer Sargent

The Black Brook


John Singer Sargent 1856–1925
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 552 × 698 mm
frame: 775 × 930 × 70 mm
Purchased 1935

Display caption

The subject of this work is the artist’s niece, Rose-Marie Ormond, who was 15 when he painted her. She is shown by a stream in Aosta, northern Italy. Sargent captures the movement of light and shadow on the stream, yellow flowers and the fabric of Ormond’s dress with thick, loosely handled paint. Ormond was Sargent’s travel companion and one of his favourite subjects. She features in a number of his Alpine pictures, which he painted in an impressionistic style, either in oil or watercolour.

Gallery label, September 2020

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

N04783 THE BLACK BROOK c. 1908

Inscr. ‘John S. Sargent’ b.l.
Canvas, 21 3/4×27 1/2 (55·5×67).
Purchased from Barbizon House (Clarke Fund) 1935.
Coll: Mrs Francis Ormond; David Croal Thompson by 1935.
Exh: N.E.A.C., summer 1909 (50), as ‘The Black Brook’; Tate Gallery, June–October 1926; R.A., winter 1926 (301); (?) R.S.A., 1928 (374), as ‘The Brook’, lent by Mrs Ormond.
Lit: Downes, 1925, p.287; Charteris, 1927, pp.170, 289; Barbizon House Record, 1935, pp.5, 16, repr. as frontispiece; Mount, 1955, p.449; McKibbin, 1956, p.114; Mount, 1957, p.359.
Repr: Connoisseur, XCV, 1935, p.168.

The girl seated in the foreground of this painting is the artist's niece, Rose Marie Ormond (1893–1918), daughter of Mrs Francis Ormond and later wife of Robert Michel. She appears with her sister, Reine Ormond (Mrs Hugo Pitman), in another painting ‘The Brook’ in the possession of Mrs Francis Ormond's second son Mr F. Guillaume Ormond in July 1961 (information from Mr Hugo Pitman, 18 July 1961). The site in both pictures is almost identical, a mountain stream at the Chalets de Purtud, near Courmayeur, Val d'Aosta, just south-west of Mont Blanc and almost 5,000 ft. above sea-level.

The Tate painting has also been known as ‘The Brook’, but there is ample evidence to show it was the work exhibited at the N.E.A.C. in 1909 as ‘The Black Brook’, and it was purchased with that title in 1935. An old label on the stretcher reads: ‘J. S [torn] The black brook, a girl seated by a stream Bought New English Art Club Exhibn 1909 Cleaned 1924 [rest torn].’ Descriptions of this painting which appear in the press-cuttings of the N.E.A.C. exhibition make it clear that the Tate picture is the one referred to. Its date is most likely to be 1908, not 1909, since it was the artist's custom to travel abroad in the late summer or early autumn, and the 1909 summer exhibition of the N.E.A.C. opened (according to an annotated catalogue in the Gallery archives) on the 22 May.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

You might like