Connect with us – Art History Stories

Painting of the Week: John Singer Sargent, Simplon Pass: The Lesson

Simplon Pass the Lesson by John Singer Sargent cover
John Singer Sargent, Simplon Pass: The Lesson, watercolor, 1911. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Painting of the Week

Painting of the Week: John Singer Sargent, Simplon Pass: The Lesson

Many people know John Singer Sargent for his beautiful oil paintings of turn-of-the-century high society. However, he also made many lovely watercolors, and they’re not nearly as well known. One example of a Sargent watercolor is our painting of the week – Simplon Pass: The Lesson.

Simplon Pass: The Lesson by John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent, Simplon Pass: The Lesson, watercolor, 1911. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Simplon Pass: The Lesson depicts a trio of women enjoying the outdoors. Sargent’s sister Emily sits in the center, at work on a painting. Two younger girls, Sargent’s nieces Rose-Marie and Reine, watch their aunt’s work with interest. It’s a lovely summer scene, where the style of painting is as relaxed and informal as the subject matter. Sargent spent several summers in the Swiss Alps near Simplon Pass, where he painted many watercolors like this one. They show his family and friends painting, reading, sleeping, and otherwise relaxing. Many scenes feature women with beautiful light dresses and colorful parasols. He also painted the spectacular mountain scenery itself.

Simplon Pass: the Foreground by John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent, Simplon Pass: the Foreground, watercolor, 1911. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Sargent travelled widely and made most of his watercolors on the road. He painted Bedouins in North Africa, architecture in Venice, marble quarries in Italy, Mediterranean landscapes, elaborate gardens, and more. His watercolors are numerous, and all of them are really spectacular. I love their bright colors and spontaneous brushwork. Some are more detailed, while others look almost abstract at first glance. However, all of them seem to convey just enough information to create a compelling scene.

If you want to see more watercolors by John Singer Sargent, you should visit the Brooklyn Museum in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, because those two museums own the biggest collections. Simplon Pass: The Lesson and the other Simplon Pass paintings reside in Boston.

Hirshler, Erica E. & Teresa A. Carbone. John Singer Sargent Watercolors. Boston: MFA Publications & New York: Brooklyn Museum, 2012.

Alexandra believes that enjoying the art of the past is the closest she can get to time travel, only much safer. When she’s not being an art historian, she can usually be found ice skating and dancing. Visit her at


More in Painting of the Week

  • dailyart

    Mona Lisa at the Battlefield: the History of Saving Art During World War II


    During walks through the halls of museums, few people think about how these art masterpieces were not always in their place. In turbulent war years, art, like the civilian population, had to be evacuated. How was that even possible at the world’s most terrifying time? Let’s...

  • 20th century

    Max Ernst and Birds: A Relationship Explained Through Paintings


    Max Ernst (1891–1976) was a prolific German avant-garde artist. He was a pioneer in the early 20th century movements of Dada and Surrealism and developed a number of inventive artistic techniques. Ernst had the ability to make the unbelievable believable through his art. For this reason,...

  • 20th century

    Chiharu Shiota’s Installation Art: Drawing in the Air


    Berlin-based artist Chiharu Shiota creates monumental artworks that immerse the visitor in a tangled web of their own imagination. Delicate yarn installations, filling a gallery space, move you from creation to death, and almost impossibly, beyond.

  • Dogs in Paintings Dogs in Paintings


    See a Man About a Dog: Dogs in Paintings


    The title sentence is a charming English euphemism, usually used to apologize for one’s imminent departure or absence—generally to conceal one’s true purpose, such as going to use the toilet or going to buy a drink. We, however, will not dwell on that meaning, instead, we...

  • 21st century

    Home and Migration in the Artworks of Zarina Hashmi


    Zarina Hashmi (16 July 1937 – 25 April 2020), was an Indian-American artist and printmaker based in New York City. She was known by her professional name, Zarina. Her works include drawings, prints, and sculptures. She used abstract and geometric forms that associated her with the...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy