From the Department of Forensic Palette Research
I know John Sargent, and I sir am no John Sargent. Paraphrasing Bentsen to Quayle, remember that line? Who could be John Sargent? He was, as Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in "the Outliers", the perfect storm of talent and opportunity. Sure, there are countless peers but very few equals. I look at his work all the time for inspiration and was about to start a painting in the studio because I'm too lazy to drive to the boats. Cracking open one of my favorite books, 'Sargent Abroad', my eyes fell upon the above painting. I'd noticed a recurring palette in his travel paintings which is evident here. I never thought he was one if those primary color painters, mixing everything from pure hues of red, yellow and blue. It seems that his palette was very specific or limited, that he wasn't about getting the color exactly so, just the value and the hue and the paint.
Pondering the palette involved but resisting the urge to research it, I thought I'd try to decipher it my own damn self. The painting, "A boat with a golden sail, San Vigilio", seems to be comprised of only a handful of colors. By my guess, I'd say a red brown, maybe Burnt Sienna or a red earth tone (in place of a pure red), a warm yellow, white, and two blues, one a green shade blue, perhaps veridian and one a red shade blue like cobalt, and possibly some black. Nothing wrong with black.
In order to test my theory, I probably should have picked a different, more warm-toned thing to paint, but the idea came after I started this sketch. I had set out a full palette but restricted myself only to the colors I thought he may have used just to see what happened. I kinda got the simplicity of the basic palette. If one has a ton of color available, one might spend more time just trying to get that color right. If one has a very basic palette, then the process becomes about drawing, value and hue (warm and cool). Does it matter if the sky in Sargents painting wasn't as cool as it is portrayed? Or that the water wasn't as green? Hell no. What matters is the mastery of drawing and paint handling and value and stuff.
So I did this from the above pic.
A great exercise. So now I can look up his palette... there's a great blog in general by Stapelton Kearns. and read for yourself. I got a few right. Try this yourself, it's kinda fun and a great learnin' thing.