MALCOLM ROGERS: Now if you look at the hands in A Tramp, a quite different approach. Here the hands almost become a kind of gateway to the psychological understanding of the sitter. They’re painted very freely, freshly, in almost an expressionist way, and they really are a part—a key part—of our understanding of the whole subject.

Part of the effect of a watercolor like the tramp is that you have the feeling of a moment seized. When you’re painting in watercolor, you have to do it quickly before you’re paint’s dry. But what I find particularly moving is this notion of a moment’s seized. That somehow Sargent is capturing a moment of insight, a moment of beauty, which seconds later could be gone.