Research Point: Linear Perspective

17/07/15

Before you attempt the next exercise… research the basics of linear perspective.

Linear perspective helps attain the illusion of a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional surface.

Parallel lines appear to meet together in the distance at a vanishing point, this point may or may not be within the actual image but should the lines be extended they should meet at this point.

Perspective when recreated on a two-dimensional surface gives the illusion that objects close to the viewer are larger than those further away .

Objects that are pointing directly at the viewer are foreshortened to give this impression ie a finger-pointing straight forwards appears shorter than if pointing left or right.

To assist in creating linear perspective it is helpful to establish a horizon line or eye level. Lines below the eye level with angle up towards it and lines above will angle down towards it – this is the vanishing point on the horizon or eye level.

Most commonly used are one, two and three-point perspective. This relates to the number of vanishing points in the image.

One point – a simple or single view disappearing off into the distance eg road or railway track.

Two point – for two receding views, eg corner walls equals two vanishing points

Three point – views from above or below, where there are three vanishing points, those as in two point and those receding upwards or down.

There is also zero point perspective where no parallel lines exist and therefore no vanishing point. This is where scale comes into play as in the third point above. Aerial perspective also assists by less contrast in colour and tone to depict distance.

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Research Points: Interiors

17/07/15

Research the work of the Dutch Realist genre painters and choose two or three paintings that particularly appeal to you. Look at the devices employed to draw the viewer into the experience of the occupants of the room.

Johannes Vemeer (1632-1675)

A fairly obvious choice for looking at interiors, Vermeer was famous for his scenes of 17th Century domestic life.

The Music Lesson by Johaness Vemeer. The Royal Collection at St James' Palace

The Music Lesson by Johannes Vemeer.
The Royal Collection at St James’ Palace

 

Vemeer has used perspective to show depth and space in the room. His subjects appear to be unaware of his gaze and the interior itself is almost as important. The light from the window illuminates the figures and elevates them as the focal point, as does the tiled floor guiding the eye towards them. Adding in the table with its detailed cloth and jug, chair and cello gives a narrative to what could have been a static pose.

 

 

 

 

Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684)

A contemporary of Vemeer, de Hooch is not so familiar to me.  However, he also was known for painting interiors, with the specific device of looking through an open door.

Card Players in a Sunlit Room by Pieter de Hooch The Royal Collection, Windsor

Card Players in a Sunlit Room by Pieter de Hooch
The Royal Collection, Windsor

 

This painting is a realistic looking scene of a group of card players.  The light is expertly and convincingly painted from the outside to in, the sheen on the door and the cast sunlight coming in through the door on to the floor points to the room’s occupants. Again the chequered tiles draw the eye to them and also on out to the courtyard, introducing the advancing figure to the story. The offset placement of the key figures give it a realistic composition, with one figure standing adding to the scale of the room and its contents. The more I look at this the more I like it. Its colours are fairly neutral but for the few flashes of red to lift its impact.

 

 

Look at interiors that have been painted by various artists from different periods. Look especially at how illusions of space have been created, how doorways and windows form a part of the composition and how furniture and objects are depicted either as a central focus for the painting or as secondary to any human drama.

Mr & Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-71) by David Hockney (b 1937)

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hockney-mr-and-mrs-clark-and-percy-t01269

This painting is a portrait of the artist’s friends, however, it says so much more. It is well documented that the sitters were not getting along too well at the time and the placement of the figures in their setting does give the impression of division. The open door not only creates a barrier but seems to be offering a means of escape – if only for Percy the cat! Placing the figures against the light of the open door does not throw them into the spotlight but seems to make them become part of the interior being contre jour.

 

 

Robert Louis Stevenson and his Wife (1885) by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

http://www.jssgallery.org/Paintings/Robert_Louis_Stevenson_and_His_Wife.htm

Sargent has given a sense of space through open doors in this painting and then taken it away again by adding the gloom of the hallway and the seemingly unobtainable exit by the front door. The direction of the floor boards lead away into the dark, foreboding, hallway.  I always forget that this image includes Stevenson’s wife as she blends into the interior so well I think she’s part of the furniture – she almost appears to be hiding! The rug on the floor is horizontal and Stevenson is pacing (I imagine) back and forth deep in thought and has been caught mid ponder.

Research Points: Optical Mixing and Effects

24/06/15

Pointillists

Georges Seurat ( 1859-1891)

Seated Boy with Straw Hat Georges Seurat

Seated Boy with Straw Hat
Georges Seurat

 

Seurat spent two years dedicated to developing his skill of black and white drawing around 1880-1882. He concentrated on tone and light in these drawings and often omitted lines to delineate areas, instead using marks built up to show dark against light.  This is particularly prevalent in “The Black Bow” or “The Black Knot” (1882), in conte crayon on paper, see link below:
http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/graphic-arts.html?no_cache=1&zoom=1&tx_damzoom_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=109358

Maybe these were his embryonic thoughts to using such mark marking with colour and tone in his subsequent paintings? In Seurat’s first large-scale painting, “Bathers at Asnieres” (1884) – National Gallery, he did not use Pointillism but similar mark making techniques to the drawings are apparent.  Even here, Seurat has not used broad sweeps of colour but smaller marks.  This painting depicts a bright summer’s day, the colours used are light and fresh, the shadows although cooler, are not cold but convey a subtle shade.  the darkest colours, eg the boots, trousers and hat are a rich deep brown, they still show the bright light of the sun.

http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/georges-seurat-bathers-at-asnieres

Women by the Water 1885-6 Georges Seurat

Women by the Water 1885-6
Georges Seurat

In “Women by the Water” (1885-6) Oil on Wood 15.7x25cm shows Seurat using Pointillism with broken dots and dashes of colour but still following tonality and light. The colours are more intricate because of this,  compared to the “Bathers at Asnieres”, where colour appears simplified.  There are nuances of colour both in the light and dark tones, if not generally. This painting is best viewed at a short distance away,  the eye then “joins the dots” and gives, what looks disjointed close up, a recognisable image.

 

“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette” 1884 – there are many reproductions of this painting and many I have seen seem to be made of many coloured dots (ie Pointillism), in their entirety, however, looking at the Metropolitan Museum of Art website, I notice the multitude of short dash like marks over the majority of the painting. The grassy shadows have dashes of blue/green/orange//yellow which give the ground movement. There is similar treatment in the trees which really evokes the dappled sunlight and gently summer breeze.  It transpires that Seurat added the dots towards the completion of the painting, along with a dotted border. This border follows the tones of the painting where it touches, being darker over the trees, down along the grass shadows and lightens towards the water where the sun hits.  By laying complimentary colours alongside each other, he gives crisp colours a lively movement, for example the blues in the grassy shadow against the orange of the daisies.  He as also used colours close on the spectrum to give a variation in tone and mix colours, there is a lot of red and blue which interpreted as a violet/plum colour in many of the clothes.

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/51.112.6

Paul Signac (1863-1935)

A contemporary of Georges Seurat, Signac was intrigued by Seurat’s working methods and went on to help in the development of Pointillism.  I have to admit that I am not overly familiar with Signac’s work – possibly because he was eclipsed by Seurat? Seurat’s life was cut very short and maybe the more celebrated because of that – I don’t know.

I have found some paintings of Signac’s that particularly appeal to me:

Capo Di Noli (1896)

http://www.wallraf.museum/en/collections/19th-century/masterpieces/paul-signac-capo-di-noli-1898/the-highlight/

A coastal view from a cliff path which sings with colour. Allegedly not the actual colours but the colours the scene evoked in the artist’s mind’s eye.  It’s again as with Seurat, tonally working yet has a clean-cut vibrancy that comes from not mixing colour on the palette but with the eye.  In the detail of the attached link, the complimentary colours are lifting each other above the bland and really give a sense of the hot Mediterranean sun.

Complat le Chateau, Le Pre (1886)

Complat le Chateau, Le Pre 1886 Paul Signac

Complat le Chateau, Le Pre 1886
Paul Signac

 

This meadow scene reduces my initial thoughts to dust! I was beginning to think that this method was best used to describe strong Mediterranean sunlight – however, although the sun is still strong here, it has a hazier, Northern European feel. the dominance of blues in varying shades and tones gives a unifying effect and although the  shadows are distinct, it still feels close to midday sun.  I almost need to shield my eyes from the glare.

 

 

Grand Canal, Venice (1905)

Grand Canal, Venice 1905 Paul Signac

Grand Canal, Venice 1905
Paul Signac

 

This is a beautiful painting that brings to mind the onset of dusk in Venice – something I have witnessed and is magical, the history, lapping of the water and soft glow as the city begins its night-time illumination of dark canals. This took me right back there. If this isn’t colour evoking mood, I don’t know what it. the last of the sun glancing off the Basilica makes it appear alight.

 

 

Both Seurat and Signac had a method, technique, process – call it what you will. They worked from sketches and colour studies and painstakingly experimented with the juxtaposition of colours to give the right look, feel and atmosphere to their paintings. However, this is a labour of love – it had to be, whether it’s the love of the process itself or the finished article, I’m not sure. It took at least one or two years for each final painting and all done in the studio – it is therefore, even more astounding that the finished works are so fresh, vibrant and compelling.

25/06/15

Ops Artists

Victor Vasarely 1906-1997

Op Art is a phrase coined by Time Magazine in 1964 in specific relation to Julian Stanczak’s exhibition

Zebra 1938 Victor Visarely

Zebra 1938
Victor Visarely

of abstract paintings that used optical illusions as their focus called Optical Paintings. Artists had previously been exploring this concept much before the phrase came about. One of these being Victor Vasarely. Vasarely’s famous Zebra 1938 is a motif he revisited in several guises over the years. Prior to the 1960s-70s, he seemed to work mostly in black and white and then created amazingly elaborate and precise abstract paintings using colour as well as shape for his creations.  Attached is a link to his website that has since been created, showing the timeline of Vasarely’s work and journey – he manages to convey a wildness together with a restraint and control.

http://www.vasarely.com/site/site.htm

For me, these are interesting shapes and colours and I found his planning and painting “maps” intriguing but devoid of any feeling, seemingly clinical. I enjoyed the spherical pattern and line bending of the Vega Period more than most as these were as organic as they got. I will park this and re-examine at some point when maybe my understanding of abstract/optical art improves – not in the diary yet thought.

Bridget Riley 1931-

London born Bridget Riley divides her time between Cornwall, London and Vaucluse in France. A name I know of yet not am not particularly familiar with her work.  Again, I hit against my abstract art brick wall. Having perused some of Riley’s works on-line, these are a few that I was taken with:

Cataract 3 1967

An interesting name! The colours and design seemed more unremarkable until I enlarged the image – it completely came alive and made me compare it to a flag waving in the wind – albeit in a uniform way. The colour-ways help with this –  moving from black/blue & white to red/blue/white and back again.

Shadow Play 1990

http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/pharos/collection_pages/20th_pages/PD.56-1996/FRM_PIC_SE-PD.56-1996.html

Looking at this, I was a little lost, then I began to see it changing before me in planes and angles. I again enlarged it on my lap top and being a plasma-type screen, the imprints of circles from my fingers seemed to add even more to it.

Movement in Squares 1961

http://www.op-art.co.uk/op-art-gallery/bridget-riley/movement-in-squares

I have seen this before and is more obviously an optical illusion. I notice that it is made with Tempera on board, which seems an unusual choice – it would be good to understand these choices with such a concept.

Blaze Study 1962

http://www.op-art.co.uk/op-art-gallery/bridget-riley/bridget-riley-blaze-study-1962

As soon as I stray into realms of zigzags I feel uncomfortable, in fact this Optical Art is a bit of a struggle for me to really look at – particularly on a computer screen.  I think I should try to find examples to see in the flesh and see if they have the same effect.  The reason being, I am an occasional migraine sufferer and just by chance, have had a few attacks this week prior to this research.  This leads me to think that there is more than a visual effect from these works and more of a neurological impact – is this general or just me and fellow migraine-ees?? I’m all for emotional responses to works of art, I think this may just be a step too far for me.  I will seek out some exhibits just in case it is the combination of Op Art and computer screen.

 

Research Point: Still Life Painters and Paintings

07/05 – 01/06/15

17th Century Dutch Still Life and Flower Painters

Look at the work of some of the 17th Century  Dutch still life and flower painters. Make notes on paintings that you particularly admire and find out more about the techniques that were employed at the time.

Gerrit Dou – Sleeping Dog
Floris van Dijck – Still Life
Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder – Flower Still Life
Willem Kalf – Still Life with Silver Jug/Ewer
Pieter Claesz – Still Life with a Skull
Willem Claeszoon Heda – Still Life Vanitas

Flower Still Life by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder

Flower Still Life by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder

We were asked to look at flower paintings as well as still life as a whole. I have to be honest I found the flower arrangements left me cold. Whereas I can appreciate that they were beautifully and skilfully painted, they appeared too perfect and posed.  I love plants and flowers, however, these made me feel they were artificial somehow. Flowers that would not have bloomed in the same season were put together, maybe due to the fact that horticulture had become highly fashionable and this may have increased the popularity of this genre.

Of course, the Netherlands became extremely prosperous in this age due to the successful trading by Dutch merchants.  Home interiors became more opulent and ostentatious in decoration. Art and commissions thereof, were more within the reach of the new middle merchant class.  Food was particularly used as a subject for still life paintings, tables piled high with seafood, cheeses, meats and exotic fruits newly discovered, sometimes to extent of gluttony.

Still Life by Floris van Dijck.

Still Life by Floris van Dijck.

Regarding the subject of food, I’ve picked out this still life by Floris van Dijck depicting the more simple fare of bread, cheeses, fruit and nuts, and a plain glass of water. This does not induce the nausea and feeling of indigestion that others with whole lobsters, rich meats and overflowing wine etc do! This is also beautifully painted and has colour yet is not overwhelming.  It does however, still have a level of symbolism, the apple peel starting to brown and the plate of bread teetering on the edge of the table give sense of an upset waiting to happen, the favourite caveat of our not being immortal and that all good things come to an end.

Sleeping Dog by Gerrit Dou

Sleeping Dog by Gerrit Dou

I loved this painting of a sleeping dog by Gerrit Dou.  It looks so peaceful and somehow reassuring compared to the pretentious wealth often rendered in still life.  The dog sleeping next to the clay pot with an imperfect broken lid, a bundle of sticks ready for the evening fire and the master’s clogs awaiting his return.  However, I’m a little disquieted when I realise that animal still life is probably just that – is the dog really sleeping? Hope so!

Still Life with Silver Ewer by Willem Kalf

Still Life with Silver Ewer by Willem Kalf

 

As this is supposed to be about painting I especially admire, I had to include this one by Willem Kalf.  The brush work and colours are beautiful, sensitive and realistic. The silver jug has the different textures associated with burnished and hammered silver in its decoration, with the reflected light of the lemon adding to its luminosity. The lemons themselves could almost be plucked out of the porcelain bowl, particularly the semi peeled fruit. The oriental bowl has just enough highlight from a secondary or reflected light source to ensure its position in the shadow. It is a painting that I could look at for a long, long time.

 

As far as techniques are concerned, I couldn’t find any specifics in my research but from observation, many used chiaroscuro to help sculpt and mould the 3D image as in the example above (Willem Kalf).  This gave the illusion of placement and form of objects against a dark background, throwing focus on specific items.  Others gave a fairly equal light source so that everything may be seen clearly, this technique was particularly common with the vanitas paintings where a message was being conveyed to the viewer.  Sometimes these paintings were so full of symbolism and objects upon objects that it is almost a game to pick them out.

Research at least one painting that has iconographic significance. Which of the objects depicted carry particular meaning and what was that meaning?

In Vanitas Still Life by Pieter Claesz

In Vanitas Still Life by Pieter Claesz

Vanitas paintings were very popular and a recurring subject for still life. A common component was the depiction of a human skull and bones, not unsurprisingly, this signified the mortality of man, in fact most symbolic objects made reference to the passing of time and the inevitability of death. In the Vanitas Still Life by Pieter Claesz (left), the oil lamp has just been extinguished with trickle of smoke wafting away, the upturned glass emptied of its contents, speak of the end of life. Watches (as in this example), clocks and time generally tick away and will eventually stop.  Books, literature, music etc are earthly pursuits with no value after death – often in these paintings, a musical instrument with a broken string will give the same message. There are symbols of life and rebirth such as shells, ivy or laurel (anyone trying to eradicate these from their garden would get this one!!!). Flowers are also full of meaning, some have more than one depending on era and cultures. The Lily for example denotes purity and innocence, the rose has multiple meanings depending on its colour. In the above painting there is a key on a ribbon, researching the symbolism of keys, I discovered that spiritual leaders or monarchy are often shown holding keys as a symbol of power – the power of opening and closing – the power of opening the door between one world and the next, the mortal and the afterlife maybe.

Then explore the development of still life through the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For example look at how traditional still life subjects were dealt with in some early Cubist paintings by Braque and Picasso. Investigate how some contemporary artists are interpreting this genre.

18th Century

Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1669-1777)

When trying to recall some of Chardin’s work, nothing came to mind initially, however, after looking him up I realised I had actually seen some of his work. The Ray, I had seen in the Louvre a while ago and I’m fairly certain I had also seen his self-portrait. On researching some of his still life paintings, I found a couple that caught my eye in particular, Still Life with Plums and The Copper Cistern.

Still Life with Plums by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin

Still Life with Plums by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin

The Still Life with Plums resonated because the bottle used within the composition was similar to that I had used in my Assignment One still life. In fact, digging out my tutor’s report I found he had picked up (however fleeting) a similarity between Chardin’s style and this effort of mine. However, looking at both the Chardin reproduced on-screen and my original work, I can see so many aspects I must work on. Whereas although Chardin’s painting is dark in tone, there is still a lightness of touch, his darks are not “muddy” as mine are. The glass of the bottle has a transparency that mine should have had but I achieved only a dull opacity. This has illustrated clearly that a darkness of tone does not have to mean dull.  As Chardin’s life crossed over the 17th and 18th Centuries, there is an inevitable foundation in the Golden Age styles, although it is said his work was a big influence on the cubist painter Georges Braque, which is why I initially chose to research him.

 19th Century

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)

Courbet is another artist mentioned by my tutor in the Assignment One feedback report, particularly referring to the apple I had attempted. From this I thought it prudent to look at Courbet’s fruit still life of which he painted many.

Still Life with Apples by Gustave Courbet

Still Life with Apples by Gustave Courbet

 

Still Life by Gustave Courbet

Still Life by Gustave Courbet

 

 

 

 

These two examples of Courbet’s still life with fruit still have their origins in the Dutch Golden Age of the genre for their composition in my humble opinion. However, the main difference I see is that Courbet paints what he sees, not to show opulence and wealth but reality.  He painted the fruit with all its imperfections, seeing the interest and individuality, he painted not just an apple but that actual apple.  His brush work is looser, whereas the Dutch still life have an almost photographic feel (from my modern-day perspective).  Courbet has a more “painterly” expressive style that seems to be a stepping stone to the Impressionists (and after reading some more – the Cubists – this I will have to research for myself!).

20th Century

Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)

Table in Front of the Window by Pierre Bonnard

Table in Front of the Window by Pierre Bonnard

Table in Front of the Window by Pierre Bonnard (Detail)

Table in Front of the Window by Pierre Bonnard (Detail)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The still life paintings by Pierre Bonnard are more colourful and vibrant than previous examples shown.  They also provide a sense of place for the subject, which I particularly like.  Bonnard had a way of playing with perspective and giving a flatter, more pattern-like image.  His mark making and placement of composition were more creative and imaginative although the subject is still representative.  There is more “life” in his still life!

Still Life with Table Cloth by Pierre Bonnard

Still Life with Table Cloth by Pierre Bonnard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Georges Braque (1882-1963)

I had always heard the name of Georges Braque linked with Picasso and had seen a documentary about his life some time ago, however, I hadn’t really looked at his work in any detail before. Concentrating on his still life paintings, I am surprised at how his style evolved.  I found some very stylised cubist paintings that are earlier than his more representational work, examples below.  Did he feel that cubism had run its course and return to a more “traditional” (for want of a better work) style? I note that one of his many influences was Cezanne, which seems to become more apparent in his later work.

 

Musical Instruments 1908 by Georges Braque

Musical Instruments 1908 by Georges Braque

Bottle and Fishes 1910 by Georges Braque

Bottle and Fishes 1910 by Georges Braque

 

 

 

 

 

Musical Instruments and Bottle and Fishes are separated by 2 years and the transition of style is subtle and readable.  The palette is similar and the instruments are becoming more geometric in shape than realistic.  The Bottle and Fishes take the angular and flat planes further, yet the subject is still discernible with study and has depth and three-dimensional illusion.

 

Still Life with Blue Plums and a Glass of Water 1925 by Georges Braque

Still Life with Blue Plums and a Glass of Water 1925 by Georges Braque

Still Life: TheTable 1928 by Georges Braque

Still Life: The Table 1928 by Georges Braque

 

 

 

 

Moving on around 20 years give or take, and the style has further evolved.  Curves have reappeared and composition is more considered.  Colour is more evident than tone, particularly in The Table, shapes are still pattern and favourite motifs are revisited.  Darks are treated as another object almost, shadow is solid and part of the pattern, something also exploited by Patrick Caufield as researched in Drawing One.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Still Life - The Dessert 1901 by Pablo Picasso

Still Life – The Dessert 1901 by Pablo Picasso

Still Life 1919 by Pablo Picasso

Still Life 1919 by Pablo Picasso

 

 

 

 

 

Picasso also had an interesting evolution regarding still life, the above span 18 years between them and show little inclination towards to the cubist style.

Still Life with Bull's Skull 1939 by Pablo Picasso

Still Life with Bull’s Skull 1939 by Pablo Picasso

Still Life with Cheese 1944 by Pablo Picasso

Still Life with Cheese 1944 by Pablo Picasso

 

 

 

 

 

Still Life 1947 by Pablo Picasso

Still Life 1947 by Pablo Picasso

These three examples show clearly the path followed of simplification and importance of line in the shapes of the image. Still Life with Bull’s Skull has the beginnings of using geometric pattern and line although the angles and flat planes seem confined to the surface and background rather than the objects themselves.  Still Life with Cheese follows through the line of the surface into the objects making pattern with geometric shapes and the final Still Life has completely simplified the image. I chose these three examples as I’m fairly sure the same jug or coffee pot was used in each arrangement and further illustrates the way Picasso has chosen to represent it.

Examples of Contemporary Artists Interpretation of the Genre

Coming to this section, I was keen to explore a photographer I had seen recreating 17th Century Dutch still life paintings with photography.  I had seen a BBC documentary exploring the genre of Still Life painting and had intended to refer to it for this research, however, it is no longer available on iPlayer and I can not remember the name of the photographer highlighted in the program.  Searching the web I came across this photographer making this very subject matter.  Here is a link to his website:

http://levinrodriguez.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/reproducing-dutch-golden-age-still-life.html

It is intriguing as to how complex it is to set up the arrangement and particularly, the lighting to recreate these paintings. It does, in fact, make me admire the skill in the masters of the genre even more.

With the digital age, Still Life can take on many different media, not only the traditional painting, printing and collage but photography (as touched on above).  Ori Gersht is an Israeli artist who has explored this with his Blow Up series of photographs.  He sets up his subjects and using cameras that are so fast ie 1/6,000 of a second, he can capture the exact instant the object (e.g. a vase of flowers) shatters – producing a still life of an explosive split second as if it hangs in suspension for his image and is truly still.

Another contemporary artist that I have seen a documentary about is Marc Quinn.  He has made a series of cast head sculptures of himself, arguably, it could be said that this is not a still life as such, however, the twist is that the moulds are filled with his own blood that his collects over time. These casts are kept frozen in a temperature controlled cabinet. Quinn creates a sculpture every 5 years to record the passage of time on his own features, and, if I remember correctly, contains the same amount of blood in volume as circulates through the body. Therefore, these works are truly still life. One of these sculptures is on display in the National Portrait Gallery and I can’t resist visiting it each time I’m there.

Research Point: Colour Theories of Chevreul and How Artists Have Applied Them

13 & 14/04/15

Michel Eugene Chevreul (1786 – 1889)

Find out more about the colour theories of Chevreul and make notes on how particular artists have used Chevreul’s theories to expand the possibilities of painting.

French Chemist of extensive scientific achievements, of which I’ll concentrate on his theories of colour. As Director of the Gobelins Manufactory in Paris – a dye works, he received complaints regarding the colour matching of the dyes produced for tapestries.  Particularly of blacks which appeared different when next to blues for example.  Chevreul discovered that perceived colour, when next to others, changed according to the adjacent colour, he called this the Concept of Simultaneous Contrast.

After much investigating and experimenting and giving extensive lectures in the subject, he wrote the book The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colours (published in English in 1854).

Chevreul’s findings influenced many things not least European art namely, Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism and Orphism or Orphic Cubism.

Whilst researching M. Chevreul’s theories, I came across a paper written by Georges Roque 2010, called Chevreul’s Colour Theory and its Consequences for Artists – Published by the Colour Group (Great Britain) http://www.colour.org.uk 2011.

I have included a link to this paper, as it is, although lengthy, concise and above all interesting and readable.   http://www.colour.org.uk/Chevreuls%20Law%20F1%20web%20good.pdf

Some points I found particularly fascinating:

  • The eye deceives the brain (or is it the other way around) when viewing tones adjacent to each other.
    (See anecdote regarding a court case between a wallpaper manufacturer and wealthy client – one disagreeing with the other as to the reproduction of a grey in the design, one saying it is absolutely the correct grey, the other saying it had a reddish tint. Chevreul brought as expert witness deduced both were correct, in isolation, the grey was accurate, yet against the background colour (green), it did indeed have a reddish tint).
  • I tried the experiment mentioned regarding a red dot on white paper, in that when viewed for a period of time, a pale green (blueish green in my case) glow appeared around the red dot, and when one looks away from the red dot, a greenish dot is seen against the white of the paper. Being a tad pedantic, I also tried this with a green dot and lo and behold a pale pink (we can say pale red if you like) glow appeared around the green! Blue – Gave pale orange! Okay, I believe him that this is the origin of complimentary colours. It appears to be a natural phenomena that occurs due to how our eyes work!
  • Colour mixing can be with coloured light or coloured pigment.
    Colour mixing with light is additive and more pure, and when equal intensities of colour are mixed it produces white.
    Colour mixing with pigment is subtractive and less pure, and when equal intensities of colour are mixed it produces black.

How Particular Artists have Used Chevreul’s Theories to Expand the Possibilities of Painting

Again. Georges Roque’s paper is very useful and informative, it is the fundamental reason for his writing it.  Without being too lazy, I have used the artists mentioned and researched them in this regard.

Eugene Delacroix (1798 – 1863)

Almost 10 years ago I had the opportunity to spend the entire day, unaccompanied by a bored spouse, in the Louvre, Paris. My most memorable part of this mammoth painting viewing extravaganza, was the wonderful paintings of Delacroix.  They were strong in colour, brushwork, story and passion and often of shocking subjects, yet they were still easy to view. How did he do this? It seems from Georges Roque’s research, that Delacroix was very interested in Chevreul’s theories and lectures. He made a triangular diagram in a sketchbook illustrating the relationships of complimentary colours which he used to bring harmony to his paintings.  He was also adept at bringing mood and meaning to his images by his use of colour.  One of my favourite paintings from that day was The Death of Sardanapalus, this seems to have been painted prior to Chevreul’s lectures on colour harmony, however, shows his natural affinity with colour and maybe why he became so interested in Chevreul in later years.  Learning the reason why something works so well helps recreate desired results.

Camille Pissarro (1830 -1903)

The only artist spanning both Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist movements. Chevreul’s theories are often related to these styles of painting as they shared a desire to recreate the colour and luminosity of light in nature.  Pissarro, as did other Impressionists, used complimentary colours to give life and light to his paintings, using local colour in shadows to bring a cohesive and harmonious appearance. Keen to expand knowledge and push theories, Pissarro became close to Georges Seurat and Paul Signac and explored the practice of pointillism. Examples of the use of complimentary colours to bring vibrancy and harmony being Old Chelsea Bridge London 1871 (Smith College Museum of Arts), *Toit Rouges, Coin d’un Village, Hiver, Cote de Sainte-Denis, Pontoise 1877 (Musee d’Orsay, Paris), the Garden of Pontoise 1877 and Children on a Farm 1887.

*Translation: Red Roofs, Corner of a Village, Winter, Cote de Sainte-Denis, Pontoise.

Georges Seurat (1859 – 1891)

Credited with the creation of Chromoluminanism or Divisionism: Maximum luminosity, separation of colours, dots or marks that interact visually;
Pointillism: Dots of paint not necessarily with separation of colours.

Interestingly, Seurat also studied Delacroix’s use of colour. He believed that harmony and emotion can be evoked with colour – refer again to Delacroix. Seurat took the science available to him vie Chevreul, Charles Blanc (a French art critic, who took Chevreul’s theories and applied then specifically to art) and Ogden Rood (again looking at colour theory and its application in art, was an American physicist). Referring back to Georges Roque’s paper, he notes that art historian Robert L Herbert discounts the claim of optical mixing and it has had some negative criticism in more recent times, however, even if the eye doesn’t exactly mix the colours, Divisionism and Pointillism does offer a high degree of luminosity in paintings.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890)

As the paper of Chevreul by Georges Roque specifically comments on Van Gogh’s colour techniques (using quotes from his letters to brother Theo re Bedroom in Arles 1888), I will not repeat his conclusions, but refer to how this brilliant man with a delicate mind used his colours to again describe mood and emotion. He seemed to feel everything deeply and his adoption of some of the techniques used by Seurat and Paul Signac with dots of colour, helped him put these emotions into his paintings.  It seems to me this was a natural progression for Van Gogh as he was a master of mark making in his bamboo pen and ink drawings that he should find a way to combine this with complimentary colour juxtaposition. He seemed particularly taken with yellow/orange with blue. See:

The Cafe Terrace 1888
Van Gogh’s Chair 1888
The Starry Night 1889
The Sower 1888
and on and on…

Paul Klee (1879 – 1940)

An artist I am not overly familiar with and worth my revisiting at a later date. As noted in my course notes he was an artist and a teacher within the Bauhaus movement. I haven’t yet found much information relating to his colour theories, however, I noted a similar vein of thought to that of Georges Seurat. Both refer to the emotion, expression, rhythm in colour and structure of drawing and painting in a similar way that a musician uses counterpoint in composing harmony in music.

I have finally found a paper written by Roy Osbourne called Colour School (Thoughts on the Teaching of Colour Theory)

http://www.coloracademy.co.uk/ColorAcademy%202006/subjects/education/education1.htm

This refers to Paul Klee, Johannes Itten (1888 – 1967) and Joseph Albers (1888 – 1976).

In this link, Paul Klee refers to transparent colour mixing with watercolour – as crossed my mind when reading about colour mixing with light – does this refer to transparent colour? Although when mixed together, blue, red and yellow watercolour does mix to white but can some of the theory be applied – it certainly doesn’t mix to black???  No it refers to light and watercolour is pigment however transparent, I can see how confusion was caused – my head is spinning. Am now looking forward to the colour mixing exercises to answer and more than likely pose more questions.

Research via Wikipedia and Hints, Tips & Techniques, Colour Mixing Published by Winsor & Newton ColArt Fine Art & Graphics Ltd 1997. (Specifically The Terminology of Colour Theory)