Balthus – Competing Considerations

Balthus – Solitaire – 1943 – 161 x 164 cm – oil on canvas

These two lovely paintings by Balthus executed ten years apart remind me of how many notable artists struggled with the competing considerations between composition and information in figurative painting.  Which is to be the primary intent, the level of accuracy or the arrangement and altering of the subject matter to lyrically convey feeling.  The choice is with the artist.

In the earlier painting Balthus leaned towards information, focusing on the the figure and her surroundings to ensure our recognition of the when and the where.  We see it in the furnishings, the decor in the room and the style of her clothing.  We are more involved with the information rather than the compositional relationships.

The composition is beautifully considered but is subordinate to the figurative considerations. This was his intent.
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Balthus – Patience – 1954-55 – 90 x 88 cm – oil on canvas

The second painting has a very different “feel” because we respond to relationships and harmony (either consciously or subconsciously) and these compositional considerations were foremost in his mind when working on the painting.

The rhythms and integrations are magnificent.

Let me begin with his sensitive reduction of the room to three horizontal divisions which provides the sense of place.  The tops of the table and stool add to the horizontal rhythmic structure.  I love the elegant vertical arrangement of the legs of the table and stool, with the candle stick and her upper arms.  Can you feel how the horizontal and vertical structure support and integrate with the figure?

Two magnificent integrations (or site paths) are apparent when we notice how the right leg of the table connects with the opening below her torso and right arm and how her left arm integrates with the cat’s tail.  Please note how the shape of the cat echoes the wonderful opening and is also in harmony with the curve of the top of her hair.

The dark patches on the cat also commands our eye to move across the bottom of the painting ensuring a beautiful rhythm supporting her shoe.  Imagine how awkward it would be to return from her black shoe without them.

The shadow from her shoe, the stool and table legs relate to her shadow on the table top. You are meant to feel the relationship rather than see it.

I must mention the subtle rhythmic support for her left wrist.  We sense connection to the shadow on the table which loops, embracing her focus.  The shape of her hair, the curve of the bottom of her sweater and the curve of the stripe on her skirt return us to her contemplation masterfully.  When we engage on this level we actually connect to the artist’s considerations when developing the composition.

We become engaged with the primary reason for the painting because there is less competitive representational detail.

Let us return to the other painting for comparison.  Take in the fingers on her left hand and the creases on her skirt.  They are very well painted of course but do they lead you away from her focus.  Maybe this is why they were changed in the later painting. There are many other adjustments for you to engage with.

We should be thankful to Balthus for presenting these two wonderful paintings for they do teach us how to appreciate art.

Matisse – Shapes and Eye Movement

Henri Matisse - Reader on a Black Background - 1939 - 92 x 74 cm

 

I love the way Matisse invites us to joyfully participate with his paintings.  My long standing admiration only increases with time.

In this posting I would like to focus on his beautifully choreographed shapes and eye movement.

By reducing the shapes to simple rectangles and ovals, he is able to focus on the relationships of these shapes, and guide us lyrically throughout the painting.  We move through the shapes because of his sensitivity to the spacing and integration.  Modelling or superfluous detail would only disrupt the harmony.

My own initial eye movement begins with the white rectangle.  Then, sensing the vertical integration upwards from its left edge, my eye moves to the light shape above the figure’s reflection.  The curved edge (partial oval) then carries me towards the rectangle with the figure drawing.  I then find my eye moving through the small white vertical rectangles to the blue shapes, which in turn guide me to the vertical green shape.  This leads my eye to the beautiful arrangement of ovals.

Another integrating eye path which I found exciting begins with the small black angle on the figure’s blouse, at the right arm.  Following its upward direction leads me to another line just above her head.  I hope you then can see the connection with a subtle series of parallels guiding our perusal through the red ovals and greenery to the hand of the figure drawing above.

I must point out an alternate path from the line just above her head.  It also connects to the reflection of her hair returning us to her face, providing wonderfully subtle containment.

I would like to finish with the orange oval feel of the figure’s legs.  If Matisse stayed within the lines, the lyrical harmony with her face would have been weakened.

There is so much more such as colour and pattern within shapes. I may do another post.

 

Klee – Reduction and Integration

Paul Klee - Forest Bird - 1920 - 14 x 22 cm - watercolour on chalk undercoat over gauze on paper

 

Klee is one of the great masters of colour and composition, as this gorgeous painting conveys.  I marvel at his sophistication and will do my best to convey his colour temperature ratio and rhythmic integrations.

Colour temperature ratio is the relationship of warm and cool.  We can see it in the influence of the cool blues on the warm orange and red shapes.  The blues poetically energize the warms without competing, creating lyrical variations that are music for the eye.

The black shapes are beautifully balanced and supported by the dark grayish shapes as well as three smaller brown shapes.  Can you feel the relationship of the bird’s gaze with the brown shape at the right edge of the painting and how the other two brown shapes return you to the bird? It’s wonderful.

The sensitive parallels provide a structural rhythm that is more felt than seen. One great example is the relationship of the bird’s front leg, the black line in its eye, the brown line under the orange circle and the black line leading to that magnificent green circle.  The other leg has parallel support as well.

The background shapes run into each other in a number of places, integrating the painting beautifully.   The bottom of the foreground shape of the bird’s neck connects to the edge of the blue shape beautifully.  Klee masterfully provides exceptions to the integrations such as the closed shapes of the circles and where the orange touches the blue just above the bird’s beak.  We sense the variation.

Klee used the consideration of pattern within shapes on the bird.  To hold the viewer just perfectly.

I think how Klee sensitively provides the feeling of the forest is magnificent and I absolutely love that green circle which is beyond explaining.

My Work – Shape Motifs, Reduction, Rhythm and Spatial Considerations

Blue Cup VI - 37 x 50 in - mixed media on canvas

This composition with my blue cup is a great example of reducing composition to an arrangement of shapes.  This seemingly basic approach opens the door to wonderful spatial ad rhythmic considerations.  The most important aspect of painting is the viewer’s engagement with how things relate, and one of the best ways to accomplish this is working with shape motifs.

This painting could be described as an arrangement of rectangles supported with a sub motif of ovals and a triangle.  The challenge is orchestrating them, which usually calls for considerable reworking, until I “feel” their relationships.  I become excited when this begins to happen and will stay with it no matter how many adjustments or refinements my sense of rhythm and harmony commands. I never tire of the process.

The primary relationship in this painting is between the cup and the rectangular pan.  The distance, or space, between has an energy which is embraced by the table top and supported by the rhythmic arrangement of the small white sketches.

Now to the very important play with lines and markings on the table.  I felt the ovals and half ovals needed rhythmic support.  Can you see the curved lines and feel their influence with the ovals?

The four lines (detail) between the cup and the pan were instinctively placed to support the four sketches. The triangle below was instinctively placed for a counter movement toward the sketches. There is also a small angle (detail) at the right which guides your eye back towards the sketches. 

The balance of the painting supports the rectangle motif with the lines at the top harmonizing with the horizontals of the table, especially the front edge.

A very important connection is a small line on the wall, just above the left edge of the soaking pan.  It carries you upward towards the strong white line carved into the painting.  I spent considerable time determining the placement, weight and length to harmonize its relationship with the cup and pan.  I also used the same consideration with the right edge of the cup and the edge of the white sketch above.

Striving to ensure every mark and shape have harmonious relationships and avoiding competition is the key.

If the shapes were not simple their relationships would not be felt as strongly.

 

 

Ben Nicholson – (Influences)

Ben Nicholson - Still Life (Violin) - 1932 - 30 x 24 in - oil and gesso on board

 This painting is an excellent example on how artists allow recent influences to show in their development.  Nicholson engaged with Cubism as a means to refine and personalize his awareness of this major development in contemporary painting, and used it to provide a solid foundation for his journey towards abstraction.  Here, like Picasso and Braque, he uses the picture plane while simultaneously shifting our view to provide the sense of space.

The lines of the grid are both in front and behind the violin, conveying the feeling of space.   I love the repeating rhythm of a series of vertical rectangles and how their dance gently contains my perusal.  Can you feel how the white one is nearer and the others recede? You are meant to sense this dance rather than see the harmony they provide in the composition.  The two verticals patterned with dots is open to interpretation ( I think of the act of playing the instrument and the rhythmic lines at the upper left is the sound of the music.)

The wonderful “shifting of space” in the body of the violin, the positioning of the F-holes and showing us the side view of the neck and scroll not only shows Nicholson’s understanding of cubism, it also shows us his restraint and refinement of this great consideration in twentieth century painting.

Balthus – ( Rhythmic Integration and Motifs)

Balthus - The Bouquet of Roses on the Window - 1958 - 53 x 51 in - oil on canvas

Balthus shows us how elegant a very popular subject can be.  It’s not the subject, but rather his interpretation and knowledge of composition that makes the painting great.  In this posting I will focus on how he supports, or as I prefer, how he integrates the flowers with the fields and trees behind.

Lets begin with the tree to the right and how the circular shapes in the foliage harmonize with the flowers and also lead your eye towards the bouquet.  Another great relationship is how the top shape in the tree echoes the shape of the largest rose.   Balthus rhythmically uses a circular motif, which is very sensitive and sophisticated.  Also, can you feel your eye being carried upwards from the lower part of the rose through the smaller rose then connecting to the tree through the leaf?   A great example of how poetic integration can be.
I should mention another very sensitive integration.  There is a small “S” like vertical line in the field at the upper right.  I hope you can feel how the line rhythmically integrates with the delicate tree at the bottom right.  It is meant to be felt, even subconsciously, more than seen.

Now to the left of the flowers where the rhythmic movement of the foreground trees integrate beautifully with the bouquet.  I am taken with how the small rose bud flows into the large tree and how the leaf just below the bud integrates with movements in the field, especially the curved one below the tree which harmonizes beautifully with the curve in the leaf.

I have only touched on a very few of many sophisticated considerations in this painting and I hope you will try to discover more of them.  One I would like to mention is how Balthus emphasized the shading in the shutter to connect to the distant hill, the green field as well as the hedge.  Everything is assessed with composition in mind.  I also love the triangle motif harmonizing the fields with the windowsill.  His thoroughness is masterful!

Nicholson – Rhythm, Time, Space and Colour

Ben Nicholson - Still Life with Jugs and Mugs -1929 - 38 x 56 cm - oil and pencil on canvas

This, what may seam to be a simple painting is really very sophisticated, and Nicholson was successfully developing his approach to the wonderful spatial considerations being refined in the twentieth century.

He has subtly provided us a sense of movement (our movement) by altering our position in space when we view the mugs from above and from a level position simultaneously.  You are meant to sense it more than to see it, and the sophistication of his elegant simplicity is wonderful.

I love how he also provides us with the sense of space by rendering the mug handles in front of the mugs.  This has stayed with me for years and I hope you can you feel and appreciate it.  The handles also provide a lovely rhythm, integrating the two mugs with the jug at the right.  Nicholson also provided other beautiful rhythms with the vertical bands on lower mug and the horizontal bands of colour on the pictures and the mug in the centre, which obviously brings us to the focus with strong use of colour.  I feel the strong white shape balances with the strong combination of the green and reds and their combined power is on the verge of dominating.  This is a great example of colour ratio, or in other words not having the colour compete or dominate the wonderful subtle considerations in the rest of the composition.

It is a joy to engage with Nicholson’s wonderful journey towards becoming a true master.

Balthus – (Rhythm, Integration and Motifs)

Balthus - The Sheep Farm - 1957 - 1960 - 50 x 102 cm - oil on canvas

I find myself revisiting Balthus for his work to remind myself how thoroughly composition can and should be assessed.  I always discover something new, reminding me that there are no limits to refining a composition whether representational or abstract.  I think it’s rather comforting knowing a work will never be fully realized. Time and experience will determine how well we do or assess.

Painting cultivated land provides a wonderful opportunity for integrating and developing rhythm in a painting and Balthus has done it beatufully in this serene farm scene.  We are harmoniously guided through the landscape to the gorgeous group of buildings which Balthus adjusts to harmonize with the land.   There are a number of pathways and rhythmic lines and shapes leading us to the buildings and I will guide you through a few.

Lets begin with a series of parallels which lead you towards the focus from the left of the painting.  Your eye will run along the line with a little shed and you will then feel yourself gracefully moving to the buildings when you sense the rhythmic parallels below.  You are also sensitively directed towards the buildings from the upper left and right of the painting.  I marvel at how he supports the rhythmic movements with absolutely wonderful structure,  integrating the fields with the buildings.  He accomplished this with triangles which provide the primary motif of the composition.

I am very impressed with how Balthus adjusted the shapes of the buildings to harmonize with the land and discovering the reason for that small dark vertical at the bottom was a pleasure.  It provides subtle structure and integrates with a leaning bush above which directs you to the buildings.

I must also the beautiful embracing arch above the large building and how it integrates with the buildings bringing us to the wonderful white shape, which is actually the focus.  When you view the light areas on the buildings can you feel the pull of the tiny white shed at the left?

I will always return to appreciate and learn.

 

 

Bonnard – (Providing Structure, Rhythm and Harmony)

Pierre Bonnard - Landscape Near Vernon - 1915 - 38 x 56 cm - oil

This landscape by Bonnard is a superb example of how a master, whether instinctively or intentionally, provides structure when developing a composition. I say this because a good artists will not permit their formulas to overrule their intuition.

There is a wonderful horizontal rectangle formed by a small white vertical at it’s left and a small bright green tree providing the right vertical,  the top is formed by a roadway running behind the tree.  When you see it and feel it’s impact on the composition, I hope you will appreciate the sophistication.  And remember the viewer does not have to see it, a master is very aware of the power of suggestion and knows we connect to shapes subconsiously.

The tree shapes are magnificent.  Try to feel the movement provided by the parallels of their shapes, particularly that wonderful squarish shape at the right edge and how it supports the other two trees.

I must also mention the harmonious movement in the sky.  There is a square like indentation in the tree at the right edge, which provides the sense of a parallel movement with the other trees and the placement of the cloud above creates the same movement in the blue sky.  I hope you can feel it as well as the wonderful integration of the other clouds with the trees.

There is another beautifully assessed rhythm leading us into the composition from the left.  The harmonious relationship of the three white verticals and the white vertical which forms the left edge of that marvelous rectangle.

Bonnard was a great master painter.

 

Cezanne – (Rhythm, Parallels and Integration)

Paul Cezanne - The Great Pine (Mont Sainte-Victoire) - 1886 - 60 x 73 - oil on canvas

Cezanne did a number of paintings of Mont Sainte – Victoire which is fortunate for us as we can see the consistencies in his compositions.  These paintings show us that repeating and refining is a strength in art.

We see the same considerations in this composition as the last post.  It takes time and a great deal of effort to develop a masterful composition and good artists will continue to refine the endless possibilities.  I think the first composition in a series, whether figurative or abstract, is an opening to infinite refinements   We see this in the work of most masters, no matter what their discipline.

I don’t know which of these paintings was first, no matter, what is important is we see the same rhythms and integrations.  What matters is each painting required its own refinements which are assessed differently to suit each composition.  In other words has it’s own voice.  One key difference are the angles we see in the branches, paralleling the road and other lines in the fields.  Wonderful integration providing oblique movement leading into the composition from the bottom right and great structure.  I also love the sophistication of how that black rectangle provides the focus.  Also, note the green line coming up from the tree towards the black rectangle is fantastic!  Do you see the triangle it creates reinforcing the importance of the rectangle?

There is also a harmonious rhythmic line running across the bottom, supporting the rhythm of the branches. I must also point out the parallel lines in the mountain directing us towards the black rectangle.

What a painter!