Vincent Van Gogh - Still Life of Oranges and Lemons with Blue Gloves - 1889 - 48 x 62 cm -oil on canvas
One of the primary considerations in composition is shapes, and the awareness of not disrupting the shapes with detail and modelling. This can be quite elusive as most painters want to convey their attention to detail, which unfortunately can muddle the foundation of a composition. And when artists put information before harmony and rhythm, they may sense disappointment with the results. Van Gogh has shown us how beautifully this can be avoided in this wonderful still life.
The composition is comprised of four “oval” shapes on two flat horizontal shapes. He did not clutter the foreground and background with superfluous detail.
How Van Gogh harmonized the fruit with the shape of the basket is masterfully painted. If you blur your eyes you can feel the shape! He was also very careful with the darker shapes as well, not only with their shapes, but also with very sophisticated integration.
We see this with the branch connecting with the left of the basket, the finger of the glove, and branches at the right. Note how the branch at the right pointing upword integrates with the dark oval at the top left, and how the gloves connect to the the one at the right. Your eye follows the top glove then rhythmically connects to the bottom of the branch at the right.
There is an integrating rhythm in this painting that always excites me for it’s sophistication. The three stripes on the glove not only integrate with the basket with colour but also with a beautiful note in the basket, the small dark lines connecting an orange and a lemon. (see detail)
This is very sophisticated! And there is more for you to discover. Enjoy!
Henri Matisse - Zorah on the Terrace - 1912 - 116 x 100 cm - oil on canvas
In this painting Matisse shows us the importance of shape motifs and how the reductive process brings forth sophistication.
Let me begin with the rhythm we sense from his wonderful motif of ovals. The harmony of the three ovals of the fish bowl integrating with the oval forming the lower portion of the kneeling figure is truly elegant. Another rhythm of shapes is the arrangement of, may I term, pointed ovals. The fish, her slippers and that wonderful orange one just below her belt. There are more within the slippers and of course colour temperature comes into play with the warms harmonizing with her face.
This brings me to another question which I think shows us Matisse’s level of sophistication. Why doesn’t the white and blue design of her garment continue up to her shoulders? The reason, I feel, is if the strong pattern continued it would be competing with her face which is the focus of the composition. Having reduced the contrast by almost blending the pattern with the background is superb.
How Matisse reduced the architecture and light to simple lines and shapes is revolutionary, and will greatly influence twentieth century art. We respond to the colours and interpret with our senses!
Matisse has provided artists the opportunity of refining, by reducing information, (removing the superfluous), which is a fascinating pursuit.
I would also like to mention another very refined use of integration. Go to the top right of the carpet. Can you feel a connection running through her arm to the dark rectangle shape? Can you feel a plane coming forth? I hope you can.
Pierre Bonnard - The Vigil - 1921 - 96 x 125 cm - 38 x 51 in - oil on canvas
One terrific way to provide unity and harmony is to restrict your palette, so your composition will have either a cool or warm feeling.
Bonnard does this in this delightful warm painting, and the viewer immediately responds to the temperature. We are then directed through the painting by very interesting considerations and I’m sure Bonnard is intentionally pushing our sense of harmony.
The strength of the striped half oval at the left is dominating almost to the point of disharmony and his solutions are very impressive. The two yellow stripes on the baby’s blanket. (she seems to be comforting a baby) We can’t help moving from the semi circle to the yellow cushion on the chair, and then to those two marvelous stripes. Do you feel their strength and how they balance the composition? They also direct us to the yellow partial oval at the upper left, which has a wonderful dark line taking us back to the striped tablecloth. Brilliant!
I should also point out the dark shapes at the left which hold us in the composition as well as the wonderful oval motif. Also note the the darkish shape with subtle stripes (very important) between the chairs, connecting the dog’s gaze with the mother and her baby.
We stay with the dog’s vigil, which of course is what Bonnard wants the us to enjoy. The sophistication of the composition permits this.
Don Farrell - Three Drawers - 1999 - 33 x 45 cm - 13 x 17.5 in - water soluble media
The arrangement of the drawers is the key for the rest of the composition. I decided to supported the sweeping movement of the drawer faces with a curve in the table front at the bottom right, which felt very rhythmic. And to complete the harmony I provided a shadow at the top, echoing the movement of the drawers. Do you feel the rhythm?
I was pleased, but there was a problem with the viewers eye leaving the composition at the right. The stripes provided a solution, not only for containment but also a lovely pause (the small black marks in the stripes) appeared.
I was now pleased with the movement to the right, and instinctively knew the need to return the viewer to the left. After several attempts I finally arrived at a solution that not only balanced the composition, but also rhythmically integrated the drawers and the background. I added those two dark circular shadows at the upper left and then provided a harmony by painting knobs on just two of the drawers.
I should also mention that the angle of the drawer, at the right, determined the location of the two shadows. Do you feel the connection?
I then painted the horizontal white line to support the table and a cast shadow at the bottom left which provides a lead into the painting.
I also assessed all the smudges, scratches and markings throughout the composition for indications of disharmony, which usually requires a few visits.
I find it is much more interesting to permit the composition to lead me rather than to force the preconceived detail to dictate.
Vincent van Gogh - Portrait of Doctor Paul Gachet - 1890 - 66 x 57 cm - 26 x 22.5 in - oil on canvas
There is so much to appreciate in the wonderful painting by Van Gogh. And I would like to talk about some of his very sophisticated considerations, such as temperature ratio, integration, parallels, and his superb value assessment.
Lets begin with temperature ratio, or if you prefer, harmonizing warm and cool colours. An artist is always presented with this is very interesting consideration. When are the colours in harmony or when do they compete? And painters have to rely on their senses to determine the difference.
In this painting the ratio between cool and warm is beautifully balanced. Having the background and his coat very similar in temperature, is very sophisticated, and permit the warm colours to sing!
I love how sensitive the values are in the face and hands Van Gogh took great care with not permitting the details the disrupt the shapes and their temperature. Superb visual poetry!.
I will continue in the next posting
Vincent van Gogh - The Street Menders - 1889 - 71 x 93 cm - 28 x 37 in - oil on canvas
Van Gogh’s considerations for the viewer are absolutely superb. He orchestrates your eye movement across the composition beautifully.
Lets begin with a question. Why is the lower portion of the tree at the right a darker value the the rest of the tree? The answer is Van Gogh has provided a pull for the focus. In other words when you look at the primary figure you eye wants move to the dark trunk because it is in harmony with the figure.
The two dark figures are also pulls and provide a second pause in the harmony of the three dak values.
Another harmony is three red notes. The window, the red beside the dark tree trunk and the worker’s hat.
I love how Van Gogh used doorways and the red window to integrate the figures. Can you feel the vertical connections?
There is an integration which excited me which I hope you will appreciate. There is a angled black line in the tree to the right of the two workers at the centre of the painting (see detail below)
The Street Menders - detail
The line is in harmony with the right side of the figure at the left. This excites me because I can feel Van Gogh assessing the composition. And I think this is a exceptional integration.
The title is interesting because the street workers are barely noticeable. Why? Because Van Gogh did not want information to disrupt his chosen harmony.