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!
Giacometti – Self Portrait – 1921 – 32 x 28 in – oil on canvas
Giacometti’s command of composition is absolutely marvellous in this superb painting.
I will focus on his wonderful integration of the figure with the other elements in the composition. Let’s begin with how your eye is taken across the painting from the seat of the chair, along the bottom of his jacket, to the bottom of his right leg, then you are guided up to the verticals behind. Another beautiful integration is how the curve at the bottom of his pant leg rhythmically connects to the curved element to the left, which in turn, guides you up to his hand. I love it! Also take note how the bottom of his trousers connects to the lower edge of his other leg and how the bottom of his pant leg then integrates with the chair leg. I was and still am taken with how he integrated the other chair leg (between his legs) with his pant leg. Can you feel how the angle in the chair runs into his pants creating a small blue triangle? (see detail)
This very impressive small dark blue triangle provides a sense of overlapping. The top edge of this gorgeous little triangle also parallels a dark line above which in turn integrates with the edge of his palette. Can you feel the movement and shapes? There is also another sense of an angle at the bottom of the dark line (creating another plane) which parallels the angle in the chair leg. There is more. That dark line also connects to a subtle purple line which carries downward into his leg, creating another wonderfully subtle triangle.
Note the line just to the left of his pocket and how this guides you up to the front of his neck and how his chin and his collar connect to the horizontals behind. Just one more, it’s how he leads you upwards through his arm from the opening in his jacket.
There is more for you to engage with, and I hope you enjoy this wonderful early composition by this twentieth century master. I am impressed with how Giacometti permitted to show Cézanne’s influence.
Willem de Kooning - The Glazier - 1940 - 137 x 112 cm - 54 x 44 in - oil on canv
In this painting Willem de Kooning conveys his superb understanding of spatial planes. The sophistication of his considerations is very impressive, providing a sense of space without the appearance of freezing the subject matter, as we would see with traditional perspective. If he had used representational detail and modelling, the image would appear frozen in time, in the same way a photo captures the moment. This would be fine if that was the intent, and fortunately de Kooning and many other artists wanted to delve further, and explore the possibilities of planes and time in painting.
Let’s begin with the five vertically arranged planes at the right which include the mirror behind the vase Their positions are intentionally ambiguous in space, inviting the viewer to determine where they should be. Note how the plane in the table cloth connects to the upper three and how the bottom right of the painting is a plane as well. We sense flatness and depth simultaneously. We feel time because it is not clear where they are in the space because de Kooning intentionally leaves that for us to determine.
I am very impressed with how de Kooning integrated the figure with the plane (the mirror) with the brown triangle, (which is another plane). How he integrated the triangle with the figure is masterful. The top edge connects to the left shoulder and the bottom carries across the figure to another brown triangle. This is truly sophisticated.
The ambiguity and sense of planes at the left of the figure, from the ear down providing a feeling of movement is magnificent. His knowledge of the considerations in early twentieth century art is very apparent, and I feel he is truly mastering time and planes in this wonderful painting, especially between the figures legs. Ask yourself why he painted this the same colour as the pants and then you will sense a plane, emphasized by that wonderful vertical black line. Also, there is a wonderful curve at the top of the right leg giving us another sense of a plane.
One more beautiful consideration before I leave you to engage further with this wonderful painting. There is a subtle triangular plane overlapping the brown triangle pointing towards the face. Do you feel the plane it provides? Fantastic.
Giorgio Morandi - Still Life - 1920 - 50 x 52 cm - oil on canvas
Giorgio Morandi - Still Life - 1958-oil - 36 x 41 cm - oil on canvas
Morandi’s path is a wonderful study of searching for the essential through restriction of the subject matter. I admire his discipline and the sophistication of his mature work.
Like most of us, his early work was focused on developing figurative skills. Now when he began conveying the essence of the subject matter is difficult to say and of course it happens over time and study. He was well educated in the wonderful considerations in modern painting, and connected to seeking the prime in things.
Here we have two still life paintings thirty eight years apart, which clearly shows his evolution through reduction. Morandi’s focus in his 1920 Still Life (which has a Cezanne influence) was depiction. This is perfectly fine and time honoured. He has allowed some distortion but representing the objects is the intent. We take in the objects, we see but we don’t feel their relationships.
In his 1958 painting his considerations are very different. We instantly connect or “feel” the relationships of the objects. Why is that? I’m not going to impose my analysis on you. I would rather you feel the painting, as I do, and permit yourself time to embrace Morandi’s sensitivity. What is important to know is that Morandi’s understood “primitivism” which is the connection to our prime.
A very sophisticated consideration and I find It truly wonderful how the connection deepens each time I visit his mature paintings. .
Two Boxes – 2012 – 23 x 33 cm – mixed water soluble media
This recent painting is an excellent example of how I permit influences to show in my paintings. My first consideration in this composition is the feeling of the space between the orange chair and the blue boxes and the use of spatial planes (Paul Cezanne). I also refined the composition through reduction (Ben Nicholson), and determined eye movement with Paul Klee’s approach to guiding the viewer’s perusal. I’m not thinking of these masters when working on the painting, but recognize their influences afterwards.
My own sensibilities are prominent, which have developed over time through studying many wonderful artists. Their work and knowledge has provided me with a strong foundation. The key is appreciating the process of the masters.
The spatial planes are very important and fascinating, as they can be quite elusive when developing the sense of space. They usually require a considerable amount of time to feel or refine, (which suits my temperament), ensuring continuity in my work.
Thank you Cezanne for this beautifully open consideration!
Henri Matisse - First Orange Still Life - 1899 - 56 x 73 cm - oil on canvas
Permitting the work of notable artists to show in your development has a great tradition, and can lead to a commitment or direction. The key is being aware of the difference between influence and copying.
The above development level painting by Matisse is a good example of having too many considerations . We have difficulty moving gracefully through the painting because he is more focused on information (what he sees), rather than adjusting for the sake of composition.
Henri Matisse - Still Life with Oranges II - 1899 - 47 x 55 cm - oil on canvas
In this painting, done in the same year, Matisse is permitting Cezanne’s considerations of reduced modelling by allowing shapes and colour to come forth. He has become aware of the power of shapes and colour and how to use them to create harmony in composition. We see this in the fruit, the cup and the pitcher as well as the large shapes in the background. How he chose where not to use shadows is impressive because he is freeing himself from depiction. He reduced the fruit on the table to coloured circles because through studying Cezanne, he realized that modelling would only disrupt the rhythm of the circles and unnecessarily clutter the painting, as we see in “First Orange Still Life” above.
He did not copy, as he flattened the fruit more than Cezanne had done. We see the influence as well as the next step towards what we see as a Matisse.
Showing influence and acknowledging it is a great way to develop.
Piet Mondrian - Still Life with Ginger Jar II - 1912 - 91 x 125 cm - oil on canvas
Mondrian’s dedication to refining the consideration of spatial planes as presented by Cezanne is most impressive and it the beginning of his journey towards abstraction. It is important to note that most abstract art has a figurative base, and I think it is fair to say Mondrian was one of the few who managed to venture beyond the figurative, which will take a few years for him to achieve.
In this painting we see the early steps of his journey by reducing and raising the subject matter towards the picture plane. He also breaks the space into planes as well which unifies the subject matter and the space it occupies
This wonderful refinement of cubism is truly a great step in art which is still difficult for many to accept, and I think it is much closer to our reality than traditional depiction or perspective. We don’t live in a world with perspective because we and every thing else are constantly moving through time, and in painting, spatial planes provide the viewer the ability to move around, (in their minds), in the paintings.
Mondrian, Picasso, Braque and other notable artists of the time, understood this, and journeyed through the door Cezanne presented to them, leading the way to the wonderful world of twentieth century painting.
Piet Mondrian - Still Life with Jinger Jar I - 1912 - 65 x 75 cm - oil on canvas
This painting by Mondrian is an excellent example of master painters permitting influences to show in their work. Mondrian is acknowledging the importance of the great considerations of Cezanne, and his refinements are wonderful.
In this painting he provides a balance between traditional representation and the new approach to creating the sense of space. We see this at the bottom right where he provided a couple of angles and a horizontal line. These create planes in space which are meant to be felt more than seen. Can you feel the space in front of the table?
When we focus on the drapery we sense volume and space through the feeling of overlapping triangles which also are raised towards the picture plane. What impresses me is that diagonal which seems to come forth and how it also parallels beautifully with a second angle, the one connecting to the top of the blue ginger jar. Again try to feel the space between the parallels.
When these spatial considerations were coming to the forefront in painting something interesting also took hold. It was the idea of suggesting rather than explaining, and Mondrian displays this idea in how he treats the subject matter in the upper right of the picture.This is just one of the seeds that will eventually lead Mondrian towards abstraction.
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 - Large Landscape with Trees - 1955 - 114 x 162 cm - oil on canvas
This great landscape by Balthus is a superb example of the power of shapes and rhythm. Before we get to that I would like to emphasise that Balthus is conveying a poetic scene for our engagement, and very aware that most of us will sense the sophistication without the need to analyse the composition.
Now to the great pleasure of analysing his masterful composition. Lets begin with the powerful large shape formed by the wall at the right and the hedge leading us across the painting to the dark trees at the left edge. Also the fields could be combined to form the feeling of a very large shape which dramatically draws us in. For me, the key of this brilliant arrangement of shapes is the power of the angle formed by the wall and the hedge, which contains and embraces the focus of the man and the horse.
The rhythms within this shape are wonderful, and I marvel at his level of contemplation. I love how poetically every tree supports the communication between the man and the horse. How the rhythm of the delicate light trees harmonize with their gestures and how the wonderful vertical ones gracefully support the figure. Note how the right leaning rhythm of the trees ends with ends by connecting to the tree leaning to the left, which in turn is supported by three trees at the left. Can you feel the harmony?
I will finish with the relationship of the dark tree just above the figure and how it relates, in shape and size, with that fantastic pull in the field above. One of the best pulls I have seen. You may carry on, as there are many other beautiful notes for you to discover.
Balthus was a great master of composition.