Saturday, July 11, 2009

Impressionism - Mary Cassatt

To the Impressionists, color was not an art property, but a property of light and atmosphere.

Édouard Manet used really very little color, and strong black. He worked with cool and warm [as in classical composition].

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, in his early work, used lots of white, working back in with tints.

Renoir's composition used units of people played against each other.

Whistler and the American Impressionists were subtle, sophisticated, tasteful.

Mary Cassatt's work was light and aesthetic. 

Cassatt used different theme colors in different paintings.

Cassatt was a master of both line and paint:

In color, the complement was hidden around in small quantities.

In line, Cassatt contrasted long lines to detail areas.

Good color is based on underlying structure

The artists we know as master colorists still balance their composition first, building up a need for their color accents, i.e. Degas, Gauguin, Redon, Toulouse Lautrec, and the Nabis. In other words, the composition one at first notices from their use of color is based on an already-established compelling composition.

Degas' art is made of a strong tone picture overlaid with a color picture. See, for example, "At the Theater". 

In fact, Van Gogh and all the top colorists were tone artists in the beginning (as were all classically-trained artists at the time).

Les Nabis

Vuillard was a master of nuances of color. His color combinations actually start to vibrate. The way to get Vuillard's effect is to start with wash, then add dry colors.

Bonnard  is special for the silvery quality of his color and light.
Bonnard doesn't repeat how he treats objects across picture.

Friday, July 10, 2009


I'm not a huge fan of any of the art we just reviewed (except Caravaggio for his use of light and interesting viewpoints). It feels too static and staid compared to modern art (to me). 

But we will see that a lot of modern artists based their compositions on the classical composition of earlier artists. However, they often hid it subtly under brighter colors, more splashy brushwork, and/or more contemporary themes. 

A very strong example of the use of underlying composition is the art of Edgar Degas (1834–1917 - Impressionism). Although a master of 3D modeling, his work also always eventually becomes a strong 2D composition. Degas had both strong subjective interest (subject matter, emotion, story-telling), and strong abstract interest. 

One example of this is Degas' "Woman in the Bath" of 1886. Without the hoop, this would have been a flat picture.

Degas used none of the Renaissance rules of foreshortening i.e. the woman's back is not in classical perspective, not does it use the play of angles to curves.

And Degas' composition is not the clumping of figures used in the Renaissance, nor the running rhythm of Mannerism, nor the spiral of the Baroque. Picture after picture, Degas made strong use of diagonals, circles, and planes to add dynamism to a scene.

Also notice how his repetition of and within forms builds on the eye's natural movement to parallels on repeated forms.

Even when one doesn't notice it because it fits the theme, Degas cultivated his two-dimensional composition. For example, in this picture, the figure's legs, which would not have fit well with the 2D scheme Degas was developing (a sideways V), are putout of the way with the placement of a table. Or one can use an area of shadow for a similar purpose.

Ingres - modeling 3

More examples of Ingres' long line on one side, with curves and angles on the other.

Ingres - modeling 2

Here are some examples of how Ingres modeled his figures.

"Long line" on one side, angles to curves on the other:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ingres - modeling 1

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) is also considered a Neoclassicist, but in the areas of drawing, modeling, and composition, his work is of special interest.

Ingres is the master of the "long line" - the line that never ends, but instead becomes something else. Here are examples of using the "long line" in drawing:

Composition - Neoclassicism

Neoclassicism went back to the Renaissance (i.e. Michelangelo) for their composition.

Gericault (1791-1824) packaged his figures into larger shape with no beginning or end, i.e. "The Wives of the Sultan," and "The Raft of the Medusa":

Gericault's composed were often based on X diagonals, or what some see as intersecting triangles.

Delacroix (1798-1863), a Romantic, admired Gericault for composition but he wasn't really that good. Delacroix went back to the Renaissance for his composition.

Delacroix painted back into areas to get brush strokes  i.e. still life.

Van Gogh got this idea from Delacroix.

Corot (1796-1875) built up an all warm painting, then added a warm blue, 

which therefore appears very cool, very colorful and brilliant (or vice versa).

Composition - Rococo

Baroque evolved into Rococo.

Watteau (1684-1721) was transitional. Renoir greatly admired how Watteau composed groups.

In Rococo, continuity of rhythm, which had given way to counter rhythms (contrapposto), 

now gave way to rhythm on rhythm.

Tiepolo (1696-1770) was also transitional. 

Tiepolo used areas of shadow, created pockets of dark around forms.

Tiepolo started with one overall tone, then just cut into that with darks. 

He would mat out certain areas.

Tiepolo's composition used a clear background, middle ground,  and foreground. 

He collected forms into overall shape.

As opposed to Rubens (1577-1640), Tiepolo's modeling was lighter weight - core and tone.

Composition - Baroque

Things start to get more interesting in the history of art composition with Baroque art.

Federico Barocci (1535-1612) was transitional between Mannerism and Baroque. 

Barocci used connecting figures, and spiral arrangements. 

Barocci connected movement between figures with shadow areas and set up cross movement with the figure's arms.

Caravaggio (1573-1610), a star of Baroque art, was a formalist. Gestures and placement re-emphasize direction. 

Caravaggio put a straight line showing direction in a bunch of wavy lines, i.e. as in drapery, he would play folds and long lines against modeled lines.

More characteristics of the Baroque:

3D is hinted

- length (line-ups) 

- angles (even in curves).

Proportions were manipulated.

Spiraling forms

A figure's head might be in an off direction.

There are surprise forms with no transitions or flow.

The Mannerist running rhythm

changed to:


Monday, July 6, 2009

Composition - Mannerism

MANNERISM began contemporary with Michelangelo, 

but the Mannerists too went in a different direction.

The Mannerists' composition included unequal spacing and jumps.

i.e. the work of Pontormo (1494-1556).

Their drawing style used congestion, weird proportions, pulling of forms, and width changes: narrow to wide forms.

Parmigianino (1503–1540) contrasted big to small forms (i.e. muscle to wrist) in his modeling.

The contrapposto of the Renaissance (the figure standing with most of its weight on one foot so that its shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips and legs, giving the figure a more dynamic, or alternatively relaxed appearance) (i.e. Michelangelo's David) --- gave way to a running rhythm, with no counter movement.

Running rhythm:

El Greco (1541–1614) toned down the unequal spacing and jumps of the early Mannerists.

But El Greco's forms used rubber band stretches, distorts.

El Greco overstated themes, extended forms.

In his later work, El Greco even pinched forms.

El Greco presented the figure as the theme. Nearby objects echo the shape of the figure.

The composition lined up with outside contours, while the inside contour changes.

El Greco's work used a rise and a fall (in details and in whole picture).

In modeling, El Greco just catches the edge when he likes. 

El Greco used big brushes.

Composition - Late Renaissance

COMPOSITION - Late Renaissance:

Jacopo Bassano (1510-1592):

Bassano began something different: spirals, including the figure moving out of picture, looking back.

Something that wants to stay in the picture, something that doesn't.

Bassano used repeated forms, parallels, rhythms.

Bassano contrasted flat to round to flat, etc

Bassano would make the other arm or the other leg (next form) different, i.e. more break-ups, more modeling, very foreshortened, etc.

Bassano would put a static figure next to a moving figure, and then a static figure.


Form leading to structure provided the theme.

Bassano added pushes and pulls not found in nature.

To make form bulge, Bassano would make the form next to it small.

Attention to rest points (start and end) of curves to accentuate curves.

Bassano used hoops to emphasize/show roundness.

Lead in to picture, i.e. over hurdle of a back.

Tops and bottoms were emphasized (Breugel did this too): looking up and down.

Composition - High Renaissance

Giorgione (1477-1510)  

was the first to move the picture center over to one side.

Everything works around a center. Things move out of the picture.


Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Raphael (1483-1520) used gradual spacing, forms next to forms. Michelangelo's and Raphael's spacing was tight, compact, no open spaces.

Michelangelo's work is without caprice. It is formal like calligraphy. This is a change from Botticelli (1445 – 1510 Early Renaissance) who was influenced by the teachings of Savonarolla. Botticelli's goal was to produce the lovely (and the horrifying). Michelangelo's goal was to create the monumental.

Michelangelo's forms turn away or toward from the plane of the picture, rather than being flat/frontal, with spiral(s) around the form to show volume. The modeling of the figures was made to fit: shortening of a foot, small head if needed to maintain the composition. 


For variety, Michelangelo contrasted long to short forms, straights and curves, complex against simple treatment of areas.

In general, Italian art often used: one side form, other side space.