Figure Composition IMPRESSIONISM An Impressionist painting is concerned with light. It is a record of a particular scene at a particular time of day, emphasising atmosphere rather than detail.
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An Impressionist painting is concerned with light. It is a record of a particular scene at a particular time of day, emphasising atmosphere rather than detail.
An Impressionist painting, being concerned with light, is also concerned with colour. The Impressionists claimed that even the darkest shadows contained colour. This “broken colour” was an essential characteristic of their technique.
Many Impressionists’ compositions show accidental effects, rather similar to the snapshot qualities of the camera - as if a scene had just been encountered by chance.
The Loge by Auguste Renoir
On the balcony by Edouard Manet
Degas was trained in the tradition of Ingres. His ambition was to be accepted by the establishment and have his work shown at the official Salon - which was virtually the only place where an artist could become known to the general public.
Degas only began to explore modern subjects late in the 1860s. These subjects had been regarded as trivial and lacking nobility.
Although grouped under the Impressionists, he did not follow their theories completely, as he never painted landscapes or outdoors. The light he was interested in was the artificial light of the stage and the workshop. His chief interest was the figure in action, and his themes were taken from contemporary life. He restricted himself to a handful of subjects - portraits, the racecourse, the theatre, the orchestra, ladies at the milliner’s, laundresses, the nude and above all, the ballet. He tackled each one again and again, constantly experimenting with new approaches. Degas is never stale, and his pictures bear a family resemblance without ever looking over-alike.
Degas favourite subjects were the races, laundresses at work, bars and his beloved Ballet.
Rehearsal of a ballet on the stage
Here we see Degas’ clever use of artificial light and the empty space which is all important in his compositions.
The high view point concentrates the attention on her torso and outstretched arms, but also introduces the only workaday note, allowing us to see figures watching from the wings.
Degas’ techniques were highly original, inspired by Japanese prints and the up and coming art of photography. Whatever his subject, Degas saw it as clear line and pattern, observed from a new and unexpected angle. His paintings give a vivid account of a moment in time at a particular position in space, just as a camera shot would. His ability to do this, although looking effortless, was not done without much research and was quite unique at this point in painting history. In many of his paintings, it would look as if figures, horses etc, could have moved in a different direction, and the harmony of that particular moment would have gone. Much of the effect of his work relies on the significance of empty space - space versus interest.
In 1874, he made a most celebrated gesture by becoming one of the principle organisers of an independent exhibition, held in opposition to the Salon. Later, it became known as the first Impressionist Exhibition, because of the artists who were painting rapid, atmospheric landscapes in the open air. He contributed to all but one of the eight Impressionist shows.
Although much of his earlier work is in oil, his most characteristic medium became pastel which he had to use when his eyesight began to fail. The chalks enabled him to record his reaction to form and movement more quickly than did oil, and with the bright dry colours he created a new variation of Impressionist sensitivity to light.
After the bath, woman drying her neck
Dancer tying her shoe
Inspiration - this is a private moment in time, as a camera might have captured, or as a view seen by someone looking through a keyhole. Degas captures this moment with sensitivity, emphasising the form and beauty of the female at its most vulnerable. The subject is depersonalised as we do not see her face. What Degas is concentrating on is her actions and situation - we are not really supposed to be there.
Geometrically composed from the square, rectangle and circle.
Accidental, Spontaneous and Unplanned - In reality his work is carefully composed. “No art was ever less spontaneous than mine”
Colour - The colour is almost secondary to the areas of tone in the work. Rusts and oranges compliment subtle blues and greens. The flesh tones have blues and purples in the shadows. There is a warm glow to the scene.
The colours unite both parts of the painting: the glowing chestnut of the woman’s hair and the sponge picked up in the copper pot and strands of false hair lying on the sideboard.
We are looking down on a woman washing herself. On the chest at the right are a number of toilet articles. The angle of vision has been so chosen to run the edge of the chest down the picture. If it were not for the handles of a pot and brush, we might think that it were two distinct pictures.
This painting shows an unusual angle for a figure study. The figure could be likened to a circle in a square, the square being made by the chest cutting off the right hand side of the painting - simple geometry. The handle of the brush and copper pot protrude into the space where the figure is connecting the two sections.
Technique - The application of the pastel is very clearly done - many of the marks are horizontal suggesting floorboards and strands of hair. Degas’ failing sight was why he turned to pastel.
Degas’ techniques were highly original, inspired by Japanese prints and the up and coming art of photography. He was forever inventing new ways of seeing and devising new approaches to his models. Whatever his subject, he saw it as a clear line and pattern observed from a new an unexpected angle.
Tone - Degas has shown a strong light coming from the left hand side, probably from a window. The light falls on her shoulders, hands and feet and the top of the chest. The chair behind her is also catching the light. Degas has used white pastels to highlight his figure and draw the delicate fingers and toes of his model. The dark tones of the metal tub encircles the light from the figure. The focal points of the composition are the hand and shoulders of the woman.
Examples of Fauve painting by Derain and Vlaminck
Matisse by Derain
Tug boat on the Seine by Maurice de Vlaminck
Fauvism was a style of painting based on the use of intensely vivid, non naturalistic colours, the first of the major avant-garde developments in European art between the turn of the Century and the First World War.
The dominant figure of the Fauvist group was Henri Matisse, and other artists involved included Derain, Vlaminick and Dufy.
Their name was given to them by a critic, who pointed out a Donatello sculpture and said “Donatello among the wild beasts”.
FAUVES MEANS WILD BEASTS
With most of the group, Fauvism was a temporary phase through which they passed in the development of widely different styles. Only Matisse continued to explore the beauty of pure colour.
Although short lived, Fauvism was highly influential, particularly in the development of German Expressionism.
1869 - 1954
Henri Matisse only started drawing by chance whilst spending a year in bed recovering from an operation. He abandoned his legal career and went to study Art- very soon falling under the influence of Paul Cezanne, and also the work of Paul Signac.
Working in the South of France, Matisse produced Still Life, Landscape and many figure paintings, although he was most interested in painting the human figure.
His Still Lifes of tropical fruit and flowers are shown inside rooms that glow with the strong sun and rich colours of the South. One example of his favourite, the human figure, is “La Dance”. Five red bodies, a green hill and a blue sky, showing movement, rhythm and happiness. Throughout his long life Matisse alternated between decorative and realistic work, not just paintings and he produced sculpture, graphic art and design.
Still Life with La Danse
During the final part of his life, he was again forced by illness to change his way of working.
Confined to a wheelchair, he started using large paper cut outs, either abstract or figurative, in the same brilliant colours. He designed joyful stained glass windows which are one of the most optimistic pieces of art from an artist in old age.
Atmosphere: Happy, lively, energetic
Shape: the figures are stylised, their limbs are oval to reflect the composition. Lines have been placed at certain points to emphasise shape and direction. The oval shapes derive from African sculpture
Style: Simple, primitive, non-realistic. Detail is applied with a line, to show eyes, faces and toes. Paint is applied flat with no tone to suggest form. The distortion of the figures suggests the energy of the dance.
Henri Matisse 1910
Colour: Cool and Warm - ultramarine blue sky and emerald green hill. The blue sky throws out the figure shapes’ bright pink flesh tones. This colour is not realistic.
The shapes created between the figures have the same importance as the shapes the figures themselves make. All the shapes are flat. The only suggestion of tone is behind the shoulders of the dancing figures at the back. This is the only suggestion of depth in the painting
Movement: The dancers link hands and form an energetic circle/oval. They appear to dance faster at the top of the hill. The right hand bias suggests a clockwise movement and emphasises the energy of the dance. There is a gap between the figure on the far left and the dancer on his right. The woman is trying to close it to complete the circle once more by reaching for the hand the other dancer in reaching out. The contact is not quite achieved and the viewer is left to close the gap himself.
Background: golden section, figures fill the space
Examples of work by Picasso and Braque
Violin and Pitcher
LES DEMOISELLES D’AVIGNON
By Pablo Picasso
LINES - The thick black lines are used to emphasise certain parts of the painting and are particularly evident in the two central females. Their faces and features have been picked out with bold lines to give them an almost beauty compared to the other three. Picasso has also used white lines to emphasise the female form. The table and bowl of fruit are heavily outlined with strong diagonals. The succulent fruit is suggestive of the temptations found in the brothel.
COMPOSITION - The central figures were inspired from a painting “The Turkish Bath” by Ingres, a past master in the portrayal of the evocative beauty of the female form. The central figures are set in provocative poses with their arms behind their heads, but the result is ungainly. Your eye is drawn into the centre of the painting by the light tones of the drapery and the two figures, also many of the geometric angles lead into the centre of the painting. The two central characters are treated more realistically and are beautiful compared to the other three females whose bodies seem unresolved and merge with their surroundings. The background is treated in a fractured way giving no clear description to their immediate surroundings,
COLOUR - Untypical of early Cubist work, the painting is brightly coloured - warm flesh tones and drapery contrast with the cool blues of the curtains. The colours are paler in the centre of the composition, drawing your eye into the painting. Blue usually recedes, but instead of receding, the white edges to the blue curtains come forwards and flatter the painting creating a 2D effect rather than giving depth.
STYLE - Instead of a unified illusion of three dimensional reality, Picasso has thrown a stone at this image and shattered it. He has broken up the soft submissive female form and reduced it to angular 2 dimensional planes similar to broken glass. The effect is naked anger and aggression - instead of beauty he flaunts ugliness.
DISTORTION - The viewpoints in Picasso’s painting are deliberately confusing. Bodies are fractioned into parts seen from many distinct angles. Eyes are painted from the front, but noses shown in profile - we see the back and the face of the bottom right female simultaneously. Picasso made major changes even after the work was in progress. After a visit to the Ethnographic museum in Paris he repainted the three outer figures’ heads and portrayed them like the Iberian masks he had seen there.