Posts Tagged 'focal point'

WHERE’S THE FOCAL POINT?

La Côte des Jalais, Pontoise 1867    PDR 116 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

La Côte des Jalais, Pontoise
1867 PDR 116
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

At first glance, this painting looks very much like any other Impressionist landscape in museums. But what if I were to tell you this is an extremely radical painting? One critic who wrote in 1868 about this painting said, “It is painted with great simplicity; the details, executed in groups, give one the impression they were studied singly. There is a great pictorial talent here, to be sure; unfortunately, it lacks a subject.” (Emphasis is mine.)

Today, we look at abstract art and are totally unconcerned that it rarely has a subject. We don’t even expect it. But historically, paintings were “pictures of something,” a church, a river, a person, or a group of people. In fact, the most favored paintings at the Salon were expected to show famous historical or mythological scenes. Landscapes were much less important to them, and it had to have a focal point—one thing that is the center of attention. The focal point was prominently positioned, a brighter color, or larger than other elements. In other words, it was obvious what the artist wanted you to look at.

This large painting (34.2” x 45.2”) by Pissarro was exhibited in the Salon of 1868, where reportedly it was hung too high to be seen properly. But the critic could see it well enough to determine that it has no focal point. In the lower foreground, two women dressed in fashionable dresses are seen on the path. In a painting by Monet or Renoir, they would probably be the focal point, but Pissarro makes them so small, we cannot even see their faces or distinguish any details of their dresses. Additionally, they are dwarfed by the tall trees directly behind them.

Just left of the women is a group of houses, but they do not provide a focal point. They derive their importance only by their proximity to each other. They are fashioned with few brush strokes, and get their only sense of depth from the roof lines. The right side is dominated by a large dark wedge; it is impossible to distinguish bushes or trees in the tangle of dark green brushstrokes.

The curved lines of the fields are the only clues that there is a deep valley between distant horizon line and the women. The fields are painted in broad swaths of color that flatten the background and make them look closer than they would in reality. Pissarro, who had already proven himself to be proficient in painting accurate perspective, has chosen to flatten out this landscape. He never intended to make a perfect photographic replica, as the Realistic painters did. He was painting a composition of different colors and shapes set side-by-side.  He simply used the real motif as a spark for his own personal sensation.

No one would call this an abstract painting—too much is recognizable, but the flatness of the painting and the broad swathes of color are abstract elements. But radical for its time—yes, indeed.  And this was seven years before the first Impressionist Exhibition. Pissarro was using artistic techniques that were different from all other artists before that time and those who were his friends.

Much of the information in this article is from Pissarro:Critical Catalogue, Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts (2005).

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And the days grow shorter…for PISSARRO in Madrid

The Woods at Marly, 1871 Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

The Woods at Marly, 1871
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

ONLY A FEW DAYS LEFT…. to see the PISSARRO exhibition in Madrid before it closes on September 15.

With this gorgeous painting from Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza’s own collection, we express our gratitude to the museum and to Guillermo Solano, the museum’s artistic director, for creating this incredible exhibition of Pissarro’s paintings.  To be able to see these matchless paintings in this instructive context has enriched us and left us with a deeper understanding of the artist’s innovative genius.

The Good News is that on October 14, the PISSARRO exhibition will open in Barcelona at the CaixaForum, where it will remain until January 26, 2014.

The Woods at Marly gives us a hint of the autumn to come. The road through the trees is covered with golden leaves, yet some of the trees are still green.  Streaming through the branches, the sun makes a bright patch on the ground. The limbs of the trees meet overhead forming a succession of arches like the aisle of a Gothic cathedral. A lovely picture, indeed.

Our movement down the road is marked by people–at the left edge, a woman bends to her task. About midway to the clearing are two women, one of them carrying a bundle of wood. Beyond the green grassy area, there appears to be another woman standing near a pond. Our eyes are drawn to the shiny reflection of light on water, which is much too small to be a real focal point. If that image were in the center, this painting would be almost symmetrical.  But it’s not–it’s just to the left. And no matter how hard we try, we cannot look at the true center because our view is blocked by three dark tree trunks near the two women.

The tiny image itself is almost like a miniature painting on an old-fashioned brooch. It forces the rest of the canvas to serve as its frame. If we look closely at the little pond, we begin to see dark green brush strokes on each side that define a small diamond shape.  Beyond the pond are two trees with green branches reaching up to another diamond shape of dark green leaves, a bold contrast to the shiny diamond.

True, the diamond shapes are only approximate, but they are distinct. This shows how early Pissarro was concerned with geometric forms, again pushing ahead of his contemporaries by enclosing abstract shapes in figurative paintings. This breathtaking painting of the woods on a sunny autumn day is so much more than just a pretty picture. Perhaps Pissarro hides these tiny treasures in the dense woods, just wondering if we will find them.

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PISSARRO, the exhibition

CaixaForum, Barcelona

October 15, 2013 – January 26, 2014

PISSARRO’S PLACES, the book, is still available in the bookstore at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.  It will also be available in the bookstore of the CaixaForum in Barcelona when the PISSARRO exhibition opens.

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ARTBOOKANNEX.com….After a year and a half

PEOPLE WORLDWIDE love Pissarro and enjoy his paintings.

In these 549 days, there have been 4003 views from 78 countries on six continents–that’s an average of 7.3 views per day!  To all of you who love Pissarro, THANK YOU.

PISSARRO AND ROTHKO — COLOR FIELDS IN DIALOGUE

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Misty Morning at Creil, 1873 Camille Pissarro

Pissarro used realistic elements to create scenes that now appear almost abstract, as demonstrated by the comparison of Misty Morning at Creil, 1873, with Rothko’s Untitled, 1969. Certainly color field paintings were unimaginable in the vocabulary of the Impressionists, but from the current post-abstract perspective, the similarities in the two paintings are apparent.

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Untitled, 1969  Mark Rothko

The simple reading of the Pissarro painting is that of a common landscape, depicting a condition of weather.  All of the Impressionists were interested in portraying various types of weather on the canvas, and many of them painted fog or mist in scenes similar to Pissarro’s.  However, most of these artists provided some kind of recognizable focal point to draw the eye.

In Misty Morning, the eye searches for an important focal point, and settles instead on the complementary contrast of the sky and land, two distinct color fields. The dusty blue sky with orange-shaded undertones is surprisingly similar to the top of the Rothko, which is also a dusty blue with shades of orange peeking through the brushstrokes.

The lower half of the Pissarro is not a solid color field like that of the Rothko, but the overall impression is similar.  In the foreground, Pissarro uses the orange-shaded color to depict the muddy ground. Near the crest of the hill, a silvery white frost covers the ground creating an effect similar to that in the lower half of the Rothko.

The elements that add realism and set the Pissarro apart from the Rothko are the images on the horizon. Just right of center is a dark blotch that represents several trees along with shadowy figures. In the center left is another shadowy tree image. While a landscape by another artist might use these figures as a focal point, Pissarro makes them dissolve into the background. The trees are dark blue and the covering mist erases any detail of structure that might grab the eye’s attention. Instead, the trees serve as a simple division between the contrasting colors of the sky and ground.

The use of human figures tends to draw the eye, but here Pissarro has minimized their importance. The color of the woman’s upper garment blends with the trees while her skirt is the same color as the ground. The man is practically invisible, with a cap the color of the trees and clothing that fades into the background.  There may or may not be another shadowy figure farther up the hill.

The obvious effort that Pissarro made to blend the people and trees into the background suggests that they are not to be considered focal points. The obvious point of interest is the complementary contrast between the sky and ground, two color fields only slightly more complicated than those depicted in the Rothko painting.

One might say that Pissarro just painted the scene as he saw it, and that he did not “intentionally” paint something that today can be compared to Rothko’s color fields. While Pissarro would not have used the same vocabulary, he certainly was striving for different effects throughout his career. To accept the obvious in his paintings is to miss the point of his work. It is only on close scrutiny that his genius is recognized.



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