Friday, December 21, 2012

Hendrick van Vliet Rome Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Inside the Vermeer exhibit that I wrote about last time, “Vermeer: il secolo d’oro dell’arte olandese” ("Vermeer: the Golden Age of Dutch Art"), was a painting by Hendrick van Vliet. He did a series of paintings of the Nieuwe Kerk (new church) in Delft in The Netherlands and oddly, I was not able to find a proper image of this particular painting online. So you are stuck with my “illegal snapshot.”

I tried to learn what I could from seeing these paintings in person, although I must admit that I had not seen most of them in books. I need to get out more! Seriously, though, I was moving slower than my friends were because I was taking time to really look at the works and make decisions for myself on how each may have been done and what, if anything I would change TODAY if I tried to copy these paintings.

At some point, my friend Anne Berit walked back to me and showed me her favorite pair of paintings. So, then I led her to a part earlier in the exhibit to this one. I told her what I enjoyed about this painting, as well as what I would change. It is a strange thing to crit a work of art when one can clearly see the skills of the artists.

But, here goes: I like the lighting on this painting. It definitely reads from left to right. The shapes are interesting and the red cape is placed well, with enough red throughout the composition to give some color harmony to the work. The people are interacting with one another and despite the hard edges everywhere (mentioned in my last blog entry), the figures are believable enough. And I love it that dogs are inside the church! And not just because they are well done and used compositionally to point to the interior of the church.

However, what first drew my attention to this painting was that the shadow on the hat of the man with the red cape is way too dark, or the other parts of his person are too light. I think the high contrast on the main figure’s head is a good idea since the eye is drawn to this first. So, in this case, I would have chosen to make PARTS of the shadows in the cape darker, but certainly the back side of the man should be darker to show that his back is away from the light. Because of this disparity, I do not see this man as three-dimensional.

But back to something positive, I really enjoy how clever the artist was to handle the parallel columns in different ways. Variety is infinitely more interesting than symmetry, although one needs the latter to emphasize the former. Can you imagine how the painting would feel if both columns were in the same light, with the same rendering of the roundness from light side to dark side?

It is brilliant that the artist left one column in full light, while the other not only had an overall shadow falling on it, but also some specific shadows that break up the light shape on the top left of the column (on the right). We do not see in the painting what would cause the shadows, but their presence creates interest that is subtle enough to not take us away from the overall impression of the painting.

The artist has done the same with the floor, breaking up the grey pavement with light shapes. The light from windows (not presented on canvas) that falls onto the lower left of the floor in the painting serve to point into the composition, as well as underline the group of figures above it, drawing attention to this corner and activity in the painting. And while one could argue that perhaps all of those lights and shadows did exist and the artist simply reproduced them, I would argue, ok, but then do not discount the artistry of the architect! Like a sculptor, a good architect studies the light of the site for which he designs and plans accordingly.

It is an interesting exercise to look at compositions and notice what shapes repeat, giving us a sense of balance and tranquility versus how the repetition is kept from becoming boring by adding subtle differences to the symmetry. If you have not tried it (lately), please do. It is by an artist’s design!

If you would like to see more of the exhibit, here is another link:

Happy Winter Solstice and apparently the End of the World

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