We haven’t visited a museum lately, so let’s take a look at a painting from the Metropolitan. This is For The Little One, an 1896 oil by William Merritt Chase (American, 1849–1916). Long-time readers of this blog know I love paintings of women doing some kind of hand crafts, and this is an excellent example.
A woman sits, and stitches an article of baby clothing. As in most of these women-at-work portraits, she is sitting by a window, and its daylight illuminates the scene, and shows off the artist’s ability to capture the lights and shadows.
The woman is completely absorbed in her work.
Now let’s take a quick look at the composition of Chase’s painting. Composition, if you remember, refers to how the elements of the picture are arranged within the work, creating (hopefully) balance, harmony, tension or even mood.
First, go back to the painting, and look at where the light is brightest, and where the shadows are darkest. Then take a look at the distribution of various colors. Notice where the bits of orange are, and where slight tints of orange can be seen. How about his use of blue? And where are the brightest whites?
Even if you think Chase did not rearrange anything in the interior for his composition, he still decided the exact angle of view in his portrait. If he’d positioned himself several feet to the left or right, all the lines and angles would be different.
Here is my version of marking out the strongest lines and angles in the painting:
I know this is rough, but it is my way of looking at “the bones” of a painting – trying to see more of how the horizontal lines are balanced by the verticals and diagonals. Notice how the woman, sitting, forms a rough triangle shape.
When we look more closely at any very good piece of art, we strengthen our “looking muscles”, and this will help when we are planning out our own work.
I had this post mostly written, when I discovered that there will be a major exhibit of William Merritt Chase’s work at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, from October 9, 2016 – January 16, 2017. Look on the MFA website at www.mfa.org for details. A very good reason for getting yourself down to Boston, if you can. For The Little One is in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection, online at www.metmuseum.org.