Friday, February 18, 2011

Jean-Francois Millet, the Tonalists, value, and its importance

9x18 watercolor underpainting
9x18 pastel, value study

Jean-Francois Millet is reported to have said upon frequent occasions, " The end of the day is the test of a picture" By this he meant that in twilight the colors in the picture are merged into the masses of light and dark, the details are subordinated also to these masses, and it is possible to judge whether the values of a picture, which are it's very soul and body, are properly related. To quote in his own words from Sensier, "If a sketch is seen in dim half light at the end of a day has the requisite balance-ponderation-it is a picture; if not, no clever arrangement of colors, no skill in drawing or elaborate finish, can ever make it into a picture."

This was written in 1910 in a New York Times review by art critic Charles DeKay. It was in reference to an exhibition of contemporary American landscape painters. It was at the time of the clash of the Tonalists, in particular Charles Warren Eaton and the realism of painters like Bellows and Robert Henri. DeKay used Millet as the yardstick upon which to measure all modern landscapes.

Put simply- values matter. Your work must  have a structure based in value (not color) that relates in a strong composition and reads dramatically  from a distance.

Thinking about this I have created a value study and watercolor far. It will be about evening twilight before the snow flurries burst out of the clouds. The drama. The excitement and beauty. I remember this particular day and have painted about it before, see link. I didn't use this January painting as a guide, in fact I never even looked at it till now. I just remember it so well. First I created the watercolor underpainting -easy.  But I know that if the finished painting is to succeed I must get the value structure right. I must admit, I struggled with that value study.


Janelle Goodwin said...

Value is very important, I agree. But it bears repeating. I love how you show the watercolor underpainting and the value study. The value study is a beauty all on its own! You show the atmosphere simply by using black and white with all the gradations in between. Ahhhhh.

Double "D" said...

Hi B,

Both are brilliant! "The watercolor underpainting
was the easy part" ?????????? As a master painter
once told me "you kill me B". You leave me mumbling into my Tequila ... which I can't drink. Where's the value in that. Sorry!

It's a special pleasure to watch your journey to fame and fortune. Awesome.


loriann said...

Hi Janelle and thank you!
I think I repeat it for me...for so long I believe I trust color first. Now I truly see the error of my ways. I can't wait to work more on this tomorrow with pastel. This evening I walked to the field to watch again. I am ready to go!

Hi PB,
Thank you! I guess I say the underpainting is easy because there are no expectations. I just do it..but it truly doesn't matter. Sometimes when it works it just takes less marks with pastel..a bonus round.I don't mean to make it seem like I know something. I really think it's about letting go of expectations.
Journey to fame and fortune....

Caroline said...

The drawing is really excellent Loriann, it is strong work and really does stand out well. I do agree if you have a successful tonal drawing then it really does help to produce a better painting. Drawing helps us to understand our subject better too. I had a look at your link and noticed how different you two paintings are, there is more light in the water in the other painting but that is due to the difference in lighting. A very interesting blog. I must try pastel it does produce stronger tones than ordinary pencils.

Donna T said...

Your value study works for me, Loriann. The words about the dim half light are right on and I always noticed the strength or weakness of my work when viewed in the dark studio. I wonder what the reason is for this? Does our mind seek out depth and distance before it considers the merits of color?

loriann said...

Hi Caroline,
Thank you so much. For so long I relied on my use of color. Paintings actually sold. But now I see that they were missing the skeleton and were just skin. Egad.
Do try one pastel and a couple of erasers. I think you will like it. You can carve out shapes like a sculptor. let me know if you try!

Hi Donna,
You are so right. And yes I think we need to read the painting-value. Color can make beauty- value makes strength and beauty.

Kathy Hodge said...

Your post reminded me of this quote from Zola's Masterpiece (below). I like your value studies very much, especially the one in the post of the 21st. To me they look like beautiful charcoal drawing.

After a protracted pause, Sandoz inquired:

'Shall I go with you when you take your picture?'

Getting no answer from Claude, he fancied he could hear him crying.
Was it with the same infinite sadness, the despair by which he himself
had been stirred just now? He waited for a moment, then repeated his
question, and at last the painter, after choking down a sob,

'Thanks, the picture will remain here; I sha'n't send it.'

'What? Why, you had made up your mind?'

'Yes, yes, I had made up my mind; but I had not seen it as I saw it
just now in the waning daylight. I have failed with it, failed with it
again--it struck my eyes like a blow, it went to my very heart.'

His tears now flowed slow and scalding in the gloom that hid him from
sight. He had been restraining himself, and now the silent anguish
which had consumed him burst forth despite all his efforts.

'My poor friend,' said Sandoz, quite upset; 'it is hard to tell you
so, but all the same you are right, perhaps, in delaying matters to
finish certain parts rather more. Still I am angry with myself, for I
shall imagine that it was I who discouraged you by my everlasting
stupid discontent with things.'

Claude simply answered:

'You! what an idea! I was not even listening to you. No; I was
looking, and I saw everything go helter-skelter in that confounded
canvas. The light was dying away, and all at once, in the greyish
dusk, the scales suddenly dropped from my eyes. The background alone
is pretty; the nude woman is altogether too loud; what's more, she's
out of the perpendicular, and her legs are badly drawn. When I noticed
that, ah! it was enough to kill me there and then; I felt life
departing from me. Then the gloom kept rising and rising, bringing a
whirling sensation, a foundering of everything, the earth rolling into
chaos, the end of the world. And soon I only saw the trunk waning like
a sickly moon. And look, look! there now remains nothing of her, not a
glimpse; she is dead, quite black!'

loriann said...

Great quote Kathy! Thanks for sharing it. How blind we can be! Thanks also about the value work.