Saturday, March 1, 2008

N.C. Wyeth

I studied the illustrator N.C. Wyeth in February. Wyeth (1882-1945) is considered to be one of America's greatest illustrators. In addition, he is the father and grandfather, respectively, of artists Andrew Wyeth and James Wyeth.

I particularly liked the reproductions in the books Wondrous Strange: The Wyeth Tradition and An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art. You can also find many N.C. Wyeth paintings here.

I also studied design in February. I read Design Basics (2nd Edition) by David A. Lauer. N.C. Wyeth excelled at design and composition, so I studied Wyeth's paintings in the context of design principles. Here is an example of how I approached this project.

The following painting is an illustration for the book Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. A black spot is a piece of paper with a black spot on it. If a pirate receives a black spot, it means he is to be executed.

The Black Spot They Were Collected in a Group (1911)

Here is an analysis of the painting in the context of design principles.

  • Proximity: All the figures are very close to one another.
  • Repetition: The pirates in the background have similar dress.
  • Continuation: The barely visible pirate in the right background is connected to the back wall, the back wall is connected to the left shoulder of the back standing pirate and to the left-most crouching pirate's neck, and the left-most crouching pirate's leg is connected to the kneeling pirate with the knife. The pirate in black in the foreground is not connected to the other picture elements, but his right-hand heel almost merges into his shadow and the floor. The left side of the wall runs into the floor.
  • Unity with Variety: There is some variation in the pirates' clothing.
Emphasis/Focal Point

I see the focal point as being the book and knife: the making of the black spot.
  • Emphasis by Contrast: The focal point is one of the most lighted area of the painting (although the back right wall and white pirate shirts are also very lighted).
  • Emphasis by Isolation: I don't think this technique is used here.
  • Emphasis by Placement: This is the primary technique used here: All the pirates are looking at the book and knife.

I struggle with balance. This is the principle I understand least. This painting uses Asymmetrical Balance, as opposed to Symmetrical Balance.
  • The dark left-hand wall and the mass of the three left-hand pirates seem to balance the mass of the single standing pirate dressed in black.
  • The pirate in black in the foreground appears much larger than the other pirates. I have never read Treasure Island, so I can't say if the foreground pirate is more significant than the rest. Did Wyeth deliberately make this pirate dominate the others in the painting?
Illusion of Space

There is a sense of depth in the painting.
  • Size: The foreground pirate is larger than the background pirates.
  • Overlapping: The foreground pirate hides parts of the background pirates.
  • Vertical Location: The upper pirates are farther back than the lower pirate.
  • Aerial Perspective: I don't think this is used here.
  • Linear Perspective: Is this one-point perspective?
  • Amplified Perspective: I think the pirate in black may be an example of amplified perspective.
  • There are a number of other techniques--Multiple Perspective, Oriental Space, Open Form/Closed Form, Recession, and Spatial Puzzles. I don't think any of these are used.

It is nice to know that the two simplest techniques, size and overlapping, are also very effective.


Scarlett said...

Thank you once again for art history. I was not familiar with him at all, but enjoyed reading on wiki about his life and his struggle with being his authentic artist self vs what earns money. I do think he is very realistic and love his choice of colors in the Robinson Crusoe book.

Penhallow Street said...

I was at an art museum this week that had 8 of his paintings. They are quite large and make you feel as if you have stepped into the pages of the book. He's a wonderful illustrator to study.

Laurel Neustadter said...

Scarlett: I am glad you found the post useful.

Penhallow Street: Lucky you!

AscenderRisesAbove said...

the wyeth family would be some kind of family to grow up wouldn't it?