Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Research 3 artists, why does their work appeal to you? Critically analyse each one.

I chose to critically analyse these 3 artists as I enjoy their use of classical composition, colour, lighting and overall aesthetics of their works. Two of the artists I have chosen, Gerome and Edwin Lord weeks were artists who depicted many paintings which art historians call Orientalism. This is a type of artwork which depicted Asian and middle eastern cultures of the time period between the mid 1800s and early 1900s. The term is often cited as being stereotypical of the Victorian views of period. It was also one of the specialisms of academic art in this period.

I have always liked works like this as they provide an aesthetic quality which I deem the pinnacle of talent and skills that a realist artist can strive for, and therefore have always found it to have been a useful area of study and benchmark of quality that contribute to the continued improvement of my own artwork.

Jean-Léon Gérôme

Jean Leon Gerome art style is known as Academicism which is a style of art highly influenced by teachings of European academies. The artists of these academies primarily worked under the movements of Neoclassicism and Romanticism. Geromes work therefore contains elements of both of these movements. Whilst like other artists of his time he painted historical and mythological paintings he was most well known for his Asian and middle eastern themed paintings.

Gerome also taught many of his skills his students were in many cases as influential as he was, which leads me to the second artist I have chosen to analyse.

Louis xiv and Moliere by Gerome, taken from the art renewal centre.

Description, Interpretation, and Analysis

This oil painting by Jean Leon Gerome is entitled Louis xiv and Moliere, the painting was completed in 1862. I believe Louis the 14th is the character in blue and Moliere is in black. This is a representational painting in the style known as Academicism. This particular painting has been restored by the Art Renewal Centre online site.
The painting is a depiction of a meeting between the the king of France and the famous playwright Moliere. In the painting these characters are depicted in contrasting value and colour in order to draw focus onto the primary focal point of the painting Louis xiv whilst Moliere is depicted as a the secondary focus of the painting.

At this point it is worth mentioning that this scene like many of Geromes works are done from life, most likely all of the participants posed for hours whilst the artist sketched them out and then would take the painting to a finish at his studio. Paintings of this type were done on a commission, their purpose varied, mostly they were a symbol of austerity, equivalent to owning a sports car at the time.

Louis XIV is depicted with his famously flamboyantly dressed entourage, depicted in complementary hues of red, orange and blue whilst the playwright Moliere is depicted in a relatively simple cloak in contrast. This is likely to serve two purposes one to show that Moliere is of a lower standing than that of the king. And two to provide a black cloak to contrast as well as compliment the whites and gold of the surrounding furniture.

The overall colour palette, as typical of the era of the painting is very limited. Most likely an under painting of burnt umber was used to create the strong orange glow throughout the painting, whilst the reds and blues were used throughout the painting to compliment the under paintings tone. There are clear hints of yellow and reds in the whites, and overall the colour scheme is very complimentary to each other. Typical of Academical art the painting has clearly been constructed in a very logical and structural way.

Furthermore the central figures are placed slightly off the centre axis, this is so that the horizontal composition does not create a split on the page. All of the focal points of the illustration clearly lay on the golden ratio grid, which was a typical way of laying out a painting in a Academical art.

The whites of the shirts and lace sleeves are placed at points of interest. They are contrasting to the tones for the surrounding painting, the value of the white are slightly varying in order to place a hierarchical order to how the viewers eye traverses the painting.

The strong verticals of the background architecture is there to contrast with the horizontal of the bottom half of the painting where the majority of the action in the painting is occurring. There is a circular shape in the middle of the painting which is created with each of the figures eyes focusing on a different area of the painting. This causes the viewer to follow the course the eyes naturally create, therefore moving the viewer throughout what would be an overly complicated and busy scene if it wasn’t for these added nuances bringing an order to the painting.

There is a lot of variety in shapes and tone in the painting in order to create interest. In terms of shapes there are rectangles in the form of the paintings and table negative space, as well as the aforementioned implied circular forms. Moreover the black negative space of the shadows creates strong triangular shapes, lastly if the viewer were to line the figure on the left of the painting bending over to the figure on the right of the painting with the scabbard sword a triangle is created.

As highlighted previously in the analysis there is a strong contrast between light and dark, the most prominent being the darker right hand of the painting with the much more lit area to the left where the king and his entourage is placed.

The king is almost under a subtle spotlight, which helps draw focus on the character. There is also some subtle darkening at the corners of the painting which helps to keep the viewer away from the edges due to the contrast being created.
The background of the painting is painted in a very loose manner, this is so that the much more detailed figures and furniture in the mid ground of the painting stands out an the background is not detracting with unnecessary details. This method is also used in the foreground, except there are no details or real points of interest, helping all of the focus to be on the centre of the painting.


I believe the artwork is an example of a masterpiece, a painting which is at a point which can not be improved. It is the goal of every artist to reach the point where they can get to this standard of expertise, few reach this point and as such I believe paintings like this can constantly be learned from.

Edwin Lord Weeks

Edwin Lord Weeks was a distinguished painter whom often depicted Oriental scenes. Whilst he wasnt actually a student of Geromes he did learn under an artist called Leon Bonnat a close friend of Geromes whom also was a realist painter. He is often mistakenly cited as a student of Geromes despite never studying at the atelier under Gerome, and he often citied himself as a student of Bonnet. I mentioned this however as I initially found Edwin Lord Weeks work after looking up students of Gerome.

Edwin Lord weeks was a well travelled man as can be seen from the sheer body of the artwork he produced, much of his artwork was done on location. A lot of the information known about the artist is from his own detailed travel journals.

' The Departure Of A Caravan From The Gate Of Shelah Morocco' This painting was taken from edwinlordweeks.org

Description and interpretation

The oil painting above created by Edwin Lord Weeks in 1880 is entitled 'The Departure Of A Caravan From The Gate Of Shelah Morocco' as can be surmised by the title it was painted from life. This painting is another example of Academicism, as mentioned previous Weeks work is very similar to that of Gerome. The painting itself is quite faded due to its age, but most of the painting appears to be intact.

The painting above is a very loose which further implies it was done quickly from life rather than painted later in a studio setting. A limited colour palette of reds, oranges, and blues has been used. The blues appear to have been added sparingly to compliment the surrounding dominant orange and warm tones. An example being the blue The painting is a depiction of the self explanatory title' The departure of a caravan from the gate of Shelah Morocco'.

Similar to the previous painting by the Gerome much of the action is happening in the centre of the painting. The painting is much more chaotic than the previous Gerome painting, I believe this is partly due to being for life rather than staged.


The crowd is slightly off to the left of the centre axis of the painting, with the gate being slightly off to the right of the axis, this stops the painting becoming boring compositionally. The painting is very simplistic in terms of tonal values, there is a clear foreground, mid-ground and background with no in betweens.

In general the painting can be described as minimalistic, almost verging on impressionism. The main point of interest in the painting, the caravan, is being framed by the verticals created by the gate and the arch. Moreover the lighter tones of the caravan figures contrast with the darker tones of the walled gate.

The composition is a simple rule of thirds, the main points of interest all falling on the grid. There is a red canvas on the left of the caravan which directs the eye along the caravan over to the verticals of the gate, and across the wall to the diagonal hills. This keeps the viewers eye constantly moving around the painting.


The figures and objects closer the foreground and to the intersections of the rule of the thirds appear to have slightly more detail that the surrounding looser figures. It appears that the painting is more representational than posed, as such the composition elements aren’t as strong as they could be. For instance the placement of the whites in the robe could have been placed similar to the previous painting by Gerome in order to move the viewer through the piece.

The colours are also dirtier, although this could be due to the age of the painting. I believe the painting is a bit too saturated as well, and could of done with a bit of toning down so that the picture is more naturalistic and pleasing to the eye.

There are a few tangents in the painting that could be removed in order to improve the painting. The top of the tree on the right hand side of the scene is lined with the top of the wall, and the heads of the camel on the centre of the page are in line. Simply overlapping these two tangent shapes would fix these errors and create a more interesting composition and some depth.

The centre of the painting where the figures are all around the caravan is very loose, almost to the point of being unrecognisable as figures. I feel a bit more detail could have improved this, it seems likely that a lot of detail was left out on purpose in order to save time in the painting.

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