Monday, May 16, 2011

When to switch to two point perspective

Here’s a painting called “Admiration” by Vittorio Reggianini (1858-1938).


A mishandling of perspective unintentionally gives it a funhouse quality. If you dropped a marble on the floor, it looks like it would roll off to the right.


The problem is that it goes into two point perspective when it should be treated as a one-point perspective picture.

A basic rule of thumb is that if the main vanishing point is within the central third of the picture, the other set of lines should stay horizontal. If that distant vanishing point were placed way over near the side of the picture, the lines in the floor and the window mullions could begin to slant a bit.

28 comments:

Marty Murphy said...

I love to see you do a book on perspective.

Marc McCabe said...

I think that works nicely though, it hides what the girls in the background are looking at.

On the other hand the more I look at it the more my eye just keeps falling off to the right. Getting a little dizzy now :D

Chantal Fournier said...

I have read many good books on perspective (such as Perspective made easy) but had never heard of that rule. Thank you James.

Tom Hart said...

I second the motion for a book on perspective - or at least a portion of a book, perhaps combined with composition, and (?)...

My question: What drove the artist to use 2-point perspective in the first place? That's escaping me. My natural inclination is always to use 1-point perspective - not that that's always a good thing.

Tometheus said...

It works for me. I like it.

Traditionally, the couple in the foreground would be the subject of the painting and the artist has painted it that way, with the attention to detail, etc given to them. The window and floor lines draw you that way like they are 'supposed' to. Then like a pinball, suddenly your eyes are drawn to the background scene by the black-line perspective and the dog's posture and you realize the women in the background are not really looking at the couple as first surmised, but at a painting that is hidden from our view. The fact that the second perspective converges within the painting makes us realize that this second scene is where the real action is taking place. It makes me REALLY want to know what is in that hidden painting.

Tometheus said...

Or, to say it in another way, I don't think it's "unintentional" at all.

Casey Klahn said...

Your description is best, but I had to go further for myself. I find the window/carpet lines from the second VP to be so odd, that I wonder where to put myself in a room to gain this perspective.

I find myself thinking that they diverge too quickly, or at too severe an angle. Just thinking out loud.

Tom Hart said...

Echoing Caey's remark, and to expand on my earier one - I can find no logic for the angle of the carpet and the off-horizontal edges of the tile. Aside from the perspective of the farther scene (which appears to be the correct perspective to me), that front-scene perspective just looks blatantly off.

James Gurney said...

Good observations, everyone. Tom, to answer your question, I should explain that, technically speaking, any time the vanishing point inside the picture moves from the dead center of the picture, the other sets of lines will start to converge ever so slightly at first.

You can see it happening on a camera's viewfinder in a street scene (or a supermarket is a perfect place to check this out). The "horizontals" start to converge as soon as the camera is no longer pointing straight down the aisle. But the degree of that convergence is very small, and it increases only slightly. The degree also depends on how wide angle the camera is.

So the rule of thumb is an approximation, really. This stuff is a bit hard to explain without pictures, so if you're confused, don't worry.

Tom Hart said...

Thanks James. That does help.

I'm still perplexed (as I think you are too)as to why using 2-point perspective looked or felt right to this painter. It almost seems (as someone mentioned earlier) that it had to be intentional. Misguided, IMHO, but (probably) intentional.

Everett Patterson said...

I drew inumerable wonky scenes like "Admiration" before discovering this rule on my own.

However, I think there's another solution besides switching to 1-point perspective. You could add a THIRD vanishing point to the right of the existing two (probably off-canvas) and use curvilinear perspective. In other words, the straight lines of the tiles and the carpet would appear to subtly curve, swooping down from the left and up again towards the right.

Nowadays, this technique is mostly associated with comic books and would have been totally inappropriate for a painting like Reggianini's. When handled badly, curvilinear perspective can have the appearance of photographic distortion, even look as if you are viewing the scene through a fisheye lens.

Nevertheless, I think it's a valid technique and have seen it used in paintings from the 15th century!

I try to use Gurney-style vision science when thinking about perspective issues. My own eyeballs have an extremely limited area of focus, and I can only obtain "the big picture" by moving them around in my skull to focus on different parts of the scene. But I also swivel my head on my neck, and some scenes (like an enormous landscape panorama) I can only take in by moving my head. It's scenes like these in which "gimmicky" curvilinear perspective is actually best at mimicking the experience of visual perception.

Audran said...

or maybe it has been simply cropped.

Richard said...

or, if it should not have been cropped, it may have been an approach (between 1858 and 1938) to "abstract art"

Scorchfield said...

In today's world is very hard to get to define the geometry, triangle disappears in the roof and the square disappears in the fingering (like imagine)!

geometry is confusing because it is lost, most people do not know the Pythagorean demonstration... :)

Tometheus said...

Additionally there appears to be a third set of converging lines deliberately painted on the column in the background (also converging with the draperies) that, after staring at the painting this long, seems to be a huge flashing arrow saying "LOOK HERE". Not perspective lines per se, but it does pull your eyes away from the foreground couple, seeming to imply that that's what the artist was trying to do. The artistic version of a bait-and-switch. "Ha! You thought I was going to illustrate the admiration between a couple in love, but really I was illustrating the admiration of art."

Why am I critiquing this painting so much? I'm a physicist, not an artist. ;)

Tom Hart said...

In all seriousness, I think that Audran may be on to something. James: do you know for sure that this reproduction wasn't shot, and then cropped at an off angle? It seems to me that tilted so the carpet edge is horizontal, it reads right...(not having tried that experiment yet myself, I confess...)

James Gurney said...

Tom and Audran, the image used on the blog I shot myself at Sotheby's auction preview in New York. It's not cropped and is pretty close to the actual painting.

You can see Sotheby's image of it here: http://www.artvalue.com/auctionresult--reggianini-vittorio-1858-1924-admiration-2886370.htm

Tom Hart said...

Thanks for that info, James. That settles that question!

Richard said...

I stand corrected! Not cropped; at least from a three dimensioned point of view;-)

Great blog, after all, in my point of view

Wouter Bruneel said...

That is so interesting. I've noticed the awkwardness when pushing 2 point perspective like this.

Rockhopper said...

Yes its wrong however I kind of like it, makes the piece more dynamic

ibisbill said...

James,

While we're on the subject of perspective, would you have time to give us a few comments on Rackstraw Downes?

He seems to be re-inventing perspective, in his mural-size, extremely horizontal paintings.

James Gurney said...

Ibisbill, I'm glad you mentioned Rackstraw Downes, because he's doing some interesting things with "fish-eye" or curved perspective. Where the field of view is taking up more than 90 degrees of viewing angle. A painter can go beyond a wide-angle lens in such things, and some of the other comments have alluded to this idea. Good topic for another post, perhaps.

ibisbill said...

Thanks, James.

A post on Rackstraw Downes would be a great idea.

His painting of the landfill on Staten Island is mind-boggling.

BTW, minor technical issue. How do you insert your picture into one of these comments? I looked everywhere on Google Account and I can't find where to insert photos.

James Gurney said...

Ibisbill--If you set up a free Blogger account, there's should be a page where you can upload a profile photo that appears with your comments.

ibisbill said...

Thanks for the advice on Blogger accounts.

Look forward to your thoughts on Rackstraw Downes.

ibisbill said...

Ahhh! I finally got it right and managed to include my photo.

Thanks for your help!

Sam said...

Very insightful post (as usual), James. It appears that Reggianini was a champion of this kind of beautiful optical wrongness. A quick search reveals another example: http://www.allartclassic.com/pictures_zoom.php?p_number=229&p=&number=REV022