Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Month-long field study

John Henry Hill (1839-1922) painted this oil study near Nyack, New York during July of 1863. It occupied him “nearly every afternoon in the month while our civil war was going on.” 

Painting an extended field study like this means working in light conditions that change drastically by the hour. This is especially true in a woodland setting, where the light and shadow projected down through the trees sweeps rapidly across the scene. 

The detail shows a section of the work about six inches square. Such extensive studies were common among the so-called "American Pre-Raphaelites." These painters followed the landscape theorist John Ruskin, who advocated: “Go to Nature in all singleness of heart, and walk with her laboriously and trustingly, having no other thought but how best to penetrate her meaning, rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing." 
More about John Henry Hill
Book: The New Path: Ruskin and the American Pre-Raphaelites
Thanks to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which offers a high resolution file of the painting on its website, and has the painting on view in its new American wing. 


Michael Syrigos said...

How can one make a study like this, when the whole image is constantly changing? I mean, even if you are working fast and all over the canvas, light changes and you don't have the same data when you go for a second pass. I am wondering about the same thing with sketches artists do in courtrooms. No one is still! I go around with a small sketchbook trying to do some fast roughs but people more around so much that I can't get their faces down, so I go for inanimate objects instead. What's the key to this sort of stuff?

Cindy Skillman said...

Work fast; choose a pose you think they'll repeat from time to time. Choose someone a reasonable distance away. Don't let them see you're sketching them (unless they're pretty!)Don't worry too much about a likeness or even accuracy at first. And most of all, remember you're practicing and will get better.

Outside, principally sketch in the lights and shadows first.

Frankie said...

Since you can't chase shadow patterns even in a quick plein air, I'm sure he took liberties in making up some of the lighting. I wonder if he also took liberties with the composition as a whole.

Terry said...

I admire plein air artists but like you said light changes so fast it can drive one crazy. Probably best way to work avoid such headaches is to work small and on overcast days when the light is more ambient. Personally I'd rather work from a series of photos.

I'm just getting back into painting again so that may change as my speed increases and skill improves.

BTW - Jim great to find you blog. Love your art! From and old GPer


Ian Williamson said...

Michael, I think Cindy is right. Choose a moment. Identify where the shadows fall initially at that fixed point in time. Make an initial decision about the value range - so you know how dark your darkest darks are/lightest lights and stick to it although the light and intensity of values then goes on to shift minute by minute. Establish the value range early. That's my view. Ian

Julie Kessler said...

Painting outdoors on a sunny day, there's a window of about two hours when the light stays relatively the same. You can get away with three hours if you're careful. If you want to stay outdoors painting all day bring several canvases and switch to a different canvas every couple of hours or so. You can take these same canvases outside with you day after day to finish painting them. I imagine that's what the artist did.

Kessie said...

Well, he did say that it occupied him "every afternoon". I imagine he only painted a few hours every day while the light was the same.

Tom Hart said...

It took me a few days to realize why I'm not more impressed with this painting. It's completely flat, no sense of depth. Sections, taken individually (such as in the detail selection) are good enough, but taken as a whole the painting communicates no impression that the background recedes.