Monday, November 19, 2012

The Model in Perspective


This picture of the painter and his model by Alfred Stevens (1823-1906) is well painted, but it has a problem. The model seems to be looking somewhere to the left of the painter's canvas. 

Why does it look that way, and what could be done to fix it?

The problem is a simple perspective goof (one I've made many times myself).

To place a figure squarely in front of the easel, Mr. Stevens would have needed to place the model's feet on the floor directly to the left of the red "x" that's midway between the wheels of the easel. But her feet are actually well beyond the spot opposite the far wheel. Since we're seeing her in profile, her view appears to be directed to the left of the picture.
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The painting is in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

18 comments:

jeffkunze said...

I hope you don't mind but I decided to blog about my solutions to this problem.
http://jeffkunze.blogspot.com/2012/11/if-only-masters-had-photoshop.html

Nina Brodsky said...

Am I being totally naive? But isn't the canvas that's about to fall off the easel a much bigger perspective problem?

bill said...

But look how wide the easel is at its base. I think maybe the problem was discovered and was band-aided by making a huge, wide base on the easel.

Tom Hart said...

jeffkunze's solutions are hilarious (especially #4). Check them out at his blogspot cited above.

James Gurney said...

Jeff, yes, thanks for those great solutions. I didn't notice the head swap solution at first--but once I saw it, it was definitely a double take. Also loved the snake neck solution.

Check it out at: http://jeffkunze.blogspot.com/2012/11/if-only-masters-had-photoshop.html

Chris said...

James, is there really a problem with this painting? The point of the painting may be that the model is bored with the painting process and bored with the artist...maybe the model is looking at a mouse in the corner of the studio, or another painting beside the easel.
As you say, the painting is well done; for me there is no problem - Stevens probably designed his painting to look the way it does.

Bjorn Nelissen said...

I really would love to know why they would examine the image with the canvas tilted like that.

Stephanie said...

If the model's feet are placed where James' suggests, then she can't be looking over the painter's left shoulder as she is now. I like the idea she's looking at a mouse in the corner best!

Craig Banholzer said...

The model simply needs to have her head turned a few degrees to her right, that is, towards the picture plane. Stevens was a fine painter, but he did have an Achilles heal in the area of perspective. His "In the Studio." in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has similar problems.

etc, etc said...

I think it is a conscious concession to earlier artistic conventions. There are countless examples of this kind of spatial dissonance in the paintings of Late Baroque/Rococo old masters, who generally (i.e. not without exception) placed great emphasis on a dynamic depth of foreground, which basically means avoiding a regular, monotonous, frieze-like horizontal arrangement of the foreground elements, often by means of a diagonal (read W├Âlfflin). Applying the modern realist standard of stringent fidelity to nature is not the approach to understanding or appreciating their work.

Craig Banholzer said...

But this IS a modern realist work of art!

joshuahendry said...

I think it is also odd that the she has a lot of reflected light on her face, I guess from the canvas. This seems unrealistic given her position. To add the reflected light as if she were in front of the canvas, but position her in this way seems more like a mistake in perspective. If her face were not as well lit as the man's I think the disinterested woman idea would be more believable...at least for me.

Roelof Venter said...

Mr Gurney, your posts are AWESOME and practical! Thank you!

etc, etc said...

But this IS a modern realist work of art!

There is much you do not know, and much before your eyes you do not see, Herr Professor.

Agnes Preszler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Agnes Preszler said...



To me neither the painter is looking at the painting. The easel is not in line with the seat. So I'd simply push back the easel with the painting and maybe turn a bit the head of the model...
It's a pity that such a painting has a fault like that

Jonah H. said...

Calling this a "mistake" is a bit extreme. It's a choice or at best a cheat, not a mistake. The artist clearly wanted the palette in the foreground and didn't want to crowd it. By pushing everything back he gets it all in the frame. He sacrifices the correct perspective for the sake of the composition, which, IMO, is the right choice. Her gesture and expression is more than enough to communicate that she is looking at the canvas. Besides, as mentioned earlier, The whole of the Mannerist and Baroque periods are plagued by such "mistakes." I'm thinking of Parmagianino's Madonna of the long neck with it's massive columns and midget in the background. Rembrandt didn't give a fig about perspective. And don't get me started on Rockwell. He shoved more heads over that Thanksgiving table in "Freedom from Want" than is humanly possible unless they have no shoulders.

Jonah H. said...

For example, try making sense of the perspective in THIS thing.

http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/artist-in-his-studio-32665