Thursday, March 27, 2008

Krøyer’s Hip Hip Hurra!

The Arken Museum in Copenhagen is presenting an exhibition called “The Skagen Painters —In a New Light,” currently on view until the first of June, 2008.

The principal work in the show is called “Hip Hip Hurra!” by the Danish/Norwegian painter Peder Krøyer, the ringleader of a group of genre painters who gathered in the fishing village of Skagen.

Krøyer, like the Juste Milieu painters in France and the Newlyn painters in England, blended the insights of Impressionism with the skills of traditional academic craftsmanship, which he perfected in Leon’s Bonnat’s atelier in Paris.

The small color study above shows how the design looked as it was almost fully crystallized. Between this sketch and the final painting he removed the hat from the man with the glasses, and he added a man with a light jacket leaning into the picture at right.

The current exhibit in Denmark examines how Krøyer achieved the feeling of a spontaneous, offhand composition in “Hip, Hip, Hurra!”, which in fact was carefully staged and arranged. The painting took him over four years to complete.

The detail of the final painting shows a principle Krøyer would have learned from Bonnat, namely to be careful not to violate the lights. The large light area composed of the tablecloth, the girl’s dress, and the woman at right is skilfully shape-welded together, with no dark accents interrupting it. This unified structure makes a strong, simple mass that holds the painting together despite a prodigious amount of detail.

Here I’ve taken the final painting and exaggerated the underlying tonal structure. The light shape is an abstract unit that looks something like a butterfly. The light woman’s arm extends upward from it at right, and the dark woman’s arm comes into the shape at left. These two gestures are given compositional salience and they help us recognize the theme of the picture immediately.

Two smaller light shapes float like islands in the dark background of foliage: the head of the woman at left, and the cluster of revelers in the distance.

Further Reading
Related Gurney Journey Posts: Shape Welding, Juste Milieu, Color Sketches
More on Skagen painters, Link.
More on the exhibition, Link. feature on Peder Krøyer, Link.
Thanks to Armand Cabrera for telling me about the Skagen painters.


Anonymous said...

"don't violate the lights!"

*slaps forehead*

wonderful piece there and i enjoyed your analysis. i find taking pieces you really enjoy into and editing program and reducing them in this way can be really helpful to understanding why they work.

i've had a piece take 4 years off and on (with a year off here and there) but I jut can't imagine working on something continuously for that amount of time.

craigstephens said...

Thanks for the wonderful analysis! Shape welding is a great term. It's such an important compositional concept and you've managed to explain it so well, largely by giving it such an obvious and expressive name. I know I had teachers in art school who understood this idea and probably even tried to teach it to me. It just didn't resonate until I saw "shape welding"! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Jim, great, thoroughly enjoyable blog.

I believe the terms for shape welding used at the Art Students League was "massing."F.R. Gruger says "massing of contrasts", which I always found a bit confusing, though I think he means the same thing... the unifying of shapes with similar value scales for the purposes of poetic effect.

Often objects that have similar narrative roles are unified in such a way... color or value coded or shape coded. I believe the idea was to create a visual metaphor of the graphic design. That is, the gesture of the graphic design has metaphoric import as it unifies with the subject matter. This may be the reason why so much emphasis seems to have been put on strong silhouettes during that era of painting.

In Kroyer's piece, the white shapes seem to be used to represent "celebration". In this interpretation the tiny gathering of hands of the dark coated men seem insignificant compared to the area of "celebration" occupied by the mother and her child and the large clean white table cloth that is welded to them.

Anyhow, thanks so much for the blog. And everything.

Kev Ferrara
Button Holder - Oh Rats club.

Daniel Hardesty said...

Unbelievable...just fantastic. I really don't know what to say. This painting has me dumbfounded. It's just beautiful. Thanks for posting it Jim, much appreciated.

Shawn Escott said...

What a beautiful painting. The lighting is incredible!! Kroyer is amazing. Look at those warm and cool tones in the table cloth. :-O

Erik Bongers said...

You know...I like the people and what's going on with their faces and gestures but there is one thing that disturbes me about this painting :
the front of the white table cloth.

It looks like a bright flash light into my eyes, thereby obscuring the rest of the painting.

I really think that a dark table cloth, or at least the front of the table not covered by the cloth would do justice to the other values.
Sure, might be the reproduction, but still : it would suddenly make the girl and mother jump out, and they are much more important than that cloth. And you would still have a single white mass. And their clothes would appear white !
Currently they look like the bad side of a comparative washing powder commercial.

I know, I know: how dare I !
If the painter were still alive he'd turn around in his grave !

James Gurney said...

You raise an interesting point, Erik.

Now that you mention it, the figures in the scene appear to be backlit from the left side, yet the front plane of the tablecloth is receiving direct frontal illumination. Shouldn't that plane be in shadow? Maybe that's why it looks unnaturally bright.

In any case, it would be a great assignment for a group of design students to try to recompose this picture using all the same shapes and poses but with a completely different value arrangement. What if the woman on the left had the light dress? Now I am afraid Mr. Kroyer's ghost wants to kill both of us!

Tom said...

HI James

Great blog, I have become a regular reader. In regard to your concept of shape welding if I remember right Vernon Blake in his book How to Sketch and in his "The Art and Craft of Drawing" says that large parts of your painting should be kept in the same value, 2 or 3 big simple distinct masses. He uses a French word a lot "envoplement" (which I have probably spelled wrong). He also makes the interesting point that how an artists uses light or value in painting will have a lot to do with the artist philosophical outlook on life.

And the Chinese painters have that wonderful compositional idea of open and close. One shape should open up and allow the viewer to fly free and the next shape should close down the space and anchor the viewer. Again these are the initial large masses from water to Mountains to sky.

Thanks for the blog
Tom Morris

Erik Bongers said...

Tom, the word you are looking for may be "envellopement". Same as
english appart from the double 'l':
"to enclose or enfold completely with or as if with a covering"

Tom said...


OK I had to go see if Vernon Blake define and spelled (correct spelling) "envelopment" and he does in "Relation in Art" He defines it in a chapter on light and shade. "Envelopment means the sacrifice of sharp division between two tints, forms, or values, and the insistence on the merging of one into the other with a resulting "soft" affect. In painting Eugene Carriere pushed envelopment to excess" I still not sure if it matches James's shape-welding. But maybe a picture meant to be hung on a wall does want the same kind of immediate impact an illustration wants to deliver. I remember reading John Ruskin somewhere and he said Turner would disguise or hide the focal point (avoiding making it too obvious) so the picture would not be read to fast.


James Gurney said...

Thanks, Tom and Erik, for shedding light on the terms "massing" and "envellopement" or "envelopement." I don't quite understand the Chinese concept of opening and closing. How does a shape open or close the viewer's movement through a picture?

r. chunn said...

In Erle Loran's excellent book, "Cezanne's Composition," he refers to the grouping of the lights (or darks) in a painting as a closed pattern, and the breaking up of the lights and darks as an open pattern. I don't know if he came up with these terms on his own or got them from his teacher, Hans Hofmann.

Tim said...

Hey Mr Gurney! Loving your blog, and I thank you very much for the mass of info you are providing us all with, as well as fodder for thought and reflection! I was very glad today when i logged on and saw that you are talking about the Skagen painters! Finally someone else knows them! My dad introduced me to them a few years ago, and I've loved them ever since.You'll be jealous to know I am going to see the exhibit with my family on May 24th!

James Gurney said...

Have fun at the show. And if you feel like taking pictures and writing up a report, send it to me and I'll post it on GJ or link to your blog.

Tom said...

Hi James

Opening and closing come from idea of the yin and yang. This is only as I understand it of course. One thing bows down to another but the two things create the one something that is higher or more mysterious then the individuals. The two interact form (closing) and opening (space). The foreground (closing) creates and allows the viewer to see or experience the empty space of a mist or sea or river until our journey leads us to the next form, i.e., the distance shore and a mountain which closes the emptiness of the open from and carries us on to the next open space. I don't know if I have explain it but I feel the same sensation of opening and closing with Turner. He carries one on to a sense of vastness which is not immediately definable as anything. I live in Washington Dc and his recent show at the National gallery was extraordinary, not so much for the stories in his painting, but for the vastness and the sense of space that is felt in his work almost a limitlessness, but you feel like the limitlessness is what you are, the paintings felt incredible freeing. Whether they were large or small. The objects boats and shore only seem to bring the vastness into being. I am not saying this is the whole story but these are my reactions to the painting.

What is interesting about Chinese painting is the philosophically outlook they bring to painting. They seem more interested in how the universe is put together. That painting is an expression of the universe, just like everything in the universe is and expression of the universe, it does not have mimic it but it does have to structure itself like it.

James Gurney said...

Thank you, Tom...
You did a beautiful job of explaining those concepts. Now I better understand why I love Chinese landscape painting and the whole sweep of Turner's work. And why I have to work out the foreground and the framing masses of a landscape in order to pull off the ethereal distances.

Enzie Shahmiri said...


I was taught that when you squint your darkest lights can not be any darker than the lightest areas in your darks. So is the shape welding the same concept?

James Gurney said...


That's good advice about separating the lights and darks, and it applies both to the larger composition shapes and to the modeling of form, where the lightest shadow values are usually darker than the darkest light values.

Shape welding (or "massing" as Kev reminded us it was once called) refers to the linking of 2D shapes of similar value into larger mega-shapes within the composition.

Anonymous said...

Hello, there – regular reader of this blog. Very inspiring, to say the least.

I went to see this exhibition today. Apart from the painting itself, some preliminary sketches are also exhibited. One of them is a study of the covered table, without any figures or food or anything. In this sketch, the front plane of the cloth is not lit – the only highlights are some yellow-white spots in the background. What is interesting is that it appears much more life-like that way than the final painting – makes me wonder why Krøyer changed it.

Torup said...

Interesting to read your take on Hip Hip Hurra. This painting has come to mean a great deal to me since I am related to 6 of the people in the composition.

The person who was with hat in the earlier study and without in the final is actually Peder Krøyer himself.

The lady in white in the right foreground is another famous Danish painter from Skagen, Anna Ancher. Her daughter Helga is by her side and Helga was also a painter, At the far end of the table you can see Michael Ancher, Anna's painter husband.

Although all the people in the painting were known to one another, the pictured event is a composite of people who were in a photograph Krøyer took at an outdoor lunch supplemented by other painters who were not present for the original meal.

James Gurney said...

Thank you, C. Gertz and Torup for those fascinating insights into the painting. It gives it so much more meaning to me now.