Sunday, November 29, 2009

Repin's Duelling Shapes

This painting by Ilya Repin illustrates a scene in Pushkin's novel Eugene Onegin when Onegin kills Lensky in a duel. The scene takes place beside a mill in winter, and the white snow gives Repin the opportunity to silhouette the figures. Their simple poses tell the story immediately.

Repin revisits the story in this oil painting of the terrible moments after Onegin kills Lensky. Here Repin uses strong silhouettes again, but in an even more interesting way. Onegin is isolated, grappling with the weight of the deed.

His simple vertical shape is echoed by the drumbeat rhythm of the trees behind him. Lensky's form lies prostrate on the ground, an uneven, wild shape. The seconds, Guillot and Zaretsky, also form ragged silhouettes, shapewelded to each other and to the darks of the mill behind them.

Keep an eye on next month's (Dec/Jan) issue of International Artist magazine, which will have an article that I wrote for them on silhouettes, based on material in Imaginative Realism.

Previously on GJ: Silhouette, Part 1 and Part 2.


The fearless threader said...

I'm so glad I found your blog, you teach so much about the composition of art and it is incredibly useful to a student such as me.

Unknown said...

You Blog is fantastic!!

Russell Dickerson said...

On my site some time ago I wrote about Ivan Aivazovsky and Ilya Repin’s "Pushkin’s Farewell to the Sea", which uses the silhouette very nicely. I think that's something I need to remember in my own work too, the strength of the silhouette in the composition. Thanks for posting this one, Repin is quickly turning into one of my favorites (though I've always loved his "Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan").

Lester Yocum said...

This is off-topic, but I just got a copy of "Norman Rockwell, Behind the Camera", reviewed in this blog here. Folks, this is a must-have book. Great references, great inspiration, great learning tool. Great suggestion, James.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Fearless and Marcia.

Russ, I'll keep putting up more Repin in future because it's hard to find much about him in print.

Les, it's totally fine to be off-topic, and I agree about the new book on NR's use of photography. I'm just starting to read through it, and it's very helpful.

I'd also recommend the recent Flesk book on James Bama, which shows a lot of his photo reference, and shows Bama, like Rockwell, to not only have high standards in shooting his reference, but to be creative in adapting it to his vision.

Russell Dickerson said...

That would great, I've become a big fan of a number of Russian artists of the 19th century. Vasily Perov, Repin, Aivazovsky, Vasily Vereshchagin, Ivan Shishkin, there are quite a few I've come across for my blog that are just fascinating.

Ray Lederer said...

I know it's been said before but I absolutely love your blog, and it's become vital for my continuing art education. I learn and get excited about something new every day from your blog, whether it be a new posting or a followed link. THANK YOU(!) for keeping your momentum and passion for learning and teaching. It's invigorating and inspiring.

Anonymous said...

I found the second painting a great lesson in rules - and when to break them. The rule is that a silhouette should be easy to read, and the shapes of Onegin and Lensky surely are. On the other hand, it took me a second or third glance to make sense of the rather chaotic, welded shapes of the seconds. In this case, that is perfectly allright; the lonely silhouette of Onegin makes the image as a whole easy to read, and that makes room for the harder-to-read shape that tells the story of shock and disorder.

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