Thursday, August 8, 2013

Breaking the foreground line

When composing a picture, it's sometimes effective put an element in the direct foreground, cropped by the bottom edge.

Here's an example by Henryk Siemiradzky (1843-1902), which doesn't break the foreground line. The bottom of the composition along the frame edge is empty. Nothing wrong with that, but it can make the picture feel a bit more formal, more like a stage play. Keeping the foreground line open like this is what artists have usually done. 

Let's consider some other possibilities. 

This is the "Proclamation of the code of Emperor DuĊĦan, by Paja Javanovic. That one figure partially cropped in the center left foreground opens up the picture.

Harry Anderson portrays Coronado's men discovering the Grand Canyon (thanks, Jim). The foreground figure is cropped just above the knees, and his gesture involves us and implies that the rest of the group is behind us. "Breaking the fourth wall" like this is more suited to an illustration than a mural, perhaps.

Here's a landscape by James Perry Wilson. Not many painters would think of putting the bushes right smack in the extreme foreground, but that decision gives him a lot of depth. We can step around the bushes on the left and enter the world he has created. 

Wilson spent most of his career painting diorama backdrops, so he was extremely conscious of foreground/background issues.


RobNonStop said...

Sorry for diverging from the core of this lesson but what is happening in the first painting?

Amanda said...

Nothing to do with this post, but you might enjoy this month's Natural History magazine (actually labeled June 2013). The cover article is "Living Color," about a botanist's plunge into the world of color and dealing with the problems of accurately describing and portraying color when you are describing plants. It seems botanists have come up with their own color charts, similar to printers. Great fun!

Willow's Quiet Corner said...

RobNonStop, your comment also had me wondering. A quick search turned up this explanation:

Interesting post as always! ! ! :)

Anonymous said...


Craig Banholzer said...

Right. Repoussoir is the term my teacher, Ted Schmidt, used for this sort of thing. I'm not sure if a repoussoir figure is required to break across the bottom edge of the rectangle, but the general idea is to put something in "the viewer's space" to "introduce" the picture.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

I've always preferred a painting that breaks that bottom edge. Without it, there's usually a strip of quiet, uninteresting at the bottom of the picture. The idea that this creates a more informal look to the painting is a good one; it also makes it look more like a candid snapshot. As a landscape painter, I actually do this a lot with bushes, trees, and other props.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

I wonder, are there examples of the breaking the foreground line at the top of the frame instead?

Also, it's impressive how effective the tiny bit of crossing in the second picture is.

RobNonStop said...

RE Willow's Quiet Corner: Thanks!

Roberto said...

Your blog is a masterful gift to the world of ArtMaking!! Your hard work and talent is greatly appreciated.
You are right when say: ”Breaking the fourth wall" like this is more suited to an illustration than a mural, perhaps." …especially when the fourth wall is the ground plane. This usually results in the foreground object standing in the basement!! However, using the bottom plane/frame as the edge of the room/mural-environment or breaking the fourth-wall in this way, to the right or the left (Repoussoir?) can be very useful in creating a ‘portal’ effect, especially w trompe l’oeil objects and/or architecture. An example would be columns separating the viewer’s room from the mural environment.
Breaking the fourth-wall-as the ceiling can also add a fun sense of scale or space to the mural’s composition.
Thanx 4 the Journey! -RQ