Monday, April 14, 2014

Morot's device for capturing motion

Aimé-Nicolas Morot (1850-1913), provoked a lot of discussion at the Salon in 1886 with his painting of a cavalry charge, because it changed how people thought about galloping horses. 

Aimé-Nicolas Morot: Charge of the Cuirassiers at Rezonville
According to a contemporary observer, "The old-fashioned rendering of this movement, which always depicted steeds with all their four legs fully extended, was, for the first time in an important picture, absolutely swept away and superseded. In it the horses are shown in almost every possible phase of the gallop, and some of the positions came rather as a shock."

Even before Eadweard Muybridge developed his methods for photographing animals in motion, Morot was beginning to suspect that the traditional "hobby horse" pose didn't really happen at any phase of real galloping action. The problem is that the unaided human eye can't with any certainty isolate individual poses from such rapid action.

Aimé-Nicolas Morot (1850-1913)
But Morot was determined. Day after day he would bring his sketchbook to the cavalry training ground at the Champ de Mars, "and there, with a special instrument of his own construction, spend many hours closely studying the movements and action of the horses as they dashed by. The instrument referred to was simply a small wooden box with a quickly closing shutter which he could release at will, through which he would closely follow the motion of a galloping squadron and then, suddenly letting go of the shutter, endeavour to retain and reconstruct the image last impressed upon his vision." 

You can do the same thing even without this device by watching an action closely and snapping your eyes shut. With practice and training, your short term memory can seize on these brief afterimages to reconstruct extreme fast action. 

Wikipedia on Aimé-Nicolas Morot 
Previously on GurneyJourney:


SE said...

Mama always told me drawing from life is the best teacher.

António Araújo said...

James, just followed your link to your older post on "flash-glancing". I do something like that when I have to draw people in motion, using my eyelids as a camera shutter, but I hadn't thought of it so much in term of looking at the afterimage, because I only do it for a split-second. I just blink and somehow that helps to isolate a pose from the preceding and subsequent stages of the motion. Perhaps I am looking at the afterimage momentarily without being conscious of it? I'll try to do it with a smaller "camera speed" and see what comes out. Thanks. :)

ps: just curious, did you come by that trick intuitively or did you get it from reading about Morot (or some other source)? To me it came as sort of a tic, almost; at first a sort of clenching of the muscles when trying to stop the motion, and then the realization that letting the lids actually close somehow helped.

Unknown said...

So he used himself as a living camera, capturing the images himself?

Howard Lyon said...

Fascinating article. I just finished reading "The Judgement of Paris" by Ross King. It talks in depth about Ernest Meissonier's efforts to capture horses in motion. He was an excellent rider and would take cavalry men to the race track and gallop along next to them taking notes. When that didn't work well enough, he built a mini-train track on his property that he could be pulled along in a cart to better study the gallop. All this was done for his painting "Friedland" that he painted over 14 years. Amazing.

Beth said...

Wow Howard, I just looked up the painting Friedland. I would love to see this in person. People say I'm so patient because I'll spend several hundred hours on a painting, but 14 years?!!!!! Boggles my mind. You wouldn't be the same painter after five years let alone 14. Definitely a win for tenacity.