Sunday, November 2, 2014

Weaving warm and cool threads throughout the picture

Hans Heysen (1884-1968) was an Australian painter who was born in Germany. He achieved a luminous, colorful effect with a very simple warm-cool palette.

In the watercolor painting "Midsummer Morning" 1908, his color range is restricted to blues and yellow/orange colors. You could achieve this effect with just ultramarine and raw sienna, and maybe a raw umber for darks. 

The warm-against-cool is orchestrated throughout the image as a whole, but also in its microcosm of small planes. In these details of the image, note how the far forest is held to an atmospheric light, cool value, with the nearer tree trunks edge lit and receiving warm reflected light. 

In the shadow side of the sheep in the sunlight, the top planes receive blue skylight, while the bottom planes receive warm reflected light. The bellies of the sheep in shadow receive much less of that bouncing warm light, so they're darker. 
These effects are most striking when looking toward the light, whether in watercolor (above), or oil (below).

Hans Heysen, Droving Into the Light, 1914-21, oil on canvas, 121.9 (h) x 152.4 (w) cm

Heysen himself said, "Keeping the trees solid in the morning light was the difficult thing, I think it was something I was striving for all my life really. The subtlety of the tree combined with the beauty; the bulk, the solidity of the tree, and the character of its growth. And the movement, that’s something we mustn’t forget … I had my special trees, and they altered their appearance—the time of the year and the angle of the sun made all the difference. You could paint a tree one day and get all its various facets. And the next day it would be a different tree."
More about Heysen at the website of the National Gallery of Australia


Unknown said...

What an excellent article! I have never seen Heysen's work but he is the perfect illustration of warm and cool.
Thank you so much!

Andy said...

Whenever I go to Perth, I make a point of visiting the public gallery, where Droving into the Light resides.

It's tucked away in the historic gallery, away from all the modernity in the main gallery, but it's well worth seeking it out if you're having trouble finding it. No one paints Australian trees quite like Heysen.

In fact, there's quite a bit of decent work tucked away down there, including Streeton, McCubbin, Roberts and Buvelot.

It's a shame so few people know it's there.

Brad Teare said...

Does the concept of warm and cool have any relation to the Kelvin spectrum? The Kelvin spectrum that goes from red to orange, yellow, then white, to light blue to dark blue seems more representative of light that is cast. The images you show here have nearly no green or purple as if the light being cast (the Kelvin spectrum) is over papering the local colors of green. I noticed Beirstadt employed the same effect on occasion.

James Gurney said...

Brad, I'm glad you brought up the Kelvin scale. Actually, the color temperature is kind of the reverse of the Kelvin scale in that hotter thermometer temperatures in black body radiation (Kelvin) result in bluer, not redder colors. And you're right, the Kelvin scale seems to ignore purple and green, which always made me wonder about cameras and lights that are set to Kelvin -- how do they filter out green or purple casts?