Saturday, May 29, 2021

Figures in Landscape

Does it improve a landscape painting to add small figures? Figures can give a sense of scale; they can let viewers project themselves into the scene; and they can animate an otherwise still scene.  

Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900), Mount Washington 

Some Hudson River School painters put in stock figures that weren't too attention-getting.There might be a couple of fishermen launching a boat or a shepherd and his flock or a milkmaid ambling across the farm.

Art historians call them "staffage" figures, "a descriptive term for figures to whom no specific identity or story is attached, included merely for compositional or decorative reasons. In the latter sense, staffage are accessories to the scene, yet add life to the work; they provide depth to the painting and reinforce the main subject, as well as giving a clear scale to the rest of the composition."
Vladimir Makovsky, Fishing, 1884

But a few painters have put well crafted figures that tell more of a story and reward the viewer's attention.

Caspar David Friedrich The Evening Star

If you give a little thought to the placement and pose of the figures, and combine them with a good title, they can add a touch of drama, satire, or whimsy.


A. Decker said...

I think "Evening Star" sort of has a double meaning in the Frederich piece, bearing out your last statement.

Newt said...

"Staffage" is a good addition to my vocabulary. I think I will use it dismissively of my less-useful coworkers.

It's funny, when I'm taking photos I nearly always try to avoid including people in landscape shots, but I do sometimes include figures in landscape paintings. I guess I just want to be in control of the humans in my image.

DavidB said...

The bank area on the right side of the painting by Vladimir Makovsky, "Fishing", has such wonderful marks. So lovely- the illusion.

waronmars said...

The equivalent in the concept art world is known as ‘stick salesman’, as the figure is usually drawn holding a staff. An anonymous concept artist made a tumblr to which popularised the name and shows off the trope in a great gallery of art!