Comparing Values In Paintings – The Classics

The use of values in your artworks are very important; they can set the mood and draw the eye to a specific focal point. Apparently over time there has been less and less emphasis on the importance of values, with many modern artists not utilizing values to their full ability.

This post will look at…

The use of values in your artworks are very important; they can set the mood and draw the eye to a specific focal point. Apparently over time there has been less and less emphasis on the importance of values, with many modern artists not utilizing values to their full ability.

This post will look at how some of the “masters” in the art world have used values in their paintings, whilst the post Comparing Values in Paintings – The Contemporary will study some renowned modern artists and their use of values.

Turner’s Fishermen at Sea (1796)

Joseph Turner was a Romanticist landscape painter, whose work elevated the importance of landscape painting to rival historical paintings at the time.

One of Turner’s most notable paintings was also one that founded his reputation as an oil painter; Fishermen at Sea. The painting depicts the perils faced by many fishermen of the era; the light of the moon challenged meagerly by the lantern on the boat.

In fact, if you study the black and white version of Fishermen at Sea, the lantern can barely be seen due to its darker values. This suggests the use of the color in the painting has great importance. This is especially true for the warm color of the lantern against the cool waves and environment; the only comfort the fishermen can find is from the glow of the moon and the lantern.

The values of the painting are overwhelming dark, lending towards the desired gloomy mood. This is further emphasized by the strong contrasts.

Monet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1866)

Oscar-Claude Monet (1840-1926) is well revered as the founder of the French Impressionist movement.

In his painting “Déjeuner sur l’herbe” (1866) there is a strong contrast between the light and dark values. The eye is immediately, and constantly, drawn towards the lightest values in the foreground where the sun is hitting the picnic blanket. Whilst the eye is drawn to this bright white spot, the eye is then lead up the arm of the young lady – Monet’s first wife Camille Doncieux – towards her face.

This is immediately contrasted by the dark values of the man sitting on the left of the lady – that man being Monet’s friend Gustave Courbet. In the black and white value study, Courbet is surrounded by entirely lighter values.

The center of focus for the painting are the two figures. But what about the two figures, Frédéric Bazille and the other woman? Their positioning in the center of the artwork and their proximity to the focal point means that they are still included as important aspects of the artwork, however their values have been muted to emphasize that they are further away from the artist.

Renoir’s Dance at Le moulin de la Galette (1876)

Ten years after Monet started the Impressionist movement, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) became a leader in the development of the style.

In terms of values, Renoir’s values appear much more cluttered and scattered than Monet’s. This does not mean he didn’t use them, however. The eye is typically drawn to two locations in the painting – the woman in the foreground wearing a light dress, and the dancing couple not too far behind her. Renoir used the sunlight in the same manner as Monet in the painting “Déjeuner sur l’herbe” to create the lighter values in the scene. Both of these focal points are surrounded by higher (darker) values to create the visual contrast. Finally if one continues to gaze at the painting the eye is lead around to the top right by the light values on the lamps, before skipping back to the lady at the lower center.

In essence, Renoir used values inside the painting to lead the viewers gaze around what would otherwise be quite a complex and overwhelming scene.

Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1905-1906)

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century, both exploring and developing a number of artistic styles such as the Cubist movement.

In 1905-1906 he painted one of his patrons, Gertrude Stein.

Similar to many portraiture, the values in this painting typically have a light or dark value. The light values in this painting are used to capture the viewers interest upon the face and neck. The only other area of the painting that has a similar value are the hands, and they have been subtly darkened to reduce distraction whilst still keeping a realistic color shade and appearance.

Edward Seago’s Anglesey Abbey (1949)

Edward Seago (1910-1974) was a self-taught artist, with works classified as either Impressionist or Post-Impressionist. He became so popular that people who wished to buy his artwork would have to queue at his annual exhibitions held around the world. The only exception for this rule was for Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who received two paintings a year directly from Seago.

In his painting Anglesey Abbey by Day, Spring 1949 (1949), Seago has used mostly midtones to create the artwork. The use of so many mid-tones suggests that color holds an important role in establishing the mood of the painting. Despite this, Seago has used values to emphasize and direct the eye towards the Abbey as a focal point, as well as to create the realistic look of light shining through the clouds.

Brett Whitely’s Terrace Houses (circa 1956)

Brett Whitely (1939-1992) jumps out of the Australian art scene to paint many streets and buildings around where he lived.

In his painting Terrace Houses, the central house is painted in darker values than the structures that surround it; the fence, neighboring house and sky are all varying degrees of lighter values. The eye is lead continuously around the outer edges of the painting, jumping between various lighter values as points of interest. The colors in this painting hold much importance with heavy use of the brownish-reds and muted yellows that are typically seen throughout Australia.

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