In his 1889 book, “How to judge of a picture”, John C. Van Dyke thoroughly describes how to properly assess a painting. I know, the title is weird, particularly with that preposition “of” stuck in there, but, that’s the correct title.
John Charles Van Dyke (1861-1931) was an American art historian and critic. He was a professor of art history at Rutgers College, and was also elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1908. He authored two series of books related to art, the first were critical guide books, the second covered the history of art in America.
The purpose of this blog, and others to follow, is to share with you some helpful guidelines, offered by Mr. Van Dyke, that will help us critique our own work and the work of others. We will not agree with everything, but all his comments are worth serious consideration before rejecting them out of hand. Remember, this was written in the 1880’s.
Color and Harmony
“If we see one on the street dressed in bright stuffs, with much tinsel, ribbons, and jewelry about her, we say to ourselves that she has bad taste, or perhaps that she is ‘loud’; but if after her appears one dressed in well-matched goods, with hat, gloves, and ornaments to correspond, the whole inconspicuous yet uniform, we talk about ‘style’ and ‘keeping’. By all means pass over the ‘loud’ and the extravagant wherever they are met with, and center attention on the modest products of good taste. Look to the grays and browns; the low-toned and half-tinted pictures. Look at them not once only, but several times, for there is likely to be something in them that you do not see at first glance.”
“If you are wise you will not turn away from the gray and brown landscapes of Corot, Rousseau, Troyon, and Diaz. Choose the quieter, more subdued pieces – those that do not rack us like a cataract, but rather soothe us with the gentle murmur of the woodland brook. They will grow and improve with acquaintanceship, and in them we shall find the true poetry of the commonplace, the most satisfactory and sympathetic of all. The same rule of color that guides you in pictures of landscape should guide you also in marines, still life, and figure compositions.”
“Color theories are innumerable, but there are two generally prevailing among artists: 1) Color harmony is produced by the blending of closely related colors, such as red, orange, and yellow. 2) Color harmony is also produced by the contrast of opposite or complementary colors, softened, toned down, and run together, such as green and red, yellow and blue. A very simple and practical classification of color is made by dividing it into two groups – warm and cold. Thus the reds, scarlets, and golds belong to a landscape of the tropics, or to the desert, while the blues and dark greens are appropriate to the colder climes.”
“I believe it to be a generally accepted theory that harmony is produced by the predominance of warm colors relieved by cold ones, or cold colors relieved by warm ones.”
“There is only one true way to acquire an art-knowledge of harmony, and that is to study the works of the great colorists with a determination to understand and appreciate them. This will educate the eye and teach you to note many beauties you do not see at first glance.”
Next week, an interview with Nancy Boren.