Formal Analysis of Artwork at Getty
The west wing of the J. Paul Getty Museum holds several wonderful 18th and 19th century paintings. Two such paintings are “The Farewell of Telemachus and Eucharis” by Jacques Louis David, 1818; and “Belisarius” by Francois Gerard, 1797. Both of these paintings are extremely refined oil paintings, and both are representational figurative paintings, each with two figures. In these two paintings David and Gerard were able to portray distinct moods through the use of color, shape, composition and technique.Both painting are representational idealized neo-classical paintings and so compositionally and technically they are very similar paintings.
However through an analysis of both it is evident that they achieved distinct moods through both similar and different means. Looking at both David’s and Gerard’s paintings there are some obvious similarities and differences. David has chosen a horizontal format, while Gerard’s painting is done vertically. These paintings while both conveying stoic moods convey this mood in different ways. David’s painting while vibrant and high in intensity conveys a serious yet touching emotional experience.
This is done through the juxtaposition of the two figures, their expression, and the diagonals throughout the composition. Gerard’s painting on the other hand is much darker in value and uses color most effectively to portray a sense of heroism. It is obvious that color plays an integral part in both compositions. In David’s painting the two figures are clothed in blue and red. The use of these two different primary colors give the painting a sense of balance but it also makes the painting very vibrant. On the other hand Gerard’s painting is much more subdued than David’s.
Contributing to this is the dominance of cool colors. Gerard’s use of green is contrasted with a warm red, which helps to add drama and attention to Belisarius. The red sunset also helps balance out the cool sky and ground which would otherwise dominate the painting and give it a much more somber mood. David also uses cool and warm colors but, while he evenly balances a cool blue with a warm red, his painting feels warm. This is largely contributed to the high value of the colors and brightly lit figures. This is in stark contrast to Gerard who uses a heavy chiaroscuro to give his painting a much more dramatic effect.
Both David and Gerard use very vibrant intense colors in the neo-classical tradition, however the values differ greatly in these two paintings. David’s painting is high in value, which gives the figures a lot of attention. The figures seem illuminated with impossible lighting, and this only adds to their significance. Gerard draws attention to his figures in the opposite way by using heavy shadows and only a touch of highlights. The use of this heavy chiaroscuro gives the painting its dramatic feel and adds to its realism. David’s painting is not lacking shadows it is just used in a different way.
The two figures are handled with a soft chiaroscuro and their bright skin really stands out against the cool grey background. When comparing these two paintings it is evident that both Gerard and David had a very good understanding of their medium. In David’s painting the fabrics are very clean and crisp showing lots of detail. In Gerard’s painting due to the chiaroscuro there is less detail in the fabrics yet the realism is not lost because light and shadow are handled so effectively. The implied textures throughout both paintings are handled with such care that the eye can hardly detect the presence of brush strokes.In David’s painting there is a clarity and crispness that is similar to a photograph, yet his figures maintain a baby like softness.
Gerard’s implied texture of the clothes and environment are softer than David’s giving the painting a more realistic appearance. David and Gerard both show in these paintings that they have a very good understanding of human anatomy and form. The figures in both painting have a good sense of underlying structure and weight. In both paintings there are two figures embracing each other.This not only showcases David’s and Gerard understanding of anatomy and form but also contributes to the triangular compositions of both of these paintings. In David’s painting the two figures are juxtaposed with each other to create a triangle with their bodies with their heads as the top of the triangle.
The dog’s head and the metal cylinder are used to point to the top of the triangle and the focal point, the faces. In Gerard’s painting the two figures embracing also contribute to the triangular composition. In Gerard’s painting he uses a much more acute triangle composition with a standing figure dominating the composition.The walking stick and the young boy hold this triangular composition together. The triangular composition of both of these paintings gives both of these paintings a calm and orderly feel.
One big difference between these two paintings is their use of space. Gerard uses atmospheric perspective and a landscape to give a sense of deep space. David on the other hand uses a very shallow space, which contrasts with the figures. In the case of both of these paintings the backgrounds work for the type of lighting and mood being portrayed. Gerard uses the deep space to add an epic feel to the painting.
David’s use of shallow space works for his painting better than deep space, because a deeper space would change the lighting of his figures and ruin the balance of colors. Gerard’s “Belisarius” and David’s “The Farewell of Telemachus and Eucharis” are two painting that reflect some of the best painting of the Neo-Classical Style. Both of these paintings combine great composition, color, form and texture to create a masterful visual experience. Most importantly these paintings are able to convey emotion and mood that transcends style or school of thought, and can be appreciated by any art viewer.