A Painting with Musical Rhythym

Below is a painting by a pioneer of the “academic art” movement, who, unfortunately, was also one of the most criticized artists of the late 20th century. If any painting can be compared to a classical piece of music this would certainly be a worthy choice. The way that the shapes flow into one another is an exquisite example of rhythmic energy, which I wrote about in my previous blog.

The artist is William Adolphe Bouguereau and this is only one of many masterpieces that he produced.  It is simply breath-taking to see an original; to see the layers of his paint mimic so perfectly the delicate, palpable qualities of flesh.  No other artist, in my opinion, had such a sensitivity to translating the human form into paint as Bouguereau did.  But what really sets him apart from his contemporaries is not simply his mastery of realism, but also of composition.

This particular example demonstrates how value emphasis can be used as a way of moving the viewers eye throughout the picture plane; similarly to the way a musician leads their audience through his or her performance.  The figure in the foreground is most prominent due to her light value.  This is further emphasized by the dark contrast of the water in the lower right corner.  The curve of her torso and positioning of her arm draws the viewers eye into the center of  the painting.  The movement continues to flow into the arm of the saytr and back further into the figure in the upper left corner.  The juxtaposing of each figure and the methodical use of value patterns in this painting, profoundly demonstrates how musical rhythms can be infused into a visual composition.

musical rythyms

Adolphe-William Bouguereau, Nymphs and Saytr, 1873

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