Monday, May 13, 2013

Art Machines 2

I ran across this article in the Wall Street Journal a couple weeks ago, but didn’t have the time to post and comment. It essentially notes that Van Gogh (as well as Degas) used “perspective frames” more than was previously suspected.  “There are references to the frames in van Gogh’s letters, says Ms. Vellekoop, but until now researchers thought he ‘only had one.’ Now, she says, we know he had several in different sizes. New infrared examinations revealed that he actually traced the outlines of the threaded frame right onto the canvas, fixing a sense of order early on, and giving a hidden rigor to paintings that are admired for their wild expressiveness.”
It all makes one wonder if other artists took advantage of “perspective frames”, or similar tools. It also makes me wonder why such technical information is missing from all the art history books I had available to me most of my life (1960 to 2000)?

There are a couple websites that cover van Gogh’s techniques. First there is Van Gogh's Studio Practice.

An excerpt from a letter from van Gogh to his brother Theo:
My dear Theo,
In my last letter you’ll have found a little scratch of that perspective frame. I’ve just come back from the blacksmith, who has put iron spikes on the legs and iron corners on the frame.
It consists of two long legs:
The frame is fixed to them by means of strong wooden pegs either horizontally or vertically.
The result is that on the beach or in a meadow or a field you have a view as if through a window. The perpendicular and horizontal lines of the frame, together with the diagonals and the cross — or otherwise a grid of squares — provide a clear guide to some of the principal features, so that one can make a drawing with a firm hand, setting out the broad outlines and proportions.1 Assuming, that is, that one has a feeling for perspective and an understanding of why and how perspective appears to change the direction of lines and the size of masses and planes. Without that, the frame is little or no help, and makes your head spin when you look through it.
I expect you can imagine how delightful it is to train this view-finder on the sea, on the green fields — or in the winter on snow-covered land or in the autumn on the fantastic network of thin and thick trunks and branches, or on a stormy sky.  
With CONSIDERABLE practice and with lengthy practice, it enables one to draw at lightning speed and, once the lines are fixed, to paint at lightning speed.
It’s in fact especially good for painting, because a brush must be used for sky, ground, sea. Or, rather, to render them through drawing alone, it’s necessary to know and feel how to work with the brush. I also firmly believe my drawing would be strongly influenced if I were to paint for a while. I tried it back in January but that came to a halt — the reason for stopping, apart from a few other things,2 was that I was still too hesitant when drawing. Now six months have passed, devoted entirely to drawing. So now I’m beginning anew with fresh heart. The frame really has become an excellent piece of equipment — it’s a pity you still haven’t seen it. It has cost me a pretty penny, too, but I had it made so solidly that I shan’t wear it out in a hurry. On Monday I’ll start doing large charcoal drawings with it, as well as painting small studies — if those two things come off, I hope that better painted work will soon follow. 

Another website is, Van Gogh Museum Journal.
It has more information on van Gogh’s use of the perspective frame and its effect on his art …for instance, inclusion of “framing posts” in the drawing/painting itself.
Florist's garden on the Schenkweg 1882
Landscape with farm and two trees 1888

The use of the perspective frame also influenced his treatment of panaraminc views of countryside…
La Crau seen from Montmajour 1888
Landscape of Montmajour with train 1888
And just a bit of history for those interested…
Da Vinci used a “Transparent Plane” to accurately draw complex objects…
…and, Durer used a “net” to do the same thing: his etching of the technique above.

Both da Vinci or Durer were capable of drawing accurately with aids, but both were intelligent enough to know that the value of art is not in the avoidance of tools, but in the genius of the artist in creating a fresh and profound idea.

-Art Machines 1

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