Notebook, 1993-

Eastlake's Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters

Eastlake, Sir Charles Lock [One-time President of the Royal Academy], Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters [Formerly titled: Materials for a History of Oil Painting]. Vol. One. New York; Dover Publications, Inc. 1960 [Originally published by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans in 1847]

Professional Essays - How to Compose & Paint a Head

To give grace, nature, ease, and all that which makes a picture attractive, to a single head [without hands], is one of the difficulties with which portrait painters, and even painters who are not tied to a likeness, have to contend; and it is worth enquiring what are among the causes which contribute to sucess in this particular.

Extraordinary beauty, or an expression which seems to speak volumes, and with which we can converse, are the first and highest qualities in a single head. For it is obvious that when so little of a figure is seen, the only excuse for representing it doing nothing, is because it is very worthy to be looked at. A particular dress is often considered a sufficient reason, but it will never be admired if put on an unattractive person. In the next place all the powers of fascination which painting possesses are necessary, even with a beautiful and expressive co untenance, to make so abridged a representation truly effective, and equivalent to pictures which contain more. It may be observed that every picture, no matter what it contains or represents, should be calculated for effect in a gallery of excellent works. We find for instance that a single head by Rembrandt will bear down before it large masses of figures by inferior colourists; so [p. 390] that it is not because it is a part of a figure or a small picture that a head must necessarily be without much interest. The fascinating effect which is produced by the powers of colour, light, and shade, requires the hand, science, and experience of a master, and to attempt to show in what that fascination consists would be to unveil, were it possible, all the resources of the art. But in minor things there are some observations to be made on the general practice of painters.

The placing the head high in the canvas is always to be observed; the contrary proceeding gives the idea of a short person, or the impression that we might have seen more of the figure. The next thing to attend to [and not so easily done], is to avoid a truncated appearance at the lower edge of the picture where the arms and body are cut off by the frame. When the bend of the arms can be shown they look less glued to the sides of the figure, but even a very graceful action of the arms when cut off a little above the elbow may produce a very unpleasant and awkward effect. The action itself has, however, something to do with this, and it is better to let the portions of the arms take the dirction which is least unpleasant, without thinking what becomes of them afterwards, than to imagine a complete action, which may not, as above observed, be pleasing, seen piecemeal. The safest way, however, to get over this truncated appearance is either to lose the lower part in drapery, or [p. 391]



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