William-Adolphe Bouguereau (ANALYZED PAINTING #4)
Well, we have another jaw dropping William-Adolphe Bouguereau painting to dig deep into. Thanks for joining in to show your support, it’s always appreciated!
What design techniques did he use this time? Did he use dynamic symmetry? If so, which grid? What is this painting even about? Let’s find out now!
William-Adolphe Bouguereau The Oreads
The painting we’ll be analyzing below is called “The Oreads.” What the heck are Oreads? It’s those flying nude figures in the air, or nymphs, that live in the mountains and caves. The head nymph is Diana, the Goddess of Chastity, who was analyzed in Lefebvre’s stunning painting (see #641).
The 1902 catalogue for the Salon gave some interesting insight for the painting:
“The shadows are dissipating; dawn appears, radiant, and colours the mountain tops pink. Then a long procession soars up into the sky: it is the joyful band of nymphs who, during the night, frolicked in the shadow of the forests and by the still waters of the river; they take to the air, watched by the astonished fauns, to return to their own realm and the ethereal regions inhabited by the gods”.
The fauns are obviously the three mythological guys drooling from below. They are half goat and half man ,similar to Satyrs, and a symbol of peace and fertility. You can see their testosterone-filled excitement as the flurry of nymphs float past them.
The most well known nymph is “Echo” and we can see Alexandre Cabanel’s version below-right. Cabanel is another master painter to check out (see #620), but for now let’s look closer at Bouguereau’s masterpiece. Could this be Echo…smack dab in the middle of the painting? They do look similar and as we learned in The Joker analysis, the center of the frame is a great place to put the subject in a busy environment (see #646).
Diana is probably the Nymph in the top left…leading the group into the sky.
I thought this was pretty funny to share. It’s a censored version of the painting.
Here are some nice details of the figures and faces which aren’t perfect, but perfectionism isn’t required for a masterpiece (see #579).
Dynamic Symmetry & Design Techniques The Break Down
Figuring out the grid Bouguereau used was rather easy this time. When the ratio of the image is discovered (approximately 1.30) and compared to the Ratio Guide in the Dynamic Symmetry book, it is very close to the 4/3 rectangle.
4/3 Rectangle Basic Armature
Once the basic armature of the 4/3 rectangle is overlaid onto the painting we can already see how things are lining up. Just look to the left of the sinister diagonal and you’ll see how a ton of nymphs are locking into this entire area.
4/3 Rectangle Major Area Divisions (MAD)
Since there are so many details to design, Bouguereau needs to configure the grid with more lines. Here we have four smaller 4/3 grids inside the mother. Things are still lining up nicely, but many more lines are needed to refine the details and limbs of the figures.
4/3 Rectangle MAD 16
Ah, here we go. This should do it! We have a total of 16 smaller 4/3 grids now. Plenty of lines to help organize the composition. And Bouguereau used it just as any master or beginner should use it. The lines will inspire and guide the poses and positioning of everything. Even the shape of the trees as we’ll see in the next example.
Locked Into the Grid
There are plenty of areas locking into the grid. Not everything can lock in or parallel, but that’s perfectly fine. If you’re using the grid to create a new preliminary drawing for a painting and feeling a little frustration, try to use gesture drawing. Keep it loose, then refine. Use a light pad if you can. You’ll have the perfect combination for creating with the grids. And even if you don’t know how to construct the grids, just by using them you will be promoting unity, movement, rhythm, strength, and dominant diagonals.
Speaking of rhythm, here we see the four main diagonals of the 4/3 grid repeating across the painting. This limited number of diagonals, or gamut (see Day 38), allows Bouguereau to create this hidden technique that hits the viewer on a subconscious level.
Bouguereau used plenty of vertical and horizontal coincidences (see Day 48) to create unity and movement throughout the painting. Following the lines you’ll be able to see the edge-to-edge relationships. Some even unify the trees, nymphs, and fauns.
Here are the horizontal coincidences…did you follow the lines? Are you as impressed with his design techniques as I am? It doesn’t end there!
90 Degree Angle
We all know that a sense of strength (see Day 76) can be created when using a tilted 90 degree angle. Check out how many Bouguereau uses…tons!
If you aren’t impressed so fare, perhaps now you will be. Look at all of the triangular enclosures (see Day 32 and Day 87) he’s using. They are all hidden, but provide a great amount of unity within the composition. I’ve never seen this many triangles in one composition before!
See how the faun on the left has his arm angled a specific way, then it follows his body up to a nymph’s arm that is angled a specific way. It then goes down another nymphs body, and down the fauns face and latissimus dorsi. Hidden beautifully!
Bouguereau finishes his geometric smorgasbord with several ellipses (see Day 34). Lots of unity and movement so far, but wait, there’s more!
We can’t forget about these beautiful arabesques (see Day 17) he weaves throughout the nymphs and fauns. Follow the lines and see how he does it. Train your eyes to be more sensitive to this elegant technique.
Bouguereau controls the contrast to bring nymphs forward, and push some further back. This is a technique called aerial perspective (see Day 42)…a trick artists can use to enhance the illusion of depth.
Figure-Ground Relationship (FGR)
For a painting full of so many details, Bouguereau does a great job of creating nice FGR (see Day 21). This allows the viewer to easily identify what is going on in the scene.
Once the image is converted to simplify the scene, much like squinting, we are able to see the values and where Bouguereau is directing our attention.
He does a nice job of minimizing high contrast around the edges of the frame (see Day 49). The two areas on the left and right are not too contrasty, and they happen to balance each other. If you must have edge flicker, ensure that it is balanced…otherwise it will pull too much attention to one side. I would avoid it altogether if you can.
Greatest Area of Contrast (GAC)
The area with the most contrast is obviously the sky, which is normal. We also see how the circled nymph on the left has more contrast than the other areas. Was she meant to be the GAC (see Day 71)? Is she an important nymph that Bouguereau wanted to direct our eyes towards?
She is in close proximity to the sinister diagonal, and on a sweeping arabesque….hmmm. This could all be designed to help with magnetic momentum (see Day 64 and #638), which creates a back and forth movement. So that’s what he was up to…nicely done Bouguereau!
Well, Bouguereau never ceases to amaze me with his superior design skills and technique. Don’t let him intimidate you though. Anyone can design just as he did with enough practice. The more techniques you use in an image or painting, the more powerful it is. You don’t even have to paint in the same realistic way because the composition will supersede any artistic style (see Day 122).
That’ll do it for this one. As always, your support is greatly appreciated! See you in the next one!