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19th Century Fine Art Legacy

Did you ever wonder what draws you to a particular landscape painting? For over 30 years, we have evaluated what we think makes up a good painting. In past articles, we talk about color, composition, technique, etc. This article covers thoughts on the artists selecting a subject for a landscape painting.

"The Painter in Oil" (a 1903 book by artist Daniel Burleigh Parkhurst) states: "When you select your subject, or "motif," as the French call it, select it for something definite. There is always something which makes you think this particular view will make a good picture. State to yourself what it is that you see in it, not in detail, but in the general. Is it the general color effect of the whole, or a contrast? Is it a sense of largeness and space, or a beautiful combination of line in the track of a road, or row of trees, or a river? Perhaps it is the mass and majesty of a mountain or a group of trees. Something definite or definable catches you – else you had better not do it at all; and what that something is your must know quite precisely, or you not have well-understood picture."

Parkhurst concludes: "When you have distinctly in your mind what you want to paint it for, then see that the composition is so placed on your canvas that that characteristic is the main thing in evidence. With this done it is a very easy thing to concentrate on that characteristic, and to leave out whatever tends to break it up or distract from it. This is the only way you can simplify your subject. First by a distinct conception of what you paint it for, then by so much analysis of the whole field of vision as will show you what does and what does not help in the expression of it."

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