“Over a Balcony,” View of the Grand Canal, Venice; Francis Hopkinson Smith
Watercolor; roughly 32 x 21 inches (80 x 53 cm); in the collection of the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. On their page, click on “Explore Object” at the top of the image for a zoomable view, or use the “Download Image” link.
This superb late 19th century watercolor of Venice by American artist and engineer Francis Hopkinson Smith is remarkable on several levels.
Not only is it a beautiful evocation of a view from a balcony in the Academia section of the city toward one of its great landmarks — the church and basilica of Santa Maria della Salute — it also captures the variation in light through the scene caused by the scattered cloud cover. The church domes are in sharp sun and shadow, as is the landing forward of that; but the foreground and other parts of the middle distance are in the muted light of an overcast day.
In addition, Smith has delineated the architecture with lines visible through the areas of color, giving the picture the charm of both a drawing and a painting simultaneously.
Most appealing to me, however, is the way he has shifted our view from far to near — essentially in three steps, from the distant curve of the main island beyond the mouth of the canal, to the succinctly delineated middle ground of the church and its environs, to the immediate foreground of the flower pots and ledges, the nearest only an arm’s reach from the artist’s vantage point.
Village and Church of Beurre, Franche-Comté, Théodore Rousseau
Pen and brown ink, with brown wash and touches of green and red-brown watercolor, over graphite; roughly 7 x 10 inches (17 x 26 cm); in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum, which has both a zoomable and downloadable version.
19th century landscape painter Théodore Rousseau, one of the key figures in the Barbizon School, here portrays a charming scene of the French village of Beurre, near the border with Switzerland.
Rousseau has captured the trees and buildings with quick, gestural pen strokes, filled in with loosely applied touches of tone. I get an impression of him sitting at the edge of the road, taking in the full essence of the scene and its key value relationships with the most economical notation at his command.
I love the way he has suggested the nature of the shallow water in the foreground without laboring over the usual visual clues of reflections and downward strokes. He simply noted it as he saw it — the reflections mere scribbles with splashes of tone — but his grasp of the immediate appearance of the area reads true as water.
Portrait of Baroness Gudin, née Margareth Louis Hay, Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Graphite, roughly 15 x 11 (40 x 29 cm); in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In this deceptively simple, sensitively realized pencil portrait, 19th century German painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter has given particular attention to nuances of value changes in the shadowed side of the face. These are actually easier to see at first in the smaller reproductions; you can then identify them in the closer crops.
Specifically, I admire his handling of the uplighting under the woman’s chin, and to a reduced extent, on her cheek — contrasted with the darker plane of the top of the cheek between the eye and the nose. The light picks up in the indentation at the side of the mouth, and again above the eye.
Also particularly appealing are the soft edges and close value relationships in the rendering of the lips and nose, where the artist has resisted the temptation to push the dark contrasts in these areas.
In the closer views, Winterhalter’s deft, confident application of tone appears to reflect a degree of tooth in the paper.