Miss May Miles, Hubert von Herkomer
I have not seen the original of this painting, but my experience with comparing art images on the web with their originals — in the case of paintings I have seen in person — gives me the impression that some well-intentioned but misguided individual along the way has increased the saturation of the color, likely thinking this would make the image more appealing. I’ve taken the liberty of color correcting the image back to what I feel would have been the more naturalistic intention of the artist.
This portrait by the late 19th century Bavarian/British painter Hubert von Herkomer seems to me like a pull-out-the-stops example of directing the eye to a single area in a painting.
The darker values at the edges of the painting produce the effect of a vignette; within which the high-chroma/high-value forms of her face, arms and hands stand out from the low-chroma/low value areas of the wall behind her to striking effect. This is accentuated by the dark shape her gown, which is almost zero chroma and zero value.
The woman’s face is close to the horizontal center of the composition; the rest of her figure is not. She looks directly at the viewer with gaze that could be seen as either engaging or confrontational, perhaps both. Her arms point inward in the direction of her neck and face, as do the arm of the chair and the large fold in the cover.
The dark of her dress and the dark of her hair, accented by an extra darkened passage on the wall just behind her, form a kind of dark halo around her face. The flowers above her right hand are echoed by smaller counterparts in her hair, further reinforcing the effect of framing.
The patterns of the wallpaper and the folds of the cover swirl around her, as if caught in a gravitational field.
Amidst it all, the dotted highlights in her pupils shine out like distant beacons. The color of her eyes appears greenish, an intensifying compliment to the ruddy cast of her skin.
How could a viewer standing in front of this painting not be drawn immediately and irresistibly to the woman’s face, and more specifically, to her eyes?