Theodore Robinson’s A Bird’s-Eye View

Earlier this month, I featured some of Theodore Robinson’s paintings. Let’s take a closer look at one of them—A Bird’s-Eye View—to see what’s actually going on. Often, it’s better to narrow in on a single painting to get a true feel for the artist’s style and techniques.

Theodore Robinson, A Bird's-Eye View, 1889
Theodore Robinson, A Bird’s-Eye View, 1889

Year Created: 1889

Dimensions: 25.7 by 32 inches (65.4 by 81.3 cm)

Medium: Oil on Canvas

Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

If you wish to download a high-resolution of the painting, please click here.

Here are a few key observations:

  • The painting features a “bird’s-eye view” of a village, looking down from the side of a hill with just a sliver of sky at the top. There’s a sense of openness to the landscape, especially when contrasted against the cluttered village houses. Compare this to Helen McNicoll’s The Little Worker, which I featured recently. That painting has a more intimate composition, looking into the side of a hill and with the sky cropped out. A key lesson here is that your broad composition decisions can dramatically influence how the subject is conveyed through your work.
  • There’s a flock of birds in the bottom right-hand corner. This gives a sense of scale and provides an interesting play on the painting’s name. Also, notice the simplified brushwork and detail. Robinson used just a few vague dabs of color to suggest these birds. The surrounding context gives them meaning.
Theodore Robinson, A Bird's-Eye View, 1889 BIRDS 1200W
  • The colors are restrained, playing into the idea of an overcast day. Painting overcast landscapes is a perfect exercise in learning to control and restrain your colors. It’s one of the exercises in the Color Masterclass. There are a few colorful accents scattered around the painting. See below a splash of vivid red in the foreground. These accents inject a bit of life and interest into the painting. Restrained colors plus a few vivid accents is a tried and true strategy.
Theodore Robinson, A Bird's-Eye View, 1889, Saturated Red
  • Most of the activity and contrast are concentrated around the village. Notice how this area contains the lightest lights, darkest darks, and hardest edges. The grayscale below highlights this well. This draws our attention to the village and reiterates the openness of the surrounding landscape.
Theodore Robinson, A Bird's-Eye View, 1889 GRAYSCALE 700W
  • There’s a good sense of atmospheric perspective, with the colors getting weaker and cooler and more harmonious as the land recedes into the distance. The distant hills and mountains almost melt into the sky.
Theodore Robinson, A Bird's-Eye View, 1889, Color Gradation Demonstration

Tip: For painting atmospheric perspective, first consider the nature of the surrounding atmosphere and environment. As objects get further away, lean the colors in the direction of the atmosphere. You can also vary how rapidly this gradation occurs to suggest different environments. To convey a hazy and overcast landscape, you should show a more rapid color gradation than if you were painting the same landscape on a clear, sunny day.

I’ll wrap this up with some more closeups of the painting:

Theodore Robinson, A Bird's-Eye View, 1889 BACKGROUND 1 1200W
Theodore Robinson, A Bird's-Eye View, 1889 BACKGROUND 1200W
Theodore Robinson, A Bird's-Eye View, 1889, Detail
Theodore Robinson, A Bird's-Eye View, 1889 TOWN 1200W
Theodore Robinson, A Bird's-Eye View, 1889 FOREGROUND 1 1200W

Thanks for reading! If you ever want to learn more, make sure to check out Composition Breakdown.

Happy painting!

Signature Draw Paint Academy

Dan Scott


Dan Scott is the founder of Draw Paint Academy. He's a self-taught artist from Australia with a particular interest in landscape painting. Draw Paint Academy is run by Dan and his wife, Chontele, with the aim of helping you get the most out of the art life. You can read more on the About page.

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