For your inspiration today: Anna by Swedish painter Bruno Liljefors.
(Click here to download a high-resolution photo of the painting.)
What I love most about this painting is the interesting mix of realism and loose, painterly brushwork. Liljefors painted the subject (Anna) with fine rendering and clarity whilst the rest of the painting is more relaxed and impressionistic. There’s no mistaking what the focal point is and where Liljefors wants us to look.
The fine rendering also plays into the character of the subject, with her hair done up, nice clothing and accessories, and youthful and feminine qualities. The loose, impressionistic brushwork plays into the character of nature and its untamed and unrefined beauty.
There’s a pleasant mix of soft and hard edges. The soft edges ease the transition between the subject and the surroundings. The hard edges add clarity and draw our attention towards the focal point. They are like exclamation points in the painting.
The hat on the ground plays an important role. It gives our eyes something else to bounce between. The position of it helps draw our attention into the painting. There’s a subtle color link between the red accents on the hat and the subject’s lips. And it’s also part of a loose zig-zag motion that takes our eyes on a journey to the focal point (see the image below).
If we narrow in on nature, a few intricate leaves and flowers do most of the work. Everything else is rather simple and vague. Sir Arthur Streeton also did this quite effectively in many of his landscapes.
My only criticism is that the subject looks a bit stiff and rigid. That may be due to the pose or the subject’s clothing, but regardless, I think a bit more fluidity could go a long way. (It’s important to look for ways you might improve or do differently when analyzing master paintings. This helps take the master artists down off a pedestal so we can see them for who they were: artists just like us.)
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