Harmony in Art – What It Is Plus Master Painting Examples

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What Is Harmony in Art?

Harmony is a principle of art which refers to how well all the visual elements work together. Elements which are in harmony should have some kind of logical progression or relationship. It should just look like it works.

If there is an element which is not in harmony with the rest of the artwork, it should stick-out and be jarring to look at; kind of like an off note in a song.

When I think of harmony, the first paintings which come to mind are Monet's water lilies series:

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1916
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1916

Below are some more examples of harmony in art.

Harmony in Color

Harmony in color refers to paintings which utilize a fairly limited range of hues. For example, a painting which features mostly different tones of green, or different tones of blue. Pablos Picasso's The Old Guitarist is united by the dull, blue tones used in the painting. Even the orange guitar looks like it is bathed in soft, blue light.

Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, 1904
Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, 1904

Monet's painting below demonstrates harmony in color with mostly greens and blues used. This is known as an analogous color scheme.

Claude Monet, The Japanese Bridge (The Water Lilly Pond), 1899
Claude Monet, The Japanese Bridge (The Water Lilly Pond), 1899

In John Singer Sargent's Fisherwoman, notice the similar oranges and browns used for both the subject and the landscape. The subject's dress almost blends in with the shore.

John Singer Sargent, Fisherwoman, 1913
John Singer Sargent, Fisherwoman, 1913

(If you want to learn more about color, make sure to grab my free Color Theory Cheat Sheet). 

Harmony in Shape

Shape is a strong feature in most of Paul Cézanne's work. The painting below from his Mont Sainte-Victoire series is united by the rigid, geometric shapes throughout the landscape.

Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1904-1906
Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1904-1906

Harmony in Value

Value is a powerful visual element which refers to how light or dark a color is. You can promote harmony in your painting by uniting colors which are under a tight or compressed value range. For example, a group of light colors has a certain harmony because they are all light. The same goes for a group of dark colors or colors within the middle-value range.

The two paintings by Monet below are in a high key and utilize mostly light colors. Even though many different hues are used, there is a sense of harmony as most of the colors are in the light value range.

Claude Monet, Charing Cross Bridge, 1903
Claude Monet, Charing Cross Bridge, 1903
Claude Monet, Charing Cross Bridge, 1899
Claude Monet, Charing Cross Bridge, 1899

[Exercise] Place several different colors on your palette and observe the strong contrast between the colors. Then gradually add more white to each color. Notice how when more white is added, the more in harmony the colors appear to be.

The painting below by Joaquín Sorolla, on the other hand, is united mostly under a dark value range, except the burst of light around the middle.

Joaquín Sorolla, Packaging of Raisins, Javea, 1901
Joaquín Sorolla, Packaging of Raisins, Javea, 1901

The painting in grayscale gives a better idea of how dark all the colors in shadow are.

Joaquín Sorolla, Packaging of Raisins, Javea, 1901 (Grayscale)

Sargent's Val d’Aosta features colors which are mostly around the middle-value range. There are no strong highlights or intense darks.

John Singer Sargent, The Val d’Aosta. Italy, 1910
John Singer Sargent, The Val d’Aosta. Italy, 1910

Harmony in Brushwork

Inconsistent brushwork is one of the most common reasons for a lack of harmony in paintings. Beginners tend to jump from tight brushwork to loose and rough brushwork without any logical progression.

The painting below by Sorolla features fairly loose brushwork throughout the whole painting which provides a strong sense of harmony. Even areas which are completely different are united by the loose brushwork, like the bright, orange rocks and the deep blue ocean. It may have looked out of place had Sorolla carefully rendered the rocks, whilst keeping the ocean loose and rough.

Joaquín Sorolla, Rocks and White Boat, Javea, 1905
Joaquín Sorolla, Rocks and White Boat, Javea, 1905

Moscow Courtyard, on the other hand, is united by the delicate and careful brushwork throughout the whole painting. Some areas are more simplified than others, but for the most part, the brushwork appears consistent.

Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov, Moscow Courtyard,1878
Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov, Moscow Courtyard,1878

Harmony in Style

When I think of harmony in style, Vincent van Gogh is first to come to mind. His paintings are characterized by bold strokes of exaggerated color.

Vincent van Gogh, Olive Trees Under a Yellow Sky, and the November Sun, 1889
Vincent van Gogh, Olive Trees Under a Yellow Sky, and the November Sun, 1889

Below is another example of harmony in style by Georges Seurat. He utilized a pointillism style, which involved painting small dabs of distinct color to depict form.

Georges Seurat, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884
Georges Seurat, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884

Harmony in Subject

Harmony in subject usually applies to busy scenes with vast numbers, like Pierre-Auguste Renoir's painting below. Umbrellas and other blue shapes take up so much of the painting that it creates a sense of harmony.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Umbrellas, 1886
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Umbrellas, 1886

Monet's water lilies series is another example; the vast number of water lilies creates a certain harmony throughout the painting.

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1905
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1905

Additional Resources

If you want to learn more about this topic, you should check out the other principles of art.

I also go into much more detail on the fundamentals in my Painting Academy course.

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate it! Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my Painting Academy course.

Happy painting!

Signature Draw Paint Academy

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy

9 comments on “Harmony in Art – What It Is Plus Master Painting Examples”

  1. Your article Harmony in Art – with Master Painting Examples, is outstanding ,well written and nicely explained in lucid style.
    Regards.

    Reply
  2. Thank you very much for this article; I love the way you demonstrate each principle and as a serious hobbyist painter, I will be looking at my paintings from a much better perspective now and trying to make sure my work satisfies at least one or two of these ideas.

    Reply

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