The intrinsic quality of a painting, taking everything into account, is chiefly determined by the quality of the light. This quality, of course, is the result of a combination of factors in the whole execution of the subject, but its importance lies in the fact that it gives existence to the picture in relation to life itself. When the light is right we never question a painting's reason for being.
In order to achieve such quality we must focus our attention on light itself. This means that we will not be painting the objects before us so much as we will be painting light and the way it falls on these objects or brings them into our vision.
A fine painter once said, "A head is something you choose for the light to fall upon." He meant that a portrait is not a portrait until it exists in light. The life-giving effects of light are far more important than wrinkles in flesh. How few portraits really exist as people, rather than as paintings? How few paintings of any kind exist as anything but paintings?
Vermeer must be credited with being one of the first real painters of light. Though his work seems full of detail and precision, close study reveals that all detail has been subordinated to his one great aim, the interpretation of light. No detail exists where its value might encroach upon the feeling of light on the surface. Although color exists mostly in the light, it must never be allowed to reduce the value of the light. Every lighted area in a picture bears a scaled relationship of both value and color from the lightest area to the darkest area appearing within the light. All else is shadow, and all the shadows bear a sequence relationship to the lighted areas. When an area in the light is lowered in value, the shadow must be lowered correspondingly. Thus both the light areas and the shadow areas arc painted in sequence from lightest to darkest. These two sequences are separated by a degree of contrast determined by the brilliancy of the light itself. Thus contrast makes evident the separation of the whole set of lights from the whole set of shadows. In a dim light this separation may be only one or two tones. In a strong light the lights may be separated from the shadows by three or four tones.
So we must analyze our subject in order to determine the over-all or general relationship of light to shadow. How much darker is the shadow area on that object than the light area? If we decide it is two, three, or even four values darker we accept this as our light-to-shadow scale throughout the picture. Thus all shadows will be the same number of values darker than the value in the light. Since we are limited to eight or at most ten values in our pigment, we may find that some shadows reach the bottom of the scale before we have reached the full scale of values in the lighted areas; that is, we may have a value in the light so low in tone that we cannot produce a value three or four tones lower. This is what is meant by "sacrificing at the low end of the scale." It really does not matter, since we cannot see below black.
Once the over-all relationship is established,
The Pearl Necklace by Jan Vcrmeer, national gallery of art, Washington, d. c. Vermcer must be credited with being one of the first real painters of light. Though his work seems full of detail and precision, close study reveals that all detail has been subordinated to his one great aim, the interpretation of light
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