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An Analysis of Form and Style

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cAn Analysis of Form and Style Introduction I have chosen to do an analysis of form and style based on The Bathers, 1884-87 by Pierre Auguste Renoir and The Large Bathers, 1898-1906 by Paul Cezanne. These paintings are from the impressionist and post-impressionist period. Though similar in subject matter, the way the artists demonstrate form and style is unique to each and I will compare and contrast them separately under the headings form and style with reference to the theories of art critics and historians such as David Summers, Heinrich Wolfflin and Ernst Gombrich.

To begin the analysis we must have an understanding of form.

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Form is described using formal elements: colour, light and dark, line, mass, shape, texture and volume. They are described in a whole composition which is the work of art.

They are also arranged by the qualities of design: balance, order, pattern, proportion, rhythm and variety. We look at how each element is designed to add to the work of art. Formal analysis studies a work of art – in isolation from anything else – to understand what the work gives us. Style refers to the peculiar features of mark-making, patterning and compositional devices associated with an individual or a collective.

A collective allows for the identification of a group or society with a particular style. By analysing the style of works of art we can identify them with particular places and times and study how styles migrate and translate to different cultures. This can tell us a lot about people, trade, languages, religious doctrine and political influence outside the great events of history. Form The Bathers: According to historian David Summers, a work of art is understood to be ‘organic’[1]. It has an organic unity or wholeness that is given by the formal elements.

It is this wholeness that expresses personal and collective ideas that can then be communicated to others. I believe that Summers’ theory is evident in The Bathers (fig. 1). In this painting, the artist shows an intricate use of line and shape which is evident in the arabesque made by the contours of the rocks and feet. This is contradicted by the simple and smooth appearance of the figures painted with flat, unshadowed lighting which would, ordinarily, subdue the shape but the delicate tints used accentuate the voluptuousness of their forms.

The poses are clearly derived from classical works but with a more natural feeling, for instance the feet of the figure in the foreground are not as elegant as you would see in classical paintings; as is the posture of the figure to her right who is hunched over. They have earthy, womanly figures and do not appear as the classical goddess-like idealised version of a woman. The painting is balanced with multiple diagonals that draw your eye around it. The figures in the foreground are positioned in a triangular arrangement with the two figures in the back keeping your gaze within the painting.

They all rest against a soft, richly coloured background painted in Renoir’s traditional impressionist style. The golden orange colours that can be seen in the figure’s skin and in the cloth that the uppermost figure wraps around her are echoed throughout the painting. This colour is complimented by the blues in the water and the shadows of the leaves and trees which is a technique that Renoir used in many of his works. The background of this piece is painted with short, quick brush strokes. The water is painted in small thick strokes of mainly mid tones broken by solid strokes of deep blue and gold.

The texture of the foliage is different to the water; it’s softer, more delicate with thinner brushstrokes and muted colours giving a sense of perspective and depth. In my opinion Summers’ theory of organic unity applies to this painting as it expresses the idea that Renoir was attempting a modern version of a classical style. Though the poses and the appearance of the female figures are derived from classical influences, the artist has attempted to renew the old painting technique by incorporating his impressionist style.

This can be seen notably in the brushstrokes and texture of the background but also in the faces and gestures of the women. Their faces are not that of the classical period, they are the faces of typical Parisian women who were often the subjects of impressionist paintings. The Large Bathers: If we look at The Large Bathers by Paul Cezanne it is plain to see that though of similar themes, the form is significantly different to that of Renoir’s bathers. An art critic, Heinrich Wolfflin, tried to establish visual laws to show how forms relate to each other at the same historical moment and in different epochs.

Wolfflin uses five pairs of concepts: linear/painterly, plane/recession, closed/open, multiplicity/unity and absolute/relative clarity, to describe the shift from the High Renaissance to the Baroque. [2] Using these concepts we can compare this painting to Renoir’s. The Large Bathers is the largest of a series of three oils of female bathers. This painting is unfinished but despite this, it still possesses beautiful, subtle brushwork. The painting is dominated by blues and browns in varying tones that give the painting vibrancy.

He used subtle blending and overlapping brushstrokes to achieve a balance of form and colour. He accentuated the form and shape of the figures by using harsh, dark outlines and incorporated the blues used in the water and the sky and the browns of the ground and trees to create shadow and shape in the bodies of the figures. If we compare this to Renoir’s we can see that the facture of Cezanne’s is quite different to that of figure 1. Renoir’s is warm, earthy; the figures almost glow, whereas Cezanne’s feels colder and darker the only feeling of warmth rises from the ground.

This painting is very linear with distinctly recognisable shapes in comparison to the painterly style of Renoir’s who lines almost blend with the rest of his painting. Both paintings have a triangular composition; here it is created by the branches of the trees forming an arch over the figures clearly positioned at the bottom of the painting. The piece is evenly balanced by two tightly-knit groups on either side but still remains open and inviting due to the gap between the groups leading your eye to the image of another figure and a horse in the centre of the painting.

The figure on the left suggests movement and her leg follows the line of the tree, encouraging the eye to move around the image. Even though both paintings possess this triangular arrangement, one would read Renoir’s more laterally. In figure 1, we see classical-inspired poses of detailed and realistic figures but here we see simple shapes arranged in quite prehistoric poses reminiscent of cave paintings. He concentrates on the general shape, line and tone rather than anatomical accuracy.

The differences and similarities of these two paintings are indicative to the periods in which they were produced and illustrate how Wolfflin’s theory of using ‘visual laws’ helps to relate them. Renoir’s shows the beginning of a modern take on classical style incorporating the styles of early impressionism. Cezanne’s shows a more advanced take on the impressionist style which is said to have led the way from naturalism to the developments of Cubism and abstract art. [3] Style The Large Bathers:

Art Historian Ernst Gombrich describes style as “any distinctive, and therefore recognisable, way in which an act is performed or an artefact made or ought to performed and made”[4] He adds that there is a normative use of the term; that an analysis of style provides a description of an artefact but can also make a judgement about it. – “This work has style”[5]. Gombrich tries to give descriptive accounts of individual artefacts explaining that style develops due to the choices available to the artist when the work was created; therefore style is expressive of an intention to appear a certain way. 6] I believe that his theory applies to Cezanne’s ‘bathers’ where it is clear that he intended it to appear a certain way. We can see this in the overall composition of the painting. Cezanne uses the trees to create an arch above the figures. This arch forms the sides of a huge triangle around which the composition is based. This suggests that the artist was looking back at architectural forms, to the triangular compositions of the Renaissance. He seeks to integrate the nude figures with the landscape creating that organic unity expressed in the theory of David Summers.

The artist drew his technical inspiration for this painting from Diana and Actaeon by Titian which uses the same triangular composition and in which the same technique of opening up the centre of the painting into a landscape in the background is used. This piece also has a peculiar pictorial construction. Cezanne has created a classicised landscape in the foreground but in the background we see the landscape of what appears to be modern France. Looking at the bodies of the figures and the way Cezanne has painted them, we see that large areas of the canvas are unfinished; the outlines are dark, unstable and repeated.

This makes the characters seem frozen in their poses, which is unlike the style in which classical Renaissance figures are represented. What the artist is doing is building on the style of impressionism using classical influence and creating a very modern version of a traditional theme. It is clear that this painting is not based on the observation of the human figure; it opens up the possibility of creating abstract forms. The Bathers With The Bathers by Renoir, we can look at the style in a synchronic way.

Natural as it seems now, Renoir’s choice of subject matter was radical and daring when he began painting as an art student. The art world in Paris, at the time, was dominated by the Salon which exhibited works on historical and literary themes painted in a realistic style. Renoir’s choice to paint cooks, housemaids, shop girls – everyday women, was rejected by the Salon as were paintings of similar themes by other artists. “After three years of experimentation, The Bathers, which I considered my masterwork, was finished. I sent it to an exhibition – and what a trouncing I got!

This time, everybody, Huysmans in the forefront, agreed that I was really sunk; some even said I was irresponsible. And God knows how I laboured over it! ” – Pierre Auguste Renoir[7] In a discussion of the work by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Stephen Zucker, both refer to the painting as “the crisis of impressionism”. [8] Zucker and Harris explain that the work rejects the impressionist style in favour of the classical. Renoir was influenced by works of Seurat such as the Bathers at Asnieres and La Grande Jatte which took impressionist subject matter and gave it a sense of permanence and composure.

As well as this, Renoir had also travelled to Italy and seen the work of the Old Masters. He told a friend: “I had travelled as far as Impressionism could take me and I realised that I could neither paint nor draw”. [9] His painting style changed dramatically, from impressionism, which seeks to portray the fleeting moment, to creating something more permanent and connected to traditional art. Though his style had changed to one of classical influence, Renoir still kept his impressionist roots. In this painting the background is very impressionist.

The sketchy brushstrokes used to depict the trees and foliage and the light rainbow colours give this painting a storybook quality that, I feel, gives luminosity to the figures. The way in which Renoir has painted the water is also an example of the impressionist style of laying colours side by side which encourages the eye to blend the colours together rather than the artist doing so in the traditional way. This technique was developed due to Renoir’s preference of painting outdoors where the light cannot be controlled.

Laying the colours side by side was quick and allowed for the artist to capture the light before it changed. Conclusion Having researched the theories of David Summers, Heinrich Wolfflin and Ernst Gombrich regarding form and style, I have applied these theories to each painting to see how they affect the analysis of each one. I agree with Summers’ theory of form having an ‘organic unity’ or wholeness. For example, the integration of the nude figures with the sky and the ground in Cezanne’s painting creates a distinct feeling of unity.

Wolfflin’s theory allowed me to relate my chosen paintings and establish their differences. Gombrich’s theory provided me with a fuller understanding of style especially in Renoir’s painting as it explained why he chose to paint it in that particular style instead of his signature impressionist style. Bibliography Cezanne, 1839-1906. Hoo: Grange Books PLC, 2005. “Form’, Nineteenth-Century Metaphysics and the Problem of Art Historical Description,’ Critical Inquiry 15, Winter, 1989. Harris, Dr. Beth, and Dr. Stephen Zucker. “Cezanne’s The Large Bathers – Smarthistory. Smarthistory: a multimedia web-book about art and art history, April 2, 2012. Video File. Accessed January 3, 2013. http://smarthistory. khanacademy. org/cezanne-the-large-bathers. html. Harris, Dr. Beth, and Dr. Stephen Zucker. “Renoir’s The Large Bathers – Smarthistory. “Smarthistory: a multimedia web-book about art and art history, April 2, 2012. Video File. Accessed January 3, 2013. http://smarthistory. khanacademy. org/renoir-the-large-bathers. html. Hosack Janes, Karen, Ian Chilvers, and Ian Zaczek. “1900 to Present. ” In Great Paintings, 194-197. Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2011.

Pach, Walter, and Auguste Renoir. “The Bathers. ” In Pierre Auguste Renoir, 98-99. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Publishers, 2003. “Painting for Pleasure: Change of Style. ” The Great Artists: Volume 1: 19th Century, Part 3: Renoir, 1985. “Pierre-Auguste Renoir Style and Technique | artble. com. ” Artble: The Home of Passionate Art Lovers. Accessed January 3, 2013. http://www. artble. com/artists/pierre-auguste_renoir/more_information/style_and_technique. Wolfflin, H. Principle of Art History, 1915. Extracts in Art history and Its Methods: A Critical Anthology.

Notes from lectures: 24 September 2012, 1 October 2012. [pic] Figure 1 – The Bathers, Pierre Auguste Renoir [pic] Figure 2 – The Large Bathers, Paul Cezanne ———————– [1] “Form’, Nineteenth-Century Metaphysics, and the Problem of Art Historical Description,’ Critical Inquiry 15, Winter [1989] [2] Wolfflin, H. Principle of Art History, 1915. Extracts in Art history and Its Methods: A Critical Anthology. [3] Hosack Janes, Karen, Ian Chilvers, and Ian Zaczek. “1900 to Present. ” In Great Paintings, 194-197. Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2011. [4] Notes from lecture on “Style” 1/10/2012 5] Lecture Notes 1/10/2012 [6] Lecture Notes 1/10/2012 [7] Pach, Walter, and Auguste Renoir. “The Bathers. ” In Pierre Auguste Renoir, 98-99. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Publishers, 2003. [8] Harris, Dr. Beth, and Dr. Stephen Zucker. “Renoir’s The Large Bathers – Smarthistory. “Smarthistory: a multimedia web-book about art and art history, April 2, 2012. Video File. Accessed January 3, 2013. http://smarthistory. khanacademy. org/renoir-the-large-bathers. html. [9] “Painting for Pleasure: Change of Style. ” The Great Artists: Volume 1: 19th Century, Part 3: Renoir, Marshall Cavendish Partworks Ltd, 1985.

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An Analysis of Form and Style. (2016, Oct 07). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/an-analysis-of-form-and-style/

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