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`Eve of Saint John` by Peter Hurd



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    Systematic analysis of the painting `Eve of Saint John` by Peter Hurd at the San Diego Museum of Art


    The ‘Eve o Saint John’ was painted by Peter Hurd in 1960. The work is on display at the San Diego Museum of Art. The artist, Peter Hurd was born in New Mexico and lived there for most part of his life. He often portrays the scenic beauty of the Mexican countryside with its hills and is known to have been greatly inspired by the landscape of New Mexico. “He admired the sunlight in the region and the way it played upon the arid landscape. His delight in creating the moment was balanced by his inevitable feeling of despair” (“Peter Hurd Biography”, Par. 4)

     The work is selected for the beauty and splendor of the art work. The work captures a lovely moment in twilight and has a quality of having frozen the moment on to the frame. The radiating light from the candle onto the subject’s face and the gestures portray innocence typical of young children and the whole scenario is presented in a scintillating manner. The painting has a spell bounding effect on the viewer. Therefore this particular work was chosen for analysis, using the guideline provided, to gain a systematic understanding of the artwork, better art appreciation and an in depth knowledge on the work of art.

    The work is a painting, tempera on board. Tempera in traditional artwork is created by mixing dry powdered pigment with a binding agent or a medium which is often a natural material like honey, egg yolk, water, milk or glue. “Tempera is normally applied in thin semi-opaque or transparent layers. When dry, it produces a smooth matte finish. Because it cannot be applied in thick layers as oil paints can, tempera paintings rarely have the deep color saturation that oil paintings can achieve. True tempera paintings are quite permanent” (“Tempera” Par. 4). The artwork has a smooth realistic finish with a miniscule texture, typical of tempera artwork, adding a refined matted grain effect to the work.

    Subject matter/ Iconography:

    The subject matter chosen is a young girl on her way to the church. The girl is “Derotea Herrara, the daughter of the Hurd’s retired foreman” (“Peter Hurd”, Par. 2). She was twelve years of age at the time she was portrayed in the work and was captured on her way to the church, carrying a candle. The girl’s image is portrayed on the foreground against a landscaped background. The work captures the church going culture of the people, the scenic beauty of the Mexican countryside and a specific twilight moment of the day.  The house captured in the distance is lit by electric lighting that reflects on the landscape indicating the artist’s keen eye for details and descriptions in his work.

    Formal Elements:

    The artwork is a two dimensional painting of tempera on board conveying a three dimensional illusionary vision with its use of perspective and depth in the work. On the foreground the image of a young girl carrying a candle is portrayed. The reflection of the fading twilight and a brighter reflection of the candle, which the girl is carrying closer to her face, are captured by the contrasting use of light and shade. The distance on the two dimensional plane between the plain surface and the mountains convey a sense of three dimensional space. The defining line of the human figure is differentiated from the rest of the landscape by the use of different colors. The contour lines of the distant hills are defined by a darker color that is almost black conveying a sense of time. The sun’s reflection radiates behind the valley and is portrayed in varying shades of light differentiated by the use of colors like sunset yellow, soft orange and shades of blue and grey. The composition captures the human figure and other surrounding elements; houses at a distance, the hills and the valley forming a background, the plains marking a distance between the girl and the hills, sun’s radiance, sky and greens. A sense of proportion is achieved through scaling of the various objects. The houses at the distance appear to be miniature as they vanish in perspective away from the viewer. The various elements are portrayed in organic forms with more of curves and angles and very little use of straight lines. Colors of moderate depth are used in the foreground and deeper colors are used for the hills in background. The color combinations are earthly and natural; bright skin tones, earthen brown for the plains, soft orange for the sun’s radiance and dark shades for hills defining their contours are used. The left side of the frame, from the viewer’s point of view, is heavily loaded with details and the right side has fewer elements giving a sense mystery and added focus on the main subject matter. The composition overall is well balanced and the various elements are artfully combined to give a picturesque view.


    The girl’s facial features are finely detailed. The crinkles on her clothes, the brighter reflection of the candle on her face, spots of lights from the houses at a distance and varying depths of light and shadow are the finer details captured by the artist. The plain surface is detailed in colors of various hues and depths. The twilight effect is captured beautifully in the artwork.


    The work reflects the artist’s personal philosophy on originality and drawing inspiration from the natural landscape surrounding him.  As the tempera work of art is long lasting this artwork perhaps stand the test of time as a symbolic representation of the culture, the clothing, the landscapes and the artistic perspective of this period for many years to come.

    Works Cited

    Peter Hurd. n. d.  San Diego Museum of Art.  Retrieved from  on 28 July 09

    Peter Hurd Biography. n. d. Retrieved from on 28 July 09

    Tempera. n.d Retrieved from on 28 July 09

    `Eve of Saint John` by Peter Hurd. (2016, Jun 17). Retrieved from

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