Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Van Gogh's Perspective Frame

One of the most fascinating aspects of the The Real Van Gogh - the Artist and his Letters exhibition is the letter which illustrates the perspective tool which Van Gogh used - and a sketch of him using it!

Perpsective is an aspect of drawing which a number of artists struggle with. Van Gioh was no exception and he studied various handbooks and diligently did various exercises to improve his grasp of perspective and proportions. I was very impressed with some of the drawings which he'd tackled to develop his skills in drawing the perspective of both built and natural forms.

The first room in the exhibition provides some examples of drawings he did - plus the two letters which indicate how he also used technical aids - in the shape of a perspective frame.
I've quoted from these letters letters below.

A sketch by Vincent Van Gogh illustrating how he expected to use the perspective frame he had ordered
Letter 253 To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Saturday, 5 August 1882

I’ll start with small things — but before the summer ends I hope to practise bigger sketches in charcoal with an eye to painting in a rather larger format later.
This is why I’m having a new and, I hope, better perspective frame made, which will stand firmly on two legs in uneven ground like the dunes.

Like this, for example.
What we saw together at Scheveningen, sand — sea — sky — is something I certainly hope to express one day.
He described it in more detail in the next letter which also includes three sketches of the post, peg and perspective frame.
In my last letter you’ll have found a little scratch of that perspective frame. I’ve just come back from the blacksmith, who has put iron spikes on the legs and iron corners on the frame.
It consists of two long legs:
The frame is fixed to them by means of strong wooden pegs either horizontally or vertically
The result is that on the beach or in a meadow or a field you have a view as if through a window. The perpendicular and horizontal lines of the frame, together with the diagonals and the cross — or otherwise a grid of squares — provide a clear guide to some of the principal features, so that one can make a drawing with a firm hand, setting out the broad outlines and proportions. Assuming, that is, that one has a feeling for perspective and an understanding of why and how perspective appears to change the direction of lines and the size of masses and planes. Without that, the frame is little or no help, and makes your head spin when you look through it.
I expect you can imagine how delightful it is to train this view-finder on the sea, on the green fields — or in the winter on snow-covered land or in the autumn on the fantastic network of thin and thick trunks and branches, or on a stormy sky.
With CONSIDERABLE practice and with lengthy practice, it enables one to draw at lightning speed and, once the lines are fixed, to paint at lightning speed.
It’s in fact especially good for painting, because a brush must be used for sky, ground, sea. Or, rather, to render them through drawing alone, it’s necessary to know and feel how to work with the brush. I also firmly believe my drawing would be strongly influenced if I were to paint for a while. I tried it back in January but that came to a halt — the reason for stopping, apart from a few other things,was that I was still too hesitant when drawing. Now six months have passed, devoted entirely to drawing. So now I’m beginning anew with fresh heart. The frame really has become an excellent piece of equipment — it’s a pity you still haven’t seen it. It has cost me a pretty penny, too, but I had it made so solidly that I shan’t wear it out in a hurry.
Letter 254 To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Saturday, 5 or Sunday, 6 August 1882
How do you tackle drawing perspective when working plein air?

Note: Royal Academy of Arts: The Real Van Gogh Exhibition - The Artist and his Letters exhibition
  • Opens to the public: 23rd January 2010
  • Closes: Sunday 18th April 2010
  • Open 10am - 6pm daily; Fridays open until 10pm; Saturdays open until 9pm.
  • All days last admission 30 minutes before closing time
Links:

5 comments:

Casey Klahn said...

And to think I just bought a little plastic hand held version of the same idea at the art store. This provides some pretty strong support for our using these nowadays - with the authority of van Gogh himself!

EH said...

I measure with a pencil:).

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I have a theory that Van Gogh was a bit of a 'geek' and liked the techie stuff. Mind you I could mean 'nerd'. I read an article distinguishing between the two the other day and I forget what the distinction is! :)

Antonino Saggio said...

Katherine thanks for this post. I have a question. I do not understand The use of The pencil,- it seems a pencil -with The holes along its lenght! I do not understand The use of The holes in The frame neither, if it is in relationship with The pencil... I suppose The pencil is used to measure what you see in The frame , but in this case it should have the same number of holes... Can you or somebody else clarify, please? Best

Katherine Tyrrell said...

It's not a pencil. I think it's the wooden peg which he refers in his letter (quoted in the post). I think the holes in the peg must be for adjustments

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