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Analysis Of Composition

The Art Of Painting - Analysis Of Composition - 4, a brief series of articles on the art of painting and drawing
By contrasting the " Bacchanalian Dance " of Nicolas Poussin and Stothard's " Greek Vintage" with the Titian, we shall see how the theme has degenerated in less skilful hands. There are enough good points in the Poussin to redeem it, in spite of the lack of science displayed, but to those I shall not allude. There are many weaknesses in it, and they equally demand attention at the hand of the student ; although a final judgment on any work should be invariably formed on the good, and not the bad, which is there, for few of the finest pictures are faultless.
To the solecisms already demonstrated, this composition will afford a fresh stock, and drive home more completely the earlier examples. Like in the Titian, the main upper line describes an arc, and so does unfortunately the base line, and it is not corrected by a little satyr or any solid mass. The group is the same width and value practically throughout. Remember what I am here insisting on are the weaknesses, so that I need not repeat with every sentence, " This is a thing to avoid." The arc is too symmetrical ; its sides are too equally inclined. The terminal figure of Pan, put where he is to raise the line, is only partially effective.
further depressed by the hole of light under the foliage. The raised arm with the jug comes too late, and, if anything, accentuates the rectangular feeling brought about by the horizontal line of heads and the perpendicular Pan. The space above the figures is too equal in width to the mass of those figures contained between their upper and lower convex and concave limits.
In the Titian picture the hinder satyr with the calf hock is cut off by the frame, and we imagine that the procession continues beyond it. Here the one group that constitutes the whole of the human interest is silhouetted, and it lacks accident thereby. True, the head of the struggling babe is cut by the upright, but we are certain there are no more wine-seeking infants than we see before us. He is cut off in the wrong place to convey the impression that more are to follow. The line of arms fails in its intended rhythm—they are too equal in length, too tied on one level, and repeat too closely each other's movement ; and so it is with the dancing legs, one right angle repeating or just reversing the other.
The outline of the grape-juice dispensing lady runs along with the line of the man's back and leg next to her ; and her own left leg supports that man's, which weighs on it at an awkward angle. Together they almost make a T-square. Her outstretched arm, too, runs parallel with her raised leg, and so appears to hold it up with a cord ; and the space left between those limbs and the body is an ugly square. The flying drapery designed to fill up this gap fails of its purpose, for the insisted rectangular line of her figure renders the drapery useless for the purpose .of its design. The open spaces between the three dancers are too similar in value.
Perhaps the most unfortunate passage is the profile view of the central man. The left half of the group ends with him, and with the assistance

The top row of heads runs parallel to the horizontal of the frame, and is of the trees and the outline of the woman's leg beyond, which is attached to his elbow, effectively cuts the picture into equal halves. The trees also weigh down on the dancers, and take the eye in too direct a line to the corner of the picture.
There are other weak points, when considered thus hypercritically, which you may find for yourself. This work of destruction is not pleasant, but Poussin is big enough to suffer little by these dissections. It goes to show that the arranging of a complicated design is no easy matter ; there are pits at every turn, into which even the masters stumble at times.

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