Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Figure in Landscape Painting

Asher B. Durand "Kindred Spirits" (detail)

"Intelligent painters have populated their landscapes by introducing a subject that requires several figures whose actions are capable of stirring us and holding our attention. This is the procedure followed by Poussin, Rubens, and the other great masters. They were not satisfied with having their landscape merely depict a man walking along a path or a woman carrying fruit to market. Instead, they painted figures who think, in order to encourage us to think; they represented men racked by passion, in order to stir our passions and enable us to share their excitement. And it is these figures, rather than the trees and terraces that command our attention." L'Abbe Du Bos (17th-18th Cent. French)

All of the painters that I admire include figures in their landscape paintings. In the development of my own work, I've given a lot of thought to how the inclusion of a human presence in the landscape enriches the experience of the painting for the viewer.

 In the most basic sense, figures provide the viewer with a sense of scale that demands more precision of the artist in the rendering of everything else in the picture. Beyond this the figure provides a conduit by which the viewer may place themselves within the world of the landscape. Beyond this, and in the greatest works, the figure than influences the viewer to consider their own place as a rational social being within the real world. I feel that the greatest paintings are those that elevate the mind to a higher perception of Beauty. Just by hanging on the wall, pictures of this quality may add significant peace, contentment, and pleasure to the spirit of their beholder. I find this to be a noble purpose for art.

Although I include figures in almost all of my paintings, (and even a very small presence can be very relevant to a paintings meaning), here are some paintings of mine where I've tried to use the figure to deepen the effect of the picture:

Erik Koeppel "Heart of the Wilderness" 35 x 46 inches Oil on canvas (link)

Erik Koeppel "The Poet's Reply" 32 x 40 inches. Oil on Canvas, Private Collection
Erik Koeppel "Sunrise Over the Hudson" 44 x 72 Inches Oil on panel (link)
Erik Koeppel, "The Claudian Tree" 32 x 24 inches Oil on panel (Link)
Erik Koeppel "Pastoral Morning" 16 x 24 inches Oil on canvas (link)
Erik Koeppel, "Fisherman in the Adirondacks" 20 x 30 Inches Oil on Canvas, Private Collection

In the simplest sense, different landscape subjects have different emotional content that they convey to the viewer. A wild scene from a rocky ledge has one feeling, and a lovely field on a summer day, has another. The addition of the right figure to a scene will amplify the viewers perception of the importance of the feeling it conveys, and hopefully reflect that content upon themselves.

Here are some historic paintings that inspire me with there figurative content:

Asher B. Durand

Claude Lorrain








Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole
I find that especially when I sit and contemplate a painting quietly for a solid length of time (and in person is better than images) the subtle relationship between the figure and the landscape is revealed. This is both a pleasure in and of itself, and an inspiration for art making.


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Jackson, NH 03846
ph: 603-383-7062

1 comment:

  1. Have just encountered your page and I guess you should be complimented for this piece. More power to you!