Friday, June 24, 2011

A Frederick Leighton from

I was asked by a reader;

I try to stay a page ahead of my beginning painters, but one of them came up with a doosey! She wanted to know how a painting was composed so that the barrel of a six gun seems to follow the viewer as the viewer crosses of front of the painting to the other side. I lamely commented something about optical illusion and promised to find out. The same question was observed of the eyes of some portraits. Is it partly psychological? Since you know art history, you probably can inform us. I think the painting was at the Gilcrease in Tulsa. Thank you.
.....................Cherry Maraschino

This is the kind of question that Jim Gurney answers so well. I know the answer I guess, but it is almost a non answer. The eyes or the open end of that gun point at you because they are painted pointing at you, and even though you walk from one side of the painting to another the painting doesn't change. A three D object would be seen differently from different angles, but not a flat one. It is a simple matter to get the eyes of a portrait to look at you and this follow the viewer around the room. Just ask your sitter to look directly at you as you paint them., or point that hogleg at you. Make sure you have a look in that chamber first though, it is best not to take anyone's opinion about whether a gun be loaded or no, best to check for yourself.

Is there more too this, I don't think so but there are some high falutin science types who read this blog (you know who you are) and if you can add to this please do.


SCIBOTIC said...

Well my theory at least is that the lids surrounding the eye are painted more thickly, so at an angle it causes the closest edge of indented layer to be obscured. Which visually, would make the eye appear to follow you.

Bob Carter said...

On the assumption that your poke was in my direction, I can't say I can top your explanation.

Philip Koch said...

Whenever I've heard this "eyes follow you" thing I've wondered why on earth anyone would think they wouldn't. How could it be otherwise? I guess it shows how little looking (at reality as well as at art) some people have done. Sigh...

billspaintingmn said...

There is a painting at the Museum Of Russian Art That is rather interesting. If you stand 3 or 4 feet away to look at it, the eyes in the painting look over your shoulder.
But as you step back about 10 or 15 feet the eyes sparkle right at you, and follow you around.
Up close the paint is rather thick and loosly painted. As you step back everything about it changes.
That Russian Art is painted so good,You have to see it!

MCGuilmet said...

This is a fascinating question and part of the incredible power of painting. In part it speaks to the very nature of art and why it has been so interesting to philosophers and others in considering the nature of reality. I’m neither a scientist nor high falutin but I’ll add my two cents till those other folks arrive.
This is not a phenomenon that can be observed by moving about in nature and is an illusion caused by linear perspective and chiaroscuro effects that set fixed points on the picture plane and set a specific point of view for that object permanently, no matter where any viewer stands. There are a few simple examples to better understand the illusion:
1. First, reverse the problem. Find a portrait that is painted where the eyes do not look at you. Then try to find any place to stand in the room where the eyes will look at you. There is no place. The eyes will never look at you. You are looking at an object where everything has been fixed to one point of view. So no matter where you move in the room that fixed point of view never changes. You could stand right in front of the painting, then move 12 feet to the right, and the picture will not change for you, the eyes will never look at you, it will be as if a phantom viewer is still standing directly in front of the painting and that is who the painting is playing to with eyes averted. Contrast this with ‘reality’. Stand a model in front of you. Stand directly in front of them and look into their eyes, now, move slowly around the model. Every step you take, your view completely changes. There is no pre-fixed point of view, there is no middleman. You are creating the pov with each step. You are looking at the front, now side, now back, etc. Each slight tilt of your head in any direction while viewing nature creates a different view to you, a different reality. From almost the moment you are born, your eyes start to take in every “snapshot” of objects in front of them and your brain starts to build a synthesized version of that object until you understand that object in its most “ideal” or generic state. This is Plato’s Heaven, the idea of platonic form. I’m getting off track a bit so...
2. Ok, forget about faces entirely. Let’s say you paint a tree that looks about 50 feet away from the bottom edge of the frame. If you stand in front of the painting, the tree looks 50 feet away. If you back up 100 feet, the tree still looks 50 feet from the frames edge. The distance from the tree to the frame edge is fixed and never changes no matter where you go, even if you leave the room. Contrast that with standing in front of a real tree about three feet away. It looks three feet away. Back up 50 feet now it looks 50 feet away. Back up 100…and it looks 100 feet away and so on. Think back now to that painted tree 50 feet from the frames edge. Imagine that tree “looking” at you…see it’s face….and it’s “eyes”…no matter where you stand in the room, that tree will still be looking at you in the same way. The fact is, the whole painting appears to you in exactly the same way no matter where you stand. It is a slice of reality within your reality. For a portrait, the eyes... but also the lips, chin, hair, nose…..look at you in the same way. So this really begs the question, WHY do we notice this so much with a portrait and NOT with a tree…..?
So there are other fascinating aspects to this issue but I’m out of characters so if you Google fusiform gyrus and Prosopagnosia you’ll find some stuff. Also, Chuck Close and Face Blindness.

Mary Byrom said...

Nice thorough explanation Michael. This would help anyone understand it . Thank you.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That would certainly give the correct shape to the eye.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bob Carter;
No.... I knew you were a chem- physics guy.Good to see you rise above the surface, scales glittering.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Philip Koch;
There is an idea for a post, examining that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You get the center stage tonight. Make sure that e string is in tune.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mary Byrom;
I thought so too and used it out front tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

billspaintingmn ;
I want to see that museum, where is it?