Art History Formal Analysis – Comparison

Formal Analysis Paper The pieces Ann Whitley Russell, done by an unknown artist in around 1820 and Lady Frances Knowles, also done by an unknown artist, in the mid-late 17th century are both examples of portraits that portray the sitters in diverse yet insightful ways to viewers. Both Ann Whitley Russell and Lady Frances Knowles are works of art composed of oil paint on canvas. Although these portraits are different, the aspects of space, color, and composition are all important elements that must be considered while comparing the woman in these two pieces.

The significant element of space comes into play while analyzing the portrait of Ann Whitley Russell. The figure of Ann Whitley Russell herself is very flat and appears to be two dimensional, rather than three. The two dimensionalism of this portrait says something about the skill level and amount of training that this unknown artist holds; they were most likely self-trained. Since there is a shallow depth of field in this piece the viewer is automatically drawn to the sitter, Ann Whitley Russell, who is positioned in the foreground of this piece.

Ann Whitley Russell is illustrated sitting on a chair with a decorative cloth draped over the left arm, which is positioned in the middle ground of the portrait. The background is monochrome, blurry and is indistinguishable to make out other than the column to the side of the portrait. The column looks as if the artist based it on Greek and Roman architecture due to its rounded appearance and indented texture. These columns would have been found in Europe throughout the early to mid eighteen hundreds, which was around the same time that this portrait was created.

By including this type of column in the background the artist may be trying to portray the sitter, Ann Whitley Russell, as someone who is elite, wealthy and privileged enough to live in a place where this type of architecture exists. Although the artist made this column visible, it is still impossible to detect a specific setting in the background of this portrait. Furthermore, although the significance of the element of space also effects how viewers perceive the portrait of Lady Frances Knowles it does so in a different way.

The viewer is automatically drawn to the center of this piece, which is the vivid three-dimensional figure of the sitter, Lady Frances Knowles. While studying the portrait Lady Frances Knowles I was able to detect a clear distinguishable foreground, middle ground and background. The artist positions the sitter in the foreground of the piece sitting on a stone bench with one arm resting upon the ledge of a stone fountain which is positioned in the middle ground.

The stone fountain in the middle ground which has a statue of a Roman mythological winged figure attached has water flowing down from it and appears to be solid in space and volumetric due to this. The statue of a winged figure appears to be an angel, which is a symbol of love, peace, and protection. The background of this piece has trees with flowering leaves which may be where the flowers upon the lap of Lady Frances Knowles and the bench she is sitting on came from.

The background seems to be slightly shallower compared to the sitter who is lifelike and three-dimensional. The background is less defined than the sitter is however the trees, fountain and flowers are distinguishable and give evidence that she must be sitting somewhere outside. The artist may have positioned the sitter somewhere outside in order to show the importance of nature and natural beauty because the sitter herself is so naturally beautiful.

The artist of Lady Frances Knowles and of Ann Whitley Russell both use space to visually demonstrate what type of person the sitter is in the portrait, even though the way the space is represented is different in both. Another very important aspect that must be considered during the analysis of the portrait of Ann Whitley Russell is color. In this portrait the artist tends to use a narrow array of colors that are bland and monotonous. The artist uses the same colors of black, white, brown, grey and red throughout the entire piece.

The background is incredibly dull and the shades of brown get darker as it moves further away from her head. In this portrait the red is only bright and exciting color, it is found used for the plain velvet looking chair, the red accents on the cloth draped over the chair, the stone in the center of her necklace and the thin line of lipstick on Ann Whitley Russell’s lips. The black of the sitters dress contrasts her pale white skin and due to the incredibly dull background color more attention is given to her.

By using these colors the artist shows how although Ann Whitley Russell is a woman of great wealth, she is a plain woman and instead of embellishing her with vibrant colors he focused on maintaining the sitters true essence. Additionally, while analyzing the portrait of Lady Frances Knowles the importance of color is also used however it is to express different meanings. It is easy to see that the artist of this piece finds color very important due to the vast color pallet he uses in order to contrast the colors of the sitters dress and her skin tones.

The pallet consists of a diverse amount of blue, white, pink, red, grey, brown, and black shades, which are used to illustrate the sitter and her surroundings. The artist uses flowing brush strokes to engage viewers in Lady Frances Knowles, a strong example of these brush strokes can be seen in the sitters long brown flowing hair that she is trying to show off. The background of the portrait, which contains a variety of red and pink accents against a darker black background, deeply contrasts the white and pink shades of the sitters skin tone and the shades of blue on the sitters dress.

Shadowing is used on the skirt and sleeves of the sitters dress to create realistic folds and wrinkles in the expensive fabric. The shades of red and pink are used for the flowers held by and surrounding Lady Frances Knowles, and are emblems representing femininity, beauty and fertility. The artists use color in contrasted ways in the portraits of Lady Frances Knowles and Ann Whitley Russell in order to illustrate the sitter’s unique personal attributes. The aspect of composition is one of great value while discussing the portrait of Ann Whitley Russell.

Ann Whitley Russell’s figure takes up the majority of the piece and viewers are pulled into the portrait by the way the sitter’s head is slightly tilted in a contrapposto pose causing her gaze to fall upon us. The way the artist positioned the sitter with both of her arms resting over one of the arms of the chair seems uncomfortable and awkward, however this may have been seen as a proper way of sitting in 1820. Ann Whitley Russell’s portrait is a half body portrait from the waist up rather than a full body portrait that would have been more expensive at the time.

The artist also focuses on the importance of lines by making them very defined so the viewer is able to depict where everything is easily. Due to the blurred and empty space in the background the sitter appears to be placed in an empty environment the artist may have done as to draw more attention to the subject (the sitter). Moreover, while analyzing the use of composition again in the Lady Frances Knowles portrait it is evident that it’s use is different.

The artist gains the viewers full attention by the way the sitters face is held up gently by her hand and her soft eyes connect with the gaze of the viewer, drawing us even closer to the work of art. The way the artist positioned the sitter looks as if the sitter is going to get up at any moment due to how comfortable and relaxed her position is. The figure is directly centered with the background however her arm resting on the edge of the fountain on the side brings the main focus from herself to the intricate fountain.

The background of the portrait is cluttered and the brush strokes are heavy and dark so the viewer will keep their focus on the sitter rather than the background. The proportions of the sitter in the portrait are accurate and almost entire the body of the sitter is portrayed, showing how she is willing to pay more for something more elegant. The artists for Ann Whitley Russell and Lady Frances Knowles both communicate diverse and very distinct characteristics about the sitter to viewers through the use of composition.

After analyzing both of these portraits in excessive detail I have found that although they are unique in a variety of ways, both artists concentrations of work are the same. Some contrasts between the two portraits are that Ann Whitley Russell is two dimensional with a bland color pallet and is a half body portrait; while Lady Frances Knowles is three dimensional with a broad expanse of a color pallet and it is almost a full body portrait. The use of the elements space, color, and composition all influenced how the artists created the portraits of Ann Whitley Russell and Lady Frances Knowles and the themes within them.

The unknown artist of the Ann Whitley Russell portrait used all three elements in order to illustrate how the sitter is a simple woman yet wealthy and elite as well. In the portrait of Lady Frances Knowles the artist, who is also unknown, uses these aspects to portray the natural beauty, femininity and wealth. Both themes are similar because they relate to how both sitters for each portrait aspired to be portrayed by the artists as attractive and wealthy.