|WORKING WITH LIGHT
Rosa Bonheur - The Horse Fair (1853)
Georges de La Tour - St. Joseph the Carpenter (ca. 1645)
Looking at Rosa Bonheur's spectacular painting of The Horse Fair gives us the feeling of almost "being there”
among those witnessing the struggle between horses and handlers at the old Paris livestock auction. We can smell
the dust in the air as the horses' hooves churn the soil, hear the shouts of the men and cries of the animals, and
feel the warmth of the sunlight as it breaks through the clouds to reflect from the tense bodies of the Percheron
stallions. Bonheur created a powerful, highly charged scene, and with a stunning realism has drawn us into the
movement and drama of the horse fair.
Two hundred years earlier, another French painter, Georges de La Tour, created a scene of drama as well - but in
his Saint Joseph the Carpenter there is no feeling of tumult or tension, but rather a sense of quiet and deep
serenity. The scene is simple: a young boy holds a candle for his carpenter father as the latter works his auger
into a block of wood. In La Tour's hands, however, the simplicity is transformed into something monumental: bright
light floods the faces of the man and boy -- highlighting the folds of their simple peasant dress, the father's
muscular arms and furrowed brow, the boy's rapt gaze -- while beyond the candle's reach, deep and mysterious
shadows surround them. The contrast is striking, and creates a sense of drama as moving as Bonheur's.
Both Bonheur and La Tour were masters of realism. As keen observers of the natural world, they understood how
the play of light and shadow gives us visual clues about the objects around us -- information about shapes,
volumes, and textures, for example. With their artists' tools -- most notably, color -- they were able to capture these
effects in paint, turning the two-dimensional surface of their canvases into moving, living, three-dimensional worlds.
In this session's GalleryTime, we will discover how, by creating the illusion of light on canvas, they were able to
paint such realistic, appealing works.
St. Joseph the Carpenter