Landscape composition

One of the aspects of learning to paint I found frustratingly slow to grasp was how to compose  a landscape. I eventually came across Composition of Outdoor Panting by Edgar Payne – a jewel of a book. Payne gives some ten or so simple rules and explains them clearly. His work has served me so well that I feel obliged to pass on his message. Below are most of his compositions to which I have added photographs of some paintings by well known artists to show just what was meant.

Here we have the Radiating Lines composition, which leads you into the painting and thus gives depth to the picture.

The Vladimirka Road, Isaak Levitan, oil on canvas, 79x 123cm,  1892, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The Vladimirka Road, Isaak Levitan, oil on canvas, 79 x123cm, 1892, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

 

The Vladimirka Road, Isaak Levitan, oil on canvas, 79x 123cm,  1892, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow (with compositional lines)

The Vladimirka Road, Isaak Levitan, oil on canvas, 79x 123cm, 1892, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow (with compositional lines)

Next the Steelyard composition which gives a balanced, but asymmetrical view

The Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice, John Singer Sargent, watercolour, 30.5 x 48.8cm, private collection

The Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice, John Singer Sargent, watercolour, 30.5 x 48.8cm, private collection

The Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice, John Singer Sargent, watercolour, 30.5 x 48.8cm, private collection. (with compositional lines)

The Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice, John Singer Sargent, watercolour, 30.5 x 48.8cm, private collection. (with compositional lines)

Below the central mass composition which focusses on one subject just off centre.

L'Ete, Alexandre Calame, huile sur toile, 121.2 x 170.5cm, 1850, Musee d'Art et d'Histoire , Geneve, Switzerland.

L’Ete, Alexandre Calame, huile sur toile, 121.2 x 170.5cm, 1850, Musee d’Art et d’Histoire , Geneve, Switzerland.

 

L'Ete, Alexandre Calame, huile sur toile, 121.2 x 170.5cm, 1850, Musee d'Art et d'Histoire , Geneve, Switzerland. (with compositional lines)

L’Ete, Alexandre Calame, huile sur toile, 121.2 x 170.5cm, 1850, Musee d’Art et d’Histoire , Geneve, Switzerland. (with compositional lines)

The L-shaped composition, which I find more difficult to bring off.

Le Chemin de Sevres, Vue de Paris, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, oil on canvas 34 x 49cm, 1855-1865, Louvre, Paris

Le Chemin de Sevres, Vue de Paris, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, oil on canvas 34 x 49cm, 1855-1865, Louvre, Paris

Le Chemin de Sevres, Vue de Paris, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, oil on canvas 34 x 49cm, 1855-1865, Louvre, Paris (with compositional lines)

Le Chemin de Sevres, Vue de Paris, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, oil on canvas 34 x 49cm, 1855-1865, Louvre, Paris (with compositional lines)

The Circle, which leads the eye around the painting.

Le batelier de Mortefontaine, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, oil on canvas, 60.9 x 89.8cm, 1865 - 1870, Frick Collection , USA

Le batelier de Mortefontaine, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, oil on canvas, 60.9 x 89.8cm, 1865 – 1870, Frick Collection , USA

Le batelier de Mortefontaine, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, oil on canvas, 60.9 x 89.8cm, 1865 - 1870, Frick Collection , USA (with compositional lines)

Le batelier de Mortefontaine, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, oil on canvas, 60.9 x 89.8cm, 1865 – 1870, Frick Collection , USA (with compositional lines)

The Diagonal Line.

Isaak levitan, Evening Golden Plyos, 1889

Evening Golden Plyos, Isaak levitan, oil on canvas, 1889

 

Isaak levitan, Evening Golden Plyos, 1889 (with compositional lines)

Isaak levitan, Evening Golden Plyos, 1889 (with compositional lines)

The Silhouette, where either darks or lights should predominate and not share the space equally.

Graveyard in the Tyrol, John Singer Sargent, Watercolour

Graveyard in the Tyrol, John Singer Sargent, Watercolour

The Triangle, which is a classic in still lifes and in portraiture.

Edward Seago, december Morning, Pin Mill, oil on canvas, 40 x 61cm,

December Morning, Pin Mill, Edward Seago, oil on canvas, 40 x 61cm

Edward Seago, December Morning, Pin Mill, oil on canvas, 40 x 61cm, (with compositional lines)

Edward Seago, December Morning, Pin Mill, oil on canvas, 40 x 61cm, (with compositional lines)

The Three Spot composition, which like the Circle composition, leads the eye around the painting.

Boat in the waters off Capri, John Singer Sargent, Oil on canvas, 45.7 x 59.7cm 1878, private collection

Boat in the waters off Capri, John Singer Sargent, Oil on canvas, 45.7 x 59.7cm 1878, private collection

Boat in the waters off Capri, John Singer Sargent, Oil on canvas, 45.7 x 59.7cm 1878, private collection (with compositional lines)

Boat in the waters off Capri, John Singer Sargent, Oil on canvas, 45.7 x 59.7cm 1878, private collection (with compositional lines)

The S composition, which leads the viewer into the landscape and gives it depth.

Apiary in the Wood, Ivan Shishkin, oil on canvas, 80 x 64cm , 1876, Museum of History and Architecture, Nishny-Novgorod, Russia

Apiary in the Wood, Ivan Shishkin, oil on canvas, 80 x 64cm , 1876, Museum of History and Architecture, Nishny-Novgorod, Russia

Apiary in the Wood, Ivan Shishkin, oil on canvas, 80 x 64cm , 1876, Museum of History and Architecture, Nishny-Novgorod, Russia (with compositional lines)

Apiary in the Wood, Ivan Shishkin, oil on canvas, 80 x 64cm , 1876, Museum of History and Architecture, Nishny-Novgorod, Russia (with compositional lines)

Other factors such as tonal balance, depth, variety, colour contrast and unity of image have to be considered, so just following these compositional techniques will not guarantee immediate success but at least it means getting on the right track. Searching for these compositions can help to understand why some unspectacular landscapes can be very beautiful and harmonious. It also helps train the eye to find such beauty and harmony just about everywhere.

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1 Response to Landscape composition

  1. Georgina says:

    As always….you are amazing…. & I shall now go out & about invigorated, re-seeing the ordinary with new vibrant & informed eyes. So very many congratulations.

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