Peder Monsted

by Armand Cabrera

Peder Mork Monsted was born in 1859 in Denmark. At 16 he enrolled in the Academy at Copenhagen where he studied under Andries Fritz and Julius Exner . After Monsted left the academy at the age of twenty he studied with Peder Severin Kroyer in his studio and later Adolphe Bouguereau in Paris. He travelled extensively through Europe and North Africa. Although Monsted worked in an academic style, his paintings have a keen sense of light, most likely helped by his outdoor sketches. He died in 1941 at the age of 82.

One look at his work and you can see why he was considered the best landscape painter of his day in Denmark. While some of his genre paintings with figures fall into sugary clichés, the quality of his landscapes are untouchable. He was especially adept at depicting water and forest interiors.

I have little information on him beyond these few scraps from galleries and auction catalogs with his work. As far as I know there is no monograph on him.

I became aware of his work in the early 90’s though gallery ads in magazines and was lucky enough to have a local gallery that carried his work in Marin county where I lived at the time. What is missed in these reproductions is the scale of the paintings. The ones I saw were large- five or six feet across in most cases and they just glowed with that ambient light that anyone who has taken a walk through a forest is familiar with. The paint handling is controlled but the details are still suggested. He was a master at composing the complexities of a forest interior into an organized and believable design. His control of color and value is exquisite. I hope a museum will mount a show and produce a color catalog on this fine artist soon; he deserves it.

Sunrise and Sunset Lighting

by Armand Cabrera

I am defining Sunrise/ Sunset paintings as images where the sun is placed in the picture. These situations are more difficult to pull off and the approach needed is counter intuitive to the way a painter normally handles an outdoor sketch.

Sunrise and Sunset painting are the two extreme situations of lighting that are the most tantalizing for the outdoor painter and they are the situation we all try eventually. Personally I think painting a scene with the sun it, unobstructed by anything, is an impossible task. Even paintings by my favorite artists of this subject fall short, in my eyes.

A much more effective approach is to have a scene facing the sun with its orb blocked or partially blocked by some object or meteorological phenomenon. These scenes are possible and there are many fine examples of them in the history of representational painting.
There are two general ways to approach these kinds of scenes. The first is to focus on the contrast between sky and land, relinquishing strong color for one or the other major elements and relying heavily on strong values of light and dark.

The second way to approach this subject is to key the values and color to a narrower range to heighten the overall effect of light in the scene. Both of these approaches take skill to execute effectively. The composition and the design of these scenes take on a higher degree of importance to coordinate all of the elements successfully.

Making the scene brighter around the sun requires to raise the saturation of the paint, to make it look lighter you raise the value. Many painters confuse these aspects and their paintings suffer because of it. In these kinds of scenes you must lower the saturation and the value for the rest of the painting away from the sunlight.

In my opinion paintings that are keyed to a narrow tonal and hue range are more successful than ones that rely on full range contrast for the effect.

Paintings in this article from top to bottom are, Frederick Church, William Trost Richards,Peder Monsted, Thomas Moran, William Trost Richards, and Albert Bierstadt. All copyrights belong to the respective owners.

Shapes and the Importance of Edges

by Armand Cabrera

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We all understand that a lone tree or a mountain against a clear sky creates a defining contour and shape that separates its boundaries from its background. These attributes are easy to discern and their edges are apparent no matter how soft or crisp.

Shapes and edges and the dependence on correct observation of their transitions are paramount to the success of representational paintings. It is not enough to try and make a literal transcription of what you see; the best art in my opinion comes from the design of shapes and their edges.

Let’s start with some definitions; basic shapes are quadrilateral, circle, and triangle. From these you can form any complex shape by combining their structural elements together in varying degrees. You learn to see their structure in more complex shapes and these in turn help to create the illusion of forms. You use the abstraction of them to compose your designs.

Edges play an important role with these shapes because where you see the transition of one shape to another is controlled by the edge and its quality. The concept of hard, soft or lost edges control shape. All of this is conceptual with no basis in reality, which makes it difficult when you are starting out.

When we start to paint, we talk in terms of the thing we are trying to paint as opposed to the shapes we are trying to make. This inability to conceptualize the world and abstract it holds us back as painters. In the beginning we are convinced that we are drawing or painting trees or buildings or faces when all we are making are shapes on a canvas.

Even the idea of solidity and form is based on making shapes that really only mimic form to our eyes. When working from life these shapes and edges are controlled by the angle of your view, move a little in one direction or another and how you see those abstract shapes will change. Everything we do in painting is translating a 3 dimensional scene or object into 2 dimensional shapes.

This move away from thinking in terms of the objects you see to the marks that you make , takes time. You are not only training your hand eye coordination when you are learning to paint. You are also reprogramming your brain to think in terms of shapes of color and value. Learning to see as a painter. And it takes a lifetime of practice and study.

How you see those shapes and their properties of value and color attributes; where they divide into other shapes and how well you translate them and the quality of their edges, not only decides your painting style but also determines your ability as a painter.

Paintings from top to bottom Anders Zorn, John Singer Sargent, John Singer Sargent, Dennis Miller Bunker, William  Bliss Baker, Peder Mork Monsted, Carl Rungius, Fantin Latour, Emile Carlsen.

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Learning To See Part 3

Armand Cabrera

The last part in this series I want to talk about perception when painting. To learn to see as an artist we must train ourselves to see things as marks or shape instead of line. Every mark we make with a brush, knife or finger is a shape and that shape has color and value and a quality to its edge. Too often when people start painting they think in terms of line only but this is not as useful to painting as it is to drawing and doesn’t allow you to take full advantage of what painting with a brush offers.

 It doesn’t help to try to mimic exactly what we see either. Some aspect of the process must be visible on the canvas for a painting to succeed as a painting in my opinion. The artist decides the marks and the quality of their edges to arrive at something greater than a photo or real life. The artist invests some of their personality and experience into the image.

 A painting must be a translation of the source not a copy of it. To this end an artist must stop looking at the source at some point and focus on the painting being made. This is important and something often overlooked when starting out as an artist. Beginning artists are always trying to copy things and forget about the painting as a painting.

This is where the idea of selection, organization, simplification comes into play.  They are personal guides to keep the idea front and center in our mind as we work. That means paying attention to the whole painting and the relationship of its components in service of the idea. For us to see as artists we must impose patterns and groupings of color and value, that we decide upon.  These patterns are informed by our imagination if we are inventing  the image or informed by the source if we are working from life. How we design them is the core of successful painting and the cornerstone to seeing as an artist.

Images in this article from top to bottom are Gustave Caillebotte, T.C. Steele, Peder Monsted, Jean Manneheim, George Inness