"When the World Seemed Young" by Howard Pyle
For this week's study I looked through a bunch of Pyle's paintings to find one where I could try to analyze how the shape language is supporting the central idea, without resorting to battle scenes, which tend to be more obvious (sharp angles, thrusting shapes, etc.). I can't begin to pick apart what makes most of Pyle's pictures work, but I tried to take a stab at this one. The main narrative of the man wooing the girl is already very clear, but like any good picture, that idea is being put across without needing to analyze what the characters are actually doing.
Before I started the study, I was already reading a few things. One is the common motif of linking the woman to nature, something you see in countless paintings. Her shape is linked to the flowering trees behind her, so the garden becomes a metaphor for her. The wall then becomes important- it's the barrier between us and the garden, and her by extension.
The block-in of the large shapes seems to support that idea. Rather than the silhouettes of the characters, the main thing we see is the wall, and the steps leading up to the arch-shaped entryway. The way is open, but we're not through it, just as the man is still outside the garden. His one foot on the step shows that he wants to go through and perhaps nearly is, which is the metaphor for his attempting to the woo the girl (since she is the garden).
After adding color and the smaller shapes, some more things start to jump out.
This I wasn't sure about, but I looked into it anyway, because the silhouetting of the man's dark hat of the light path behind it made me think it might be important. Possibly it's meant to show some affinity between the two characters, since the girl's own hat is also prominent with the dark shape within the lighter one. This affinity is expressed not only by the objects themselves, but by the similar shapes (circles in this case).
This was the very first thing that made me read into the idea of the wall and garden. The girl herself is the garden, but note that the pattern on her dress mimics the red, rectangular shape of the brick wall. It suggests that the man hasn't won her over yet- it is the wall keeping him out of the garden.
Another one I wasn't sure of, but I traced the path of the shapes formed by the pink, flowering trees to the read shape in the dress. Maybe it emphasizes her link to the background further?
That's all I have for this one. Of course, it's impossible for me to say whether any of it is accurate at this point. I can spend all day looking for metaphors and patterns, but unless I can use the knowledge to make strong pictures myself, I can't claim that it's the thing that makes the painting work in the first place. There's a lesson there- be very skeptical when someone shows you a diagram they drew over a painting and says "this is the secret to great painting!" If they can't use it to make a great painting, take it with a kilo of salt. Be scientific about the information you receive.
So, with that in mind, I'm learning here. If you have something to add, or think I messed up somewhere, please comment! We'll see if I can eventually use what I'm picking up from these studies to make my own paintings better.