The Garden Guide

Book: Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening, 1795
Chapter: Criticism of Repton's before and after drawings

Artistic composition

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But we may modify the form still farther, by taking the following points into consideration:- When an artist is composing his picture, he supposes the distribution of sight, which may be called, for convenience, the attention of the eye, to be perfect; and considers only that indistinct and undetailed proportion of forms and colours, which is best obtained from the finished drawing by half closing, and thus throwing a dimness over the eye. But, in finishing, he works on quite a different principle. One locality is selected by him, as chiefly worthy of the eye's attention; to that locality he directs it almost exclusively, supposing only such partial distribution of sight over the rest of the drawing, as may obtain a vague idea of the tones and forms which set off and relieve the leading feature. Accordingly, as he recedes from this locality, his tones become fainter, his drawing more undecided, his lights less defined, in order that the spectator may not find any point disputing for authority with the leading idea. For instance; four years ago, in the Royal Academy, there was a very noble piece of composition by Wilkie, Columbus detailing his views, respecting a western continent, to the Monks of La Rabida. The figures were seated at a table, which was between them and the spectator, their legs being seen below it. The light fell on the table, down the yellow sleeve of a secondary figure, catching, as it past, on the countenance of Columbus. This countenance and the falling light were the leading ideas; everything diminished in distinctness as it receded, and the legs below the table, were vague conceptions of legs, sketched in grey.