Picture Composition – The Figure In Landscape

A writer on the use of the figure in out-of-door photography after leading the reader through many pages concludes by saying : after all you had better leave them out.

In two works on photography from an English and American press the writer has seen this article quoted in full and therefore infers that the author has been taken seriously.

The relation of Man to Nature, and the sentiment, interchangeable, proceeding from one to the other, is a link binding the one to the dust from which he sprang and the other to the moods of man to which she makes so great an appeal. It is a union of a tender nature to the real lover of the voiceless influences which surround him :

” Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean, Rise in the heart and gather to the eyes In looking on the happy Autumn fields.”

Can a sentiment so strong in fact, be divorced in art ? It is the fulcrum on which the art of Mauve and Millet and Walker lifts and turns us. It is not necessary to mention other painters ; but to the case in point observe that at Barbizon a photographer of artistic perceptions has for years followed in the footprints of Millet. If nature moves us directly she will move us through our own kind. We feel the vastness of a scene by the presence of a lone figure. The panoramic grandeur of the sky attracts us the more if it has also appealed to a figure in the picture. But beyond this affinity in the subject there are sufficient reasons why the figure should be included. The figure can be moved about as a knight in the game, hither and you as the fixed conditions of topography demand. Many a landscape which would be entirely useless without such an element is not only redeemed, but is found to be particularly prepared and waiting for this keystone. Take for example a picture in which lines are paralleling one another in their recession from the foreground or where there is a monotony in any horizontal sequence. The vertical of the figure means the balance of these. The principle is one already noted, action balancing action in contrary direction.

What of the nymphs of Corot, or the laveuses bending at the margin of the lake, the plowman homeward plodding o’er the lea, the shepherd on the distant moor, the woodsman in the forest, the farmer among his fields. We associate our vision of the scene with theirs. When as mere dots they are discerned, the vastness of their surroundings is realized at their expense and the exclamation of the psalmist is ours : ” What is man that thou art mindful of him.”

The danger in the use of the figure is that it is so frequently lugged in. The friends that hap-pen to be along are often made to do. There is no case where the fitness of things is more compulsory than in the association of figures with landscape. The haymaker creates a sensation on Broadway but no more so than Dundreary crossing a plowed field in Oxford ties. As the poetry of a Corot landscape invites the nymphs to come and the ruggedness of the Barbizon plain befits the toiling peasants of Millet, so should our landscape determine the chord in humanity to be harmoniously played with it.

A fault in construction is frequently seen in the lack of simplicity of foreplane and back- ground. It must first be determined whether it is to be a landscape with figures or figures in landscape. The half one and half another picture is a sure failure.

The most serviceable material one may collect in sketching are such positions which play second or third parts in composition ; cattle or other animals in back or three-quarter view which readily unite with and lead to their principals.

In the selection of the subject the main object has most of one’s thought. This however usually “goes” without thought, asserting itself by its own interest. Figures which are less interesting than this and still less, such as will combine with the subject proper, are what the painter and illustrator long for. As with the background, those things which are not of sufficient interest to be worth while in themselves are, owing to their lesser significance, of the utmost importance to the composer. Note in the usual Van Marke cattle picture of five cows, the diminishing interest in the other four, or the degree of restraint expressed in most of the figures successfully introduced into landscape.