Drawing of Woman Sewing, 1639
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (1606-1669)

The pictorial qualities of color, light and shade blend with subject matter, form and content, and composition to create an overall harmony in a painting.

Color plays a vital role in the experience of a work of art. Color helps both to sharpen our awareness of the experience and to describe it with some clarity, a well-defined color terminology is important. The three basic properties of color are hue, saturation and value.

Hue refers to the name of a color, such as red or green. The hues of the visible spectrum are diagrammed in the conventional color wheel, which is constructed around the three primary colors – red, yellow, and blue.

Saturation refers to the relative purity of hues in comparison to their appearance in the spectrum. If the color seems to be the reflection in its most vivid form of the spectrum hue, it is said to be of high saturation. If, on the other hand, the quality of hue can scarcely be distinguished it is said to be of low saturation.

Value refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a color. White represents the highest value, black the lowest. Every hue may be lightened almost to white or darkened almost to black, raised or lowered in value.

Light and Shade
Light and shade are tools that artists use to make a painting look realistic and to contribute to the mood of a painting.  The play of light and shade makes objects look three dimensional on a flat canvas. When looking at an artist’s use of light, the first point to consider is the source or direction of the light. The sources can be front lighting, side lighting, back lighting, three-quarter lighting, or lit from within.

In addition to the source of the light, the artist decides the quality of the light. The quality can be soft and gentle or harsh and razor sharp. It may cast a garish glare or be uplifting like a summer’s day.

The elements of light and shade in Rembrandt’s drawing of the woman sewing provide an excellent example. Shading is conveyed by the hatched lines, which create the impression of a raised surface on which Titia rests her left arm. Shading also creates the illusion of creases in the folds of her shawl and in the planes of her face. Behind Titia on the wall to the left, we see a shadow that is cast because she blocks the light that appears to enter from the right. The wall at the right, on the other hand, is a flat area of white because there are no gradations in its surface.

Andrew Wolf, LLC
19th & 20th Century Fine Art, Art Pottery, Sculpture & Books

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