By: Rhonda Hilligoss
I selected an 1860 oil painting, done by an American artist named George Peter Alexander Healy; ” The Portrait of Sallie.” Although the painting was done in the 1800s many of the technique that the artist used came from the High Renaissance era. It is located at the Speed art Museum in Louisville, Ky. This “Still Life” composition is done with oil paint on canvas; the medium, linseed oil, is mixed into the paint as a binder and this technique became popular around the early 1500’s. Sallie is the subject matter and is sitting in a chair next to a beautifully decorated table. I am assuming that’s her name is Sallie by the title, so for the purpose of this paper we will call her Sallie.
Sallie’s realistic form is created by the artist’s use of contour lines to shape a three dimensional illusion of the her occupying space next to the table. The most noticeable curved lines are in the upper features of her body. The elegant outer curves form her neck, shoulders, and her hands and the inner curves from her jaw, chin, and her nose. The artist was very detailed, to capture Sallie’s expression, there are small curves under her cheeks to create the illusion of her cheeks being lifted from the smile on her face. Each strain of hair is perfectly outline as if each hair on her head individually placed. He used lines to represent each joint in her fingers, and outlined a gold wedding ring on her left ring finger. Sallie is looking away from the viewer, with her head tilted slight down.
To render the effect of light the artist uses the technique of chiaroscuro to represent the light falling across her face. Shadows shows depth around her eyes and nose. The dark shadows on the back walls and the contrast of light towards her face, illuminates her white porcelain colored skin. The modeled in her features and in the folds of her formal dress implies a spatial realism and existences of dimension. The value of colors shift from light to dark, from warm to cool. He uses the simultaneous contrast effect with orange to contrast against the silver in her dress and green walls contrast to her light skin to keep Sallie as the viewers focal point.
This portrait represents three-dimensional space, by overlapping objects in a one point linear perspective and somewhat foreshortening. The woman and table being positive space and the walls being the negative space. It has a frontal and slight diagonal vantage point and represents real space, it looks as real as if it was a photograph of Sallie sitting there.
There is an illusion of texture, by using patterns on Sallies dress and the table cloth. The dress has a shiny glare on it suggesting it might be made out of silk material. On the sleeves and down the front of her dress looks to be a decorative lace. The table cloth looks like it has design pattern on to give the illusion it is cloth. The layering of color on the walls give the illusion of wall paper. The painting is asymmetrical balanced, with the use of light and texture.
To me this portrait represents someone the artist might of know personally. She was a lady belonging to the upper society. By her facial express, I assume she is kind, light spoken, reminds me of school teacher or a writer. The dress that she is wearing implies the 18th century. The ring on her finger suggest she is married, maybe high morals or religious. Her pose suggest her she is shy, but a lady, but not in any way provocative. I am drawn to oil paint, I am always amazed how life like the really are, and the painter can create a person appearance as physically flawless. If only the human eye could see the world always so flawless.
If was going to research about this painting, I would start with the artist to see if I could find information about the history of Sallie, if she was a real person he knew personally. After studying her painting so intensely, I wonder if my assumption were correct.
This picture was downloaded and can be seen at http://www.speedmuseum.org/collection/kentuckycollect/1939_96.html#.