Motion In Architecture

posted in: Blog, Painting | 4

The Roman Architect Vitruvius taught us the value of beauty, majesty and authority in architecture.  From Palladio to Thomas Jefferson, he has his fans. Understanding how to describe the psychological experience of this classical architecture when filled with life has been a fascination of artists since antiquity.

In the 1600’s Dutch artists like De Witte sought to represent the sensation of grand architectural interiors animated with people, animals, and sunlight. Finding people in a continuous frieze of activity not only gave a feeling of movement to the space but also a sense of scale (example 1). In my interior example of Grand Central Station (examples 2 and 3) I also use directional sunlight to describe the architectural space.  My people are similarly posed entering into the space.

Example 1.  Emanuel De Witte, 1651, Church Interior.

Example 2.” Grand Central Station Sunlight” step one,

Example 3. “Grand Central Station Sunlight” revised in step two,

Initially I had less sunlight and more variety in the figures.  My revised example 3 presents the space with more sunlight and more backlighting under the arches. This backlighting idea can be seen in the earlier works of Piranesi (example 4) and Hubert Robert (example 5) from the 1700’s. In their works you see how the small scale of the people amplifies the height of the building. These works depend on dark/light contrast, linear perspective, high contrast directional lighting and the positioning of figures against the space whether illuminated or silhouetted.

Example 4, Piranesi, Roman Villa Interior,

Example 5, Hubert Robert, 1774, Interior with the Laocoon,

Presenting a procession of figures gives the space a storyline and a feeling of directed movement. Chinese artists have used this idea for over a thousand years. Around 1600 Karel Van Mander the Elder created the sketch you see in example 6. This procession contrasts against the static stability of the symmetrical garden beyond.  I use this processional parade idea in my example 7, “Grand Central Station, Morning Rush” an oil on brushed gold enameled laminated aluminum.

Example 6.  Karel Van Der Mander the Elder, sketch,

Example 7.  Grand Central Station, Morning Rush, 24×36,

I tried a more abstracted Grand Central Station interior in example 8. I altered the color contrast to be a deep blue vs. red brown. Now, not only are the people blurred and moving but so is the clock, the windows, even aspects of the architecture. We get this sensation when we turn and glance quickly about.

Example 8. Grand Central Station, Deep Blue, oil on white Dibond,

I mentioned that 17th century artists enlivened their immense interiors with both people and animals. In revising the figures in “Grand Central Station, Radiant Motion” (example 10) an oil on canvas my revisions introduces other figures, a dog and a child into the central area. The effect of this revision can be seen through contrast with its earlier version (example 9).

Example 9. Step one “Grand Central Station, Radiant Motion”,

Example 10. Step two, the revised painting with new figures,

Lastly, I consider a smaller version of the Brooklyn Bridge and how to give it a sense of vibrating, reverberating movement. I have two versions of this subject in my new Exhibition opening on Friday June 1st at 5 pm at Susan Powell Fine Art in Madison, Connecticut.  Come see me and  the show at the opening reception that evening.  The larger version is 36×36 but, the smaller version which is pictured here is 24×24.  The two step development of this image can be seen in examples 11 and 12.

Example 11. Brooklyn Bridge 24×24, step one,

Example 12. Brooklyn Bridge step two,

Example 13,  The other Brooklyn Bridge painting, 36×36,

From August 27th through the 29th I am conducting a studio workshop on Nantucket Island. The workshop is offered through the Artists Association of Nantucket. ( see Adult Classes, Summer Classes at 508 228 9700,  When registering they can offer travel and housing suggestions.

On June 9th and 10th I am will conduct a plein air class  through the Lyme Art Association in Lyme Connecticut. See workshops  at

Currently I have an exhibition up at The Drawing Room Gallery on the Post Road in Cos Cob, Connecticut. Come and visit the gallery at 220 East Putnam Ave in Cost Cob opens Tuesday through Saturday at 9 AM..





4 Responses

  1. robert trevisani

    David Thank you for a most interesting and informative blog. I am always struck by how much we can learn from the old masters. I look forward to joining you on Nantucket

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