How to Paint a Landscape Background in Your Figure Painting

William Bouguereau, was a 19th Century French Academic painter. His technique was the zenith point of representational painting. He was able to catch the very nuances of light shifts and color changes to create breathtaking, life-like figure paintings.  Mr. Bouguereau’s realism is unsurpassed, before or since, in all of art history. With that being said, let’s learn from the best, just how do we paint the landscape as a background to our figure paintings?

Bouguereau’s work, “Breton Brother and Sister“, is the perfect example of a very effective way of using the landscape to create a background in a work of art. Notice that in this piece, the stars of the painting are the two figures in the foreground. Their colors are well saturated and vivid with a full dynamic range of values. Their warm skin tones and red skirt leap out of the painting. Light and dark tones are next to one another to attract your attention.

The background, or “supporting actor”,  is much more muted with an abbreviated range of values. The colors of the foliage are less saturated and cooler in temperature.  All of these elements push the landscape much further into space while pushing the figures even closer to us.  Everything is done intentionally; much as a movie director composes a scene in a film.

Remember that the background needs to be painted as a backdrop and never to compete with your figures. Keep this in mind next time you work on your figure painting’s composition.

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