Devices for Representing Space

Variation in Details or Focus: things close up are sharp and detailed. Objects further away are fuzzy or out-of-focus. Returning to Gainsborough’s Mr. and Mrs. Andrews,  the husband and wife – their faces, clothing, shoes, dog - are sharply defined with clear edges and contours. However, the furrowed fields, distant trees, sheep in the meadow, and purplish-gray mountains are blurred and almost face into the atmospheric distance. While it may appear that the artist got “sloppy” in his painting in regard to the distant landscape, this is actually accurate as to how we visually perceive objects in our environment. For example, we can only read a book when it is a certain distance from our eyes, for at an increased distance, the letters become blurred.




Degas’ picture of ballerinas performing on stage titled Dancer with a Bouquet, 1878, has a very creative organization of space. At the baseline is a member of the audience holding a fan. She is closest to us because she is large and at the baseline. Her fan appears large as it overlaps much of the stage. Next spatially is the ballerina holding the bouquet of flowers in her right hand. Then further into the distance stand the other ballerinas. They are much smaller in scale than the star performer who is dressed in white (high value; she appears to attract our eye first). Also look at the artist’s representation of detail. The star performer’s face is complete with eyes, eyebrows, nose, lips, etc. However the more distant girls’ faces are barely defined, if at all. The handling of the pastel was more sketchy and looser as the artist represented what was further back into space.