Painting the Horizon

In perspective-based art, the horizon is one of the most important considerations; it is the line towards which all other things in the piece are oriented in order to create a natural, realistic appearance.

Rather than being the horizon as understood in the wider sense of the word – the point where land meets sky – this horizon line is the eye level of the scene’s observer. Indeed, it is just as important in still life paintings where no land or sea are seen as it is in landscape and seascape paintings, and where it is placed and how it is approached can make a striking difference to the piece.

The jar of salt, George WeissbortThe white coffeepot, with fruit and wine,  George Weissbort

In these two still life paintings, George Weissbort has chosen two different approaches to the horizon. In The jar of salt, the observer is at eye level with the surface of the table, which fills the lower half of the scene. The titular jar towers above, whilst the grapes cascade across the horizon line. It is a somewhat odd viewpoint, as if the observer is kneeling before the table – which, considering the religious connotations of both salt and wine, gives the image a deeper meaning.

In The white coffee pot, with fruit and wine, Weissbort uses a higher viewpoint compared to his horizon line, creating the impression that the observer is instead looking down towards the scene, as if standing before the table. Although the white coffee pot and the jar of salt share certain physical characteristics, the change in viewpoint renders this a far more mundane scene.

Near Martham Broad, Edward WessonOn the Broads, Edward Wesson

When considering landscape paintings, the true horizon naturally plays its part, but the artist’s choice of viewpoint can still create vastly differing scenes.

In Near Martham Broad, West Somerton, Norfolk, Edward Wesson chooses a low viewpoint, emphasising the open flat nature of the scene, the emptiness expressed in an economical use of brushstrokes. The sense is that of a spectator, rather than that of a participant in the scene.

By contrast, his viewpoint in On the Broads is that of a boater, placing the true horizon higher in the piece and creating a sense of immediacy and presence. It is an altogether more personal experience, which places the observer in the heart of a vivid scene and drawing them in to the journey depicted.

In choosing the viewpoint, and thus the placement of the horizon line, each artist makes a conscious decision as to the effect their piece should have; indeed, it would be possible to create two very different pieces of work simply by contemplating the same scene from different viewpoints.


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