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Useful Phrases for Analyzing and Interpreting a Work of Art


– to show the subtleties of changing light and atmosphere;

– to capture nature’s evanescent moods;

– to record not so much the appearance of the nature but its poetry;

– there is a lively freshness and refined colour harmony in this summer scene;

– this painting shows the impressionistic technique applied to an outdoor scene;

– the green of the foliage is modulated by the play of shadows and reflected lights;

– everything is bathed in all-embracing light;

– to show the joy of living;

– to have a great emotional impact;

– the picture gives a sense of …

– light plays an essential role in the picture; it acts as an integral part of the design and becomes even the principle actor;

– to lend a poetic and elusive quality to the dreary prose of everyday life;

– attention is focused on …

– to show psychological depth and human understanding;

– a subtle portrait;

– the colour scheme is of great importance;

– the artist restricts his palette (colour scheme) to cool rich grays and greens;

– nature is not a mere background but a principal actor, expressing different emotions;

– light creates strong patterns of shadow and light;

– to give true to life social types;

– the picture is very thoughtfully designed;

– the picture is a wrathful indictment of the appauling injustice, cruelty and inhumanity of the bourgeous society;

– to show a dramatic change of moods;

– this canvas touches upon social issues;

– his outdoor scene shows keen observation of weather and season and light and the subtleties of open-air colour;

– to be painted in a powerful style;

– expressionistic distortions and exaggerations and deliberate childish simplifications do not enhance, but on the contrary, greatly mar the artistic value of this painting;

– his art is a bitter comment on …

– his art is filed with …

– to develop a new portrait formula


A Basic Guide to Portrait Analysis Based on a List of Questions Used by Art Historians in Analyzing Portraiture

Describe the subject:

Gender and approximate age


Pose (standing, sitting upright, relaxed, sprawled out, lying down, active)

Does the subject appear to be looking at the viewer or at something else? If something else, at what is the subject looking?

How does the subject’s gaze make you feel about the subject?

What kind of expression does the subject have?

If you could ask the subject a few questions, what would they be?

If the subject could talk to you, what would he or she say?

Describe the type of the portrait:

Full-length, half-length, 3/4 length or bust (head and shoulders only)?

‘Sunday best’ or a relaxed portrait? What are the clues? (clothes, pose, expression, setting)

Describe the setting or background

Describe the artist’s style:

Is the painting realistic? If the painting is not completely realistic, what parts are not realistic? How does the lack of realism make you feel?

What colours stand out in the painting?


Does a particular feature stand out or catch your eye?

What objects are included in the painting? Why do you think they were included? What do the objects lead you to think about?


What do you think this portrait was supposed to make you believe or feel about the subject? How do you feel about the subject? Do you think you would like/admire the person if you could meet?



Date: 2015-01-12; view: 950

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DESCRIBING A PAINTING | A Basic Guide to Picture Analysis
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