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Dagnan-Bouveret's "An Accident"

Many of you expressed an interest in looking at compositions by doing pencil copies of them. Here is a painting that has always captivated me.

"An Accident" 1879 by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret (French, 1852-1929)
at the Walters Art Gallery
The caption from the Museum's website says:
"After training with Alexandre Cabanel (1823-89) and Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), Dagnan-Bouveret turned from Classical themes to subjects drawn from everyday life. In this scene, a country doctor bandages a boy's injured hand, while his family looks on with varying expressions of concern. The artist witnessed an incident like this while traveling with a doctor friend in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. When this painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1880, it established the artist's reputation as both a perceptive reporter of rural customs and a Realist who explored the psychological states of his subjects."

Compositional study of Dagnan-Bouveret's "An Accident" by James Gurney
What struck me as I did my little pencil and gray-wash sketch was how the story is structured in terms of action and reaction. The center of the design and the area of highest contrast is the white shape of the bandage, the doctor's hands, and the boy's white shirt and face. 

Lesser lights in the design bring our attention to the faces of the people and the clock, which tells us that this event brought the work day on the farm to a halt.

Behind the white bandage is the profound black of the fireplace, and there's a remarkable use of sfumato or enveloping tone linking the surrounding dark values together. There are no edges demanding your attention unless they're important to the story.

Beyond pure design issues, I love the way the story is brought to life by character and psychology. Reaction is more powerful than action in video, and that's true here, too. Whatever injured the boy's hand — by 1872, that might have been a piece of farm machinery — we can see how bravely and stoically he is dealing with it, and we can study the variety of reactions of his parents and fellow farmhands. All the eye lines keep bringing us back to the center of interest. We can only imagine what this injury might mean to the fortunes of the farm.

This all goes back to the thoughts on the analysis of the Forsberg recently: Tonal organization isn't just a design issue, it's also a story issue.

This post first appeared on Gurney Journey, please read the originial post: here

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Dagnan-Bouveret's "An Accident"


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