Thin lines

A confluence of issues

This Post introduces Chapter 22 from my book “Painting with Light and colour”. It uses one of my paintings to discuss many issues that relate to viewing conditions.  These all apply to all paintings, but it is difficult to find information about them in other books. Indeed, it was not until I began work on paintings including numbers of thin lines that I became fully aware of many of them. My awakening was a result of the coming together of many strands of the story I have been telling in my series of four books.

  • The dogmas of Marian Bohusz-Szyszko (see Chapter 1),
  • The “systems” ideas of Michael Kidner (see Chapter 8 of my book on “Creativity“),
  • My interest in the debates relating to “illusory pictorial space” (see Chapters 7-10 in “Painting with Light”, the first part of this volume),
  • My interest in the Modernist Painters obsession with what they described the “integrity of the picture surface”* and its dynamic implications in the history of “Modernism in Painting**
  • The use of thin lines as a means of exaggerating and, thereby, exploring “simultaneous colour contrast effects” (see previous chapter).


Important warning

In general, whenever images of paintings are transferred to the computer screen, many of their qualities are lost. Sometimes this can be an advantage, but never for paintings that follow the dogmas of Professor Bohusz-Szyszko. This is particularly true for the images using thin lines discussed in this chapter and the next. Often, you will just have to take it on trust that the effects discussed are as described.


An image of a painting with twelve of orange thin lines

Pictorial space




* If you ask Google “What is a Modernist painter”, you get the following excellet summary:  Modern art includes artistic work produced during the period extending roughly from the 1860s to the 1970s, and denotes the styles and philosophies of the art produced during that era. The term is usually associated with art in which the traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of experimentation.” However, if you had asked Manet, Cézanne, Van Gogh,  Matisse, etc., etc., whether traditions of the past had been thrown aside, you would find that it was by no means all of them.

** Google says that the “integrity of the picture plane” is a phrase coined by the influential art critic Clement Greenberg in his essay “Modernist Painting”. It concerns the issue as to whether the fact of creating an “illusory pictorial space” interferes with perceptions of the “objectness” of the actual picture surface.  This was a question of primary importance to the “Early Modernists” from the late 1860s onwards. For them, as explained in  Chapter 6 of my book “Fresh Perspectives on Creativity”, the fact of the possibility of being aware of the actual surface of paintings was one of the reasons for what they believed to be their inherent superiority relative to photographs. Their belief was that, since “deception is immoral”, painters must avoid it at all costs. Despite the difficult-to-comprehend this questionable argument, it stuck for about a century. Thus, in the 1960s, it was still a potent aspect of the teaching of my two mentorsProfessor Bohusz Szyszko and Michael Kidner.  The difference between the “Early Modernists” and Clement Greenberg was that the former (and  Professor Bohusz-Szyszko) thought it possible to depict illusory pictorial space without destroying the integrity of the picture surface. In contrast, Clement Greenberg asserted the impossiblilit of any such thing, as did Piet Mondrian and a number of earlier painters, plus a whole list of later artists, including Michael Kidner and Ellsworth Kelly.

As those who have read “Painting with Light”, the first Book in this Two Book Volume will realise, the early Modernists and Professor Bohusz-Szyszko got it wrong. The use of unmixed repeated colours do not disrupt the picture-surface, but rather the illusory pictorial space. They do so because our eye/brains read them as being on the picture surface and, consequently, as jumping out of any illusory pictorial space, which is allways behind it. It is thus, the integrity of illusory pictorial space that is disrupted.


Earlier chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour”:

“All you need to know about painting”-2

This Post provides a link to chapter 18 of my book, “Painting with Light and Colour”. It is the last of the chapters in the part of the book dedicated to “painting with light”. Its title, “All you need to know about painting-2” is almost the same as the title of Chapter 1, except for the number 2 tagged on at the end. The grandiose claim was made by my  teacher Professor Marian Bohuz-Szyszko, during a brief encounter on the very first day we met. He asserted that “all you need to know” can be summerised in two simple rules.

The purpose of the chapter  is to consider the plausibility of his assertion in the light of the ideas developed in the Chapters 2 to 17. These not only delve into the historical origins of the rules, but also provide scientific evidence of their power as tools for artists.

After the link to Chapter 18, I have added a slightly edited version of  its “Introductory”, as a means of better preparing you for its contents.


about painting
An oil painting that follows the rules of Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, by one his students, my friend Stefan Stachowicz.




Introductory to chapter 18 of  “Painting with Light and Colour”

We have now come to the last chapter and the question as to how to make the best use of the information and ideas presented.

The first chapter introduces the five propositions of Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, the ones that according to him constitute, “all you need to know about painting”. The chapters that follow provide an account of their historical and scientific origins and explain why they are so powerful. At the same time they point out some limitations. However, although the avoidance of repetition and the use of complex, complementary-containing colours can transform what artists can achieve, they certainly do not represent “all there is to know about painting”, not even with the modifications and extensions suggested in this book. Most notably, the Professor’s rules give short shrift to two subjects that many artists consider to be of the utmost importance Thus they: 

  • Have no relevance to the kind of “colour dynamics” that can be generated between juxtaposed colours (the subject of the following chapters)
  • Do not address what is perhaps the most important topic of all, namely the role of the feelings.

Although a full discussion of the importance of the feelings as a driving force in all domains of creativity is reserved for “Fresh Perspectives on Creativity”, it would not do at all to neglect them entirely in what follows.


The  earlier chapters from “Painting with Light and Colour


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Delacroix and his mistress

Delacroix and Elizabeth Cavé.

A portrait of Elizabeth Cavé by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres


In an earlier Post I told of the teaching of Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran and its widespread influence. In it I did not mention another important figure who also developed a method for training the memory. Her name was Elizabeth Cavé. Like Lecoq Boisbaudran her method eventually found favour with the establishment and was to some extent introduced into the national curriculum. She was also, over some 30 years, a personal friend and confidant, often described as “mistress”, of Eugène Delacroix, who was something of a Father figure to the young Impressionists, including:

Homage to Eugene Delacroix by Henri Fintin Latour, including fellow students of Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran


Why I wrote a letter to LRB

With all this information in my head, you can imagine how my interest perked up when I came across a quotation from Delacroix in an article by T.J.Clark, published in the London Review of Books in October 2019. In this Delacroix tells us that he experienced a paradigm shift in his approach to painting, from being “hounded by a love of exactitude” to employing his memory to sift out “what is striking and poetic”. He also states that this transformation occurred as a spinoff from his “African voyage” in 1832.

On reading this endorsement of the virtues of channeling experience through memory, I was immediately reminded of the philosophy of Lecoq Boisbaudran. From there my mind jumped to Elizabeth Cavé and to wondering whether Delacroix’s change of direction had any link to her teaching method. When I discovered that their liaison had started in earnest in 1832, I could not resist the thought that either she had influenced Delacroix or, perhaps more likely, vice versa. If so, there seemed to be quite a lot to add to what T.J.Clark had to say. Below is what I wrote.

The letter

T.J.Clark (LRB 10-10-2019) quotes Eugene Delacroix as dating a change from being hounded by a love of exactitude to making work based on “recalling” what is striking and poetic. He asserted that it came after his “African voyage”, which mean after his return from Morocco in 1832. When I read this I immediately realised that this date roughly coincided with the beginning of his relationship with Elizabeth Cave in 1833. Whether or not her ideas were influenced by Delacroix or visa versa , she published ‘Le dessin sans maître’, which received a laudatory review from her by now long standing friend (in the ‘Revue de deux Mondes’ of September 1850). In it, she explained her method of teaching drawing which, according to her, she had been practicing since 1847. Key to this was training of the memory. Two years earlier, in 1848, Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran published a compilation of two texts, ‘L’Éducation de la mémoire pittoresque’ and ‘la formation de l’artiste’, in which he explained his method, also based on training the memory. His connection with Delacroix can be inferred from the personages in the 1864 painting ‘Homage à Delacroix’ by his pupil Henri Fantin-Latour, in which we see others two students of Lecoq Boisbaudran, Alphonse Legros and Felix Bracquemond. Also in the painting is James MacNeil Whistler who is know to have learnt Lecoq Boisbaudran’s method from Alphonse Legros and who famously demonstrated it to a doubter. He did this, first, by looking at an unfamiliar landscape and, then, turning his back on it and painting it from memory (for more about the influence of Lecoq Boisbaudran and its plausible ramifications see < >).

So how does all this relate to the quotation from Delacroix? The clue lies in his youthful “love of exactitude” being replaced by a more mature approach based on “recalling what was striking and poetic.” What Lecoq Boisbaudran would surely have argued is that the great man’s earlier obsession with ‘accuracy’ prepared him for his later personalised use of memory with all its benefits, for this was exactly what his teaching method (and presumably that of Elizabeth Cave) aimed at achieving. The main differences, he could argue, lay in the shortness of the time in which his students were expected to make their transition and the methodical progression from simple to complicated that characterised the learning exercises that made it possible. Surely, both Delacroix and Lecoq Boisbaudran would have concurred with Edgar Degas, significantly a great friend of Alphonse Legros, when he said, “It is always very well to copy what you see, but much better to draw what only the memory sees. Then you get a transformation, in which imagination works hand in hand with the memory and you reproduce only what has particularly struck you.”

Rodin acknowledged the importance to him of Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran’s memory training


As well as the personalisation of artistic output, the method had huge advantages in terms of rapidity of information pick up. The famous late watercolours (‘Cambodian dancers’, etc) of Rodin, another student and a lifelong admirer of Lecoq Boisbaudran and his teaching, illustrate both these advantages. Likewise the post-African paintings and drawings of Delacroix. Also, I find it hard to believe that there is not some connection here with Delacroix’s famous assertion that “any artists worth his salt should be able to draw a man that has been thrown out of a sixth floor window before he hits the ground.”

PS. For your interest, I was teaching on much the same principles as Lecoq Boisbaudran for at leat 25 years before I learnt of his existence. These I derived from research done at the University of Stirling in the early 1980s <>.