Watercolor: “St. George's Harbor” by Ogden Pleissner

11 Sep 2008

0809lawpleiss_480x333_2 James Toogood comments on Ogden Pleissner’s watercolor painting St. George's Harbor.

by James Toogood

0809lawpleiss_480x333_3

St. George's Harbor
by Ogden Pleissner, 1953, watercolor,
14 1/4 x 20 1/4. Collection
Masterworks Museum of
Bermuda Art, Paget, Bermuda.

Pleissner has placed us high on a hill, looking down at the harbor. This is reinforced by the view of the tops of the palm trees and the scale of the dark tree behind the chimney. The scale of the marks used to describe the tree tip you off, communicating that it is closer than the palms. Distance is suggested by the difference in value of the treetops, the palm in the center middle ground, and the darkly shadowed areas on the wall in the foreground, the mixture of Prussian blue and burnt umber is lighter in the trees, pushing them back into the hot haze of the Bermuda atmosphere.

In general there's a strong feeling of light in his painting, this is illustrated in the brilliant upper edge of the white wall that leads your eye into the painting ,and the rooftop in the middle ground. Also note the cast shadow on the road coming from that darker wall between them—its upper edge is also much lighter.

Bermuda is known as being extremely humid. We can see this moist air when we look out across the harbor—note how in the middle ground, the palm trees clearly stand forward from distant shore, but not nearly as dark as the darks in foreground, like in the gate for the wall.

Elsewhere, note the building that is partially obscured—it's a pink house. The white chimney is in shadow, yet it almost seems illuminated—one side almost looks yellowy, which is reflected light bouncing off the roof. Contrast that with the darker side facing the backyard, which seems to show some reflected green from the grass.

He did use white paint here and there. You can see it on the top of the white wall in the foreground on the left, and in the two semicircles on the wall. For comparison's sake, look just above at the next section of wall; that white area is reserved paper. Pleissner used white paint for those two semicircles and across the yellow ochre house in the white line that forms the lintel of the gate. Additionally, see it in the white paint on the right, on the road,  in the vertical stripe that suggests some kind of pole, and with some of the marks used to suggest houses across the harbor.

Read Toogood's tips for achieving optimal effects with watercolors.

Read more features from the Looking at Watercolors series.


New Jersey resident James Toogood AWS/NWS studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in Philadelphia. The subject of more than 40 solo exhibitions, he has participated in numerous group shows, including those of the American Watercolor Society and the National Academy of Design, winning many awards. He frequently juries exhibitions and was an awards juror for the 2006 American Watercolor Society annual. Toogood is the author of Incredible Light and Texture in Watercolor, (North Light Books, West Chester, Ohio) and he has written many articles and contributed to several other books. His work is widely collected throughout the United States and abroad, and he is represented by Rosenfeld Gallery, in Philadelphia. The artist teaches at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the National Academy School of Fine Arts, in New York City, and the Perkins Center for the Arts, in Moorestown, New Jersey. Toogood also conducts watercolor workshops throughout the United States.

James Toogood will be giving a lecture about his work at the National Academy School of Fine Arts, at 5 East 89th Street, in New York City, on October 2 at noon. The lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, call (212) 996-1908, or visit www.nationalacademy.org.


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