During my last holiday to France I had the chance to visit the museum of beaux arts in Lyon France and had a look at some of the most amazing paintings and drawings I've seen before.
As I mentioned in some of my previous posts, part of your drawing lessons and painting lessons homework should always be to visit museums and develop an eye for the art you're observing. Learning to draw and paint is first of all learning to see. Once that part is covered you can then start to grapple with using the medium of your choice to show the world what you are personally perceiving.
So on the practical side, how it is that I try to see a work of art? First comes trying to absorb the whole. The big skeleton of the picture. I want to understand in very broad terms what the composition is doing. You can almost imagine you are looking at a black and white postage stamp instead of the full size picture. All the detail and color are gone and you're left with the most basic structure.
In drawing lessons and painting lessons, composition is usually a topic left for last, because of its great complexity. However I believe it's easier to break it down and start dealing with it's basics from the begining. This is something I try to do in my lessons in Amsterdam.
The second thing that interests me is the use of color and how they achieve harmony in the light. I don't memorize but constant looking begins to give you a feel for colors that create beautiful harmonies.
As this becomes clear and I have a grasp of the composition and color harmony, I want to then know how the execution was done. I want to see the kind of brushwork that the painter used, and especially how he or she handled the edges in the painting, which are a big element that separates the amateur from the professional.
As for what I found on the museum that caught my eye, the piece I was most impressed with, ironically was a wooden sculpture of a court jester that was so realistic in it's carvign and posture that you couldn't help but expect it to jump to life at any second.
On the painting side of things, there was a large canvas of two women reading in a darkened room by Fantin Latour which was for me the greatest masterpiece in the collection. The composition, execution and play with light where absolutely masterful.