Our visual system simplifies what we observe into a figure that we look at and a background. Gestalt psychologists call this a figure/ground relationship.

Look at the two paintings in this learning object and try to determine: the foreground and the background where your eye is drawn how the artists’ use of color and contrast influence your perception of the above.

Our visual system simplifies what we observe into a figure that we look at and a background. Gestalt psychologists call this a figure/ground relationship.

Look at the two paintings in this learning object and try to determine:

  • the foreground and the background
  • where your eye is drawn
  • how the artists’ use of color and contrast influence your perception of the above.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Viajeros cruzando el arroyo

From the 18th century on, artists had gone along on scientific expeditions to different parts of the world with such explorers as Captain Cook, Malaspina or de Bougainville. Notebook in hand, they had recorded data on the climates, natural environments and phenomena that they were investigating, in a spirit of scientific research proper to the European 18th century, which sought to measure and trace the limits of the known world. The ups and downs of travellers on their long journeys on horseback through the mountains separating the coast from the Mexico City valley basin are depicted by Daniel Thomas Egerton in this scene.

Daniel Thomas Egerton (1800 - 1842)
Colección de Arte of the Banco Nacional de México, S.A.
c. 1830
MEXICO
oil on canvas mounted on masonite
36.00 X 25.00 cm
© Colección de Arte of the Banco Nacional de México, S.A.


The Dakota Boat

Frank Lynn was one of the first resident artists in the Canadian West who recorded the history of the new nation. In this painting he contrasts old and new in the Western frontier of the 1870s. He juxtaposes the traditional ways of Aboriginal peoples, who had long met at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, with the presence of the British colonizers, indicated by the image of Fort Garry.

W. Frank Lynn (1835 - 1906)
Collection of The Winnipeg Art Gallery; Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Sam Cohen
Date ?
CANADA
oil on canvas
© The Winnipeg Art Gallery


In the painting Viajeros cruzando el arroyo (Travellers Crossing a Stream) by Daniel Thomas Egerton, the artist has used high contrast to make the figures in the foreground a silhouette against the light background.

In the painting The Dakota Boat by W. Frank Lynn, the artist has used high contrast and color to distinguish the figures in the foreground from the central figure. Even though we are conditioned to look in the center of an artwork, the figure/ground relationship used in the painting forces us to focus on either the people or the boat, but not both at the same time.
In the painting Viajeros cruzando el arroyo (Travellers Crossing a Stream) by Daniel Thomas Egerton, the artist has used high contrast to make the figures in the foreground a silhouette against the light background.

In the painting The Dakota Boat by W. Frank Lynn, the artist has used high contrast and color to distinguish the figures in the foreground from the central figure. Even though we are conditioned to look in the center of an artwork, the figure/ground relationship used in the painting forces us to focus on either the people or the boat, but not both at the same time.

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

1. What effect does the silhouetted figures in Egerton’s painting have on your thoughts and feelings about the people depicted and their activity?
2. Why do you think Lynn wanted us to focus on the boat and the people, but not at the same time?
3. Use figure ground relationship in a work of art to separate foreground and background
1. What effect does the silhouetted figures in Egerton’s painting have on your thoughts and feelings about the people depicted and their activity?
2. Why do you think Lynn wanted us to focus on the boat and the people, but not at the same time?
3. Use figure ground relationship in a work of art to separate foreground and background

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Understand the principle of figure ground relationship, citing examples
  • Identify foreground and background in works of art
  • Describe how color and contrast can influence a viewer’s interpretation of a scene depicted in two dimensions
  • Analyze works of art and describe how the use of color, contrast, and placement influences its interpretation

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans