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    Blurry backgrounds in the 19th cent

  
 



"Mrs. Charles Badham," Ingres, 1816.

In the drawing by Ingres at right, the face is much higher resolution than the background. Ingres may have used a small lens (a camera lucida) to help him draw his client’s faces, and then filled in the background scenery from memory. His sketches show much higher resolution selectively in the face. The higher resolution, and often higher contrast, of the faces in his drawings focus the viewer’s gaze and attention on the most emotionally important part of the person.

Since our attention is on the face, the imprecise background is no bother.



"Peace - Burial at Sea," Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1842.

  

Turner’s painting at left evokes the deep and solemn calm of the funeral of Turner’s old friend and colleague, the painter Sir David Wilkie. Wilkie died on board ship while returning from the Middle East in 1841, and was buried at sea off Gibraltar. A strong focus is the silhouetted black sail, of which Turner decared, ‘I only wish I had any colour to make them blacker’. The sails are crisp and sharp... but the background of this painting, and many of his seascapes, is blurry and indistinct... lending to the sense of atmosphere and motion.

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