Technique Tuesday: Linear Perspective

Welcome back to a new Technique Tuesday post! This week we’re going to be discussing something called linear perspective, also known as the Unsung Hero of Realism. Truly, this is one of the most important techniques ever to be developed in art history. It changed the game completely, but we’re really so used to seeing it these days that we don’t think about it much! So let’s take a look:

What is it?

The term “perspective” in art generally refers to the manipulation of the image so that it appears to have the depth that we can perceive with our eyes. We talked once about atmospheric perspective on this blog series, and the way that blues and cool tones in the background help to give the illusion of far distances and vast spaces. Linear perspective refers to the use of what are called “vanishing points” and the way that everything in view relates to those vanishing points, which will depend on how far those things are supposed to be from the viewer’s vantage point. Don’t worry, I’m going to use pictures soon to help explain.

Examples from art history:

Before the Renaissance–which I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned before, but it was a pretty important time for art history– (<–kidding, I bring it up in nearly every post) artists used something known as oblique perspective, which is a fancy way of saying lack of perspective, really. Think about the drawings that little kids make, especially if there are a lot of people in them or houses or trees in the far background. Instead of figuring out precisely how all these objects relate to one another geometrically (because they are children and they’re just having awesome fun drawing), the kids just kind of spread everything in the picture around on the piece of paper, usually putting something that in reality is further “back” simply closer to the “top” of the page. For a very long time, this was the way even seasoned artists rendered their works. Let’s take a look at some pre-Renaissance works of art which, while gorgeous, are definitely before the discovery of linear perspective:

from left to right, examples of ancient Egyptian, Byzantine, ancient Chinese, and medieval German artworks

Even if you don’t know about geometry or linear perspective, these images would likely still look “off” in some way to you. It wasn’t really until the Renaissance, when super genius Filippo Brunelleschi made a nifty hole-in-a-mirror device, and then some subsequent paintings and drawings to prove his point, that artists began to understand linear perspective, and the very important notion it brings with it: foreshortening.

Foreshortening involves the visual effect that objects in our line of sight will appear differently depending on the viewer’s perspective. For an example, think about preparing dinner on your perfectly circular dinner plate, and then sitting down to eat and placing that plate in front of you. As you sit there looking at the plate, you no longer see a perfect circle (even though the plate is perfectly circular!), because of your perspective. Depending on how something is angled toward you the viewer, parts of that building or person or object will appear shorter or smaller than they really are. In the example above and on the left, even a road which is the same width down its entire length will appear to get smaller as its distance from the viewer increases.

As I mentioned, this was a game changer for artists in the Renaissance. Many of the early examples from the Renaissance showing successful use of linear perspective focus on one-point perspective, viewed straight on, but artists later expanded this knowledge to work with multiple vanishing points, and higher and lower viewer angles, as we can see here:

(above, left to right) Renaissance examples of perspective, including Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and Pietro Perugino’s “Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter” (below, left to right) examples of perspective use from later in history, including Andrew Wyeth’s “Wind from the Sea,” Camille Pissarro’s “Avenue de L’Opera, Paris,” and Mary Cassatt’s “The Child’s Bath”

Examples from Principle Gallery:

Again, linear perspective, while crucially important, might not be the first thing you think of when admiring a work of art. We tend to take it for granted now that centuries of art teachers have passed the concept along, but it’s still so important to creating an effectively realistic scene. Because it is critically important in any work of art that involves things with straight lines like building and architecture, Geoffrey Johnson‘s solo exhibition (open now!) gives us a perfect segue to taking a look at the beautiful effect made when an artist accurately uses linear perspective. Let’s take a look at a few examples from the current show:


“Skaters at the Museum”

“Station Interior”

“Study in Washington”

“Flatiron Evening”

To view the entirety of this absolutely spectacular and unique exhibition, stop by the gallery through the end of May, or check out Geoffrey’s page on our website by clicking here!


Technique Tuesday: Genre Painting

Thanks for bearing with us as we’ve juggled a very busy September at Principle Gallery! Between the International Guild of Realism Exhibition, the GC Myers Artist Talk this past Sunday (check out his new works here!), and the upcoming opening of the Casey Childs solo exhibition “Observations,” followed by a live painting demonstration Saturday….suffice it to say, things have been awfully exciting! We’re glad to get back to Technique Tuesday this week, as the subject is a fun one and particularly appropriate for Casey Childs’ soon-to-open exhibition.


What is it?

Today’s topic, genre painting, is something that many art appreciators today often take for granted. In essence, genre paintings depict scenes of ordinary, everyday life. This doesn’t sound at first like such a radical concept, but in the history of fine art, it’s actually a fairly recent development!

Examples from art history:

Think for a moment about the types of scenes that were commonly painted by fine artists (especially in Europe) for centuries, even through the Renaissance. Religious subjects were clearly prominent, as well as formal portraits, mythological scenes and historical scenes. Eventually, depictions of still life arrangements and landscape scenes became more common as well. It wasn’t really until the seventeenth century, though, that fine artists really began to delve into depictions of ordinary, everyday life. Scenes of people in domestic settings, out at markets, performing chores, socializing, and even just walking down the street began to form the category of art now referred to as genre painting. The Dutch were particularly fond of genre painting, and some of those works are now among the most well-loved paintings from Dutch art history.


Johannes Vermeer, “The Milkmaid”

The trend continued on through the following centuries, in many varied cultures, and it has served to create a special and beautiful aspect to art through recent history as artists delve into what it means to exalt the ordinary through artistic expression.

A Laundry Maid Ironing c.1765-82 Henry Robert Morland 1716-1797 Purchased 1894

Henry Robert Morland, “A Laundry Maid Ironing”

paris street, rainy day

Gustave Caillebotte, “Paris Street, Rainy Day”

Breakfast in Bed Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt, “Breakfast in Bed”

Examples from Principle Gallery:

Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage, once wrote that, “The true artist is the man who leaves pictures of his own time as they appear to him.” It is this appreciation for the loveliness and wonder of everyday moments that contributes to the immense charm and beauty of the artwork of Casey Childs. Casey’s upcoming exhibition features a range of figurative art, from drawings of historical figures to alla prima sketches of contemporary models, but it is perhaps the genre paintings that are most striking. Through careful interpretation of light, color, and composition, Casey turns these depictions of modern life into special, timeless moments. Check Casey’s page on our website here later this week to see all the incredible pieces from the “Observations” exhibition, or send us an email at to see the whole digital preview! And if you’re in town, be sure to join us as we welcome Casey himself for Friday evening’s opening reception from 6:30 to 9 PM, as well as a live painting demonstration Saturday afternoon from 1 to 4 PM!

Playlist 72

Casey Childs, “Playlist”

Casey Childs, "Non-Fiction"

Casey Childs, “Non-Fiction”

Last Light 72

Casey Childs, “Last Light”