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Art Analysis: Midsummer Night in Harlem, by Palmer Hayden Essay

‘Midsummer Night in Harlem is an oil painting painted by Palmer Hayden. Palmer C. Hayden was an American painter who depicted African-American life as he saw it, especially during the Harlem Renaissance. The painting Midsummer Night in Harlem appears to depict African American people departing and relaxing after an evening at church in Harlem. This painting shows the energy and positive attitudes of the people through the use of vibrant colors and the happy expressions of the faces. The people in this picture have features that were comparable to the minstrel characters (Wikipedia, 26 July 2013) often depicting Black face.

Many have very dark skin with big white eyes and teeth, and are all smiles. All of the people are dressed nicely in dresses for the women and girls, top hats and slacks for the men and boys. It is safe to assume that the people in the picture had just came from church, because in the background you clearly see the church and a handful of people walking out as well as a carload of people driving off.

The most prominent line in this art work would be vertical, because it leads the eye up /down and down/up and conveys the activity in the picture. Upon first inspection of this work, my eyes are drawn to the church as focal point, mainly because of the positioning of the church and the use of the vertical line from the moon to the kid at the fire hydrant. This identifies the viewers’ point of view and also shows how the moon is used as the light source, as well as the street light positioned just in front of the church.

The illusion of space around the church leading up to the moon in the sky is utilized to draw your eye upward as if to signify that it is nighttime. The illusion of depth is utilized here in many ways by the appearance of distance created from the people by the church in back to the increase of people by the apartment steps in front. Aerial perspective is used in this painting by the lack of visual detail of the people by the church, like their facial features and their clothing. Midsummer Night in Harlem has a distinct unity of composition throughout the entire piece that helps the viewer relate the symbolism of the church and moon in back, to the people nicely dressed and congregating on the apartment steps in front.

The forms in this artwork are utilized by the use of many three-dimensional shapes with length, width and depth, like the apartment buildings, the car and the church. Contrast is used throughout the work to help guide your eye from the apartment buildings to the church, and the people. Movement is used in this piece by the use of lines, contrasting shapes and colors to guide the viewers’ eye throughout the composition. In this work of art, our eyes move upward from lines of the little boy by the hydrant up to the people looking out of windows of the apartment. From there, our eyes move to the slight contrast in colors of the church and the moon in the sky.

A good amount of balance is created in this art work by the way the colors and shapes are combined in harmony. In this image, Hayden achieves a sense of balance by dividing the image in two sections: the right side is occupied by details of people with distinct features while the left side lacks a great amount of detail in the people and focuses on the church and moon. Midsummer Night in Harlem has a color scheme that is analogous because the colors work in harmony and is very pleasing to the eye. The main colors in this painting are red, brown, white and grey.

The value of the colors used in this art work is set to dark while the intensity and brightness is set to medium. For example, the reds, burgundy and brown used in the picture (especially for the apartment buildings and clothing) are warm but appear a little toned down in color. Hayden creates emphasis through color and position throughout this piece. For example the faces of the people ranges in intensity by the dark faces and bright smiles as mentioned earlier. Also the outfits worn by the people demonstrate emphasis in color; some are wearing white while others are in print and color.

In conclusion, the painting Midsummer Night in Harlem utilizes a vertical directional line that illustrates that there is some movement in the picture, yet is calming in effect. The main implied shape throughout this art work is a rectangle which also induces a calming effect. The painting has a slight contrast of color with an analogous harmony throughout. The overall illusion of depth and space in this piece provides unity and balance to the composition.

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