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Reflection Paper: A Comparative Visual Analysis
Choose 2 paintings from the Norton Simon Museum of the pairs listed below. You are not required to
visit the museums again but may use the museum’s website to analyze the selected works of art.
The website:
There is an informative Getty video that provides a demonstration of visual analysis:
General Structure: 1. Introduction with your thesis statements
2. Supporting Paragraphs. Each paragraph must start with a sentence that defines
your discussion in the paragraph below.
3. Conclusion: Not merely a summary of what you discussed above but a larger
discussion of your original thesis.
Please know you cannot take any liberties with the format. All papers must follow the format instructions outlined
Below is a list of five pairs of paintings on view at the Norton Simon Museum. Select ONE pair
and write a comparative visual analysis of the two images.
Choose ONE of these PAIRS from the Norton Simon Museum:
1. The Ragpicker by Edouard Manet, 1860-65 and Portrait of a Peasant (Patience Escalier), by
Vincent van Gogh, 1888.
2. Still Life with Cooking Utensils, by Jean-Batiste Simeon Chardin, 1728-30 and Still Life with
Lemons, Oranges, and a Rose, Francisco de Zurbaran, 1633.
3. Evening in the Meadows, by Aelbert Cuyp, mid 1650s and Three Great Trees in a
Mountainous Landscape with a River, by Jacob van Ruisdael c. 1665-70.
4. Tahitian Woman and Boy, by Paul Gauguin, 1899 and In a Villa at the Seaside, by Berthe
Morisot, 1874.
5. David Slaying Goliath, by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1616 and The Sense of Touch, by Jusepe de
Ribera, c. 1615-1616.
Art 102: Visual Analysis Assignment SPR 2015
Outline: Due 4/23
First Draft: Due 4/30
Final Paper: Due 5/14; only hardcopy, no late papers will be accepted.
Length: 4-5 typed pages (MLA format; double-spaced, one-inch margins etc.)
Value: 20% of your overall course grade
Instructions on VISUAL ANALYSIS
A good way to begin looking at works of art is by comparing and contrasting what you
see in a pair of images or objects. Whether you are looking at works of art, apartments, cars,
clothes, whatever, comparing and contrasting sharpens your awareness of the similarities and
differences. When looking at works of art, your aim is to understand the details of what you are
seeing and to formulate ideas – ideas that can be proved by recourse to what can be seen in the
image you are discussing.
This assignment is primarily descriptive. Once you have chosen one of the pairs, you
might begin by contrasting the general structure of each work; the arrangement of the
composition – of objects, forms, space, and lines.
For example,
a. Are the principal elements of an image arranged symmetrically, centered within
the composition or off to the side?
b. How does that symmetry or asymmetry affect the over-all presentation?
c. How does each work convey its theme or subject. Consider what is emphasized
and what is not. Look at the scale of figures, architecture, or landscape
elements represented, as well as the relation of these elements to one another.
Are figures dwarfed in relation to their settings, or do they dominate them?
d. If you are looking at a landscape painting, is a great deal of space given over to
sky? Or, is there a compression of space, a large cluster of trees, a cluttered
e. Consider how different ways of stroking paint on the canvas convey different
effects. Is paint applied thickly, or are the brushstrokes nearly invisible? How
does technique contribute to the overall effect?
f. What about the colors the artist chooses? Consider their hue (the color or shade
of color), their value (the relative lightness or darkness of the hue), and their
saturation (the intensity of the hue.) Is light a key element in the composition
or are the tones muted or dark?
g. If you are looking at a figure, is the psychology and/or social status of the subject
hinted at (look at costume, gesture, facial expression, relationship to
surroundings)? What is the relation of the image to the viewer/beholder (you)?
Do the figures confront you or do they seem unaware of your viewing
These are only some of the questions to consider. Bear in mind the subject or lack of subject. Is
there a narrative, a story of some kind? How is it conveyed by the formal characteristics of the
work (the treatment of forms, lines, colors, composition.) In this exercise, you do not need to
consider all of the questions as listed but you may devise your own that may be more relevant to
the pairing you choose. You do need to consider at least three points of comparison, and
elaborate on these. Do not simply make a list of differences and similarities. Your aim is to
compare them in order to explain how they work visually.
Reminder: 1) images of human beings are referred to as “figures”; 2). please limit your use of “I” when
writing the paper; 3) avoid passive tense; 4) DO NOT DESCRIBE, ANALYZE

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