The Impressionists “fragmented their brushstrokes into flickering touches of colour that seemed to dissolve their painted worlds into shimmering mirages … Stand back a little [and] relations between the masses of colour begin to be established.”
The ideal viewing distance for Impressionist paintings suggested by Pissarro was “a distance measured at three times the diagonal of the canvas”.
— Ross King, “Mad Enchantment: Clause Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies“, page 56
If only we had a formula for everything in life we needed to get perspective on, wouldn’t life be simple? Apply the formula, and it’s sorted. But then again, exactly how does one measure “three times the diagonal”? Do we all step forward with a measuring tape? Do we do it by eye, a guesstimate, or does that undermine the rule too much? Is there a little label telling us what the answer is and a mark on the floor with outlines of footprints dictating exactly where to stand and look (like in airports these days for facial recognition cameras)? And what about viewing height, surely there must be an ideal measurement for this too?
That Impressionist paintings dissolve into a myriad of bits of colour when you’re up close, more like three finger-lengths than three diagonals, is one of the great delights of this style of painting for me. The dance and shimmer of colour, of brushmarks, and the subsuming of the importance subject into the joy of colour. Step back and the painting changes, tells another story. Step forward and get lost in a forest of colour and mark making. The ideal viewing position is wherever it tells the story you feel like listening to at that particular moment.