Object Lesson: Winter Whites in “Peonies,” by Auseklis Ozols

Peonies, by Auseklis Ozols. Oil on Linen. Private Collection

This painting of peonies demonstrates one of the most sophisticated exercises in color study: white. As a painter, investigating white exercises both the senses and intellect. In paint, white exists only through its relationship with its surroundings, either reflecting local color of the environment or revealing transparent veils through which we observe the light source. Interaction between the environment, the light, and the reflective quality of the material from which the object is made create the illusion of the white object within the picture plane. 

Peonies by Auseklis Ozols demonstrates his superior understanding of depicting white. His lectures and demonstrations on painting white occupy an important stage in his advanced painting curriculum, and have challenged his students for decades. Within one flower we see a full value scale, subtle temperature shifts within tints, tones, and shades, and a full bodied sense of form that represents the general planes of the blossom in its entirety before more specific divisions of singular petals are rendered. 

He has juxtaposed the delicate transparent petals layered and ordered in spiral after spiral of attachment to the stem with the stern strength of the porcelain vase. The two objects are opposites in texture, reflective quality, and shape. They both exist as white, yet through Ozols’ mastery of technique, we understand the softness of the flower, and the strength of the vase.