I chose the Island of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin (I believe this is version IV of the series). It's one of my favourite paintings. I love the subtleness and simplicity of the piece.
The first thing I noticed about the composition is that it's really just 4 big rectangle masses. There's the sky - the ocean, the island as a lying rectangle and the trees as a standing rectangle. The emphasis is on the figure in the foreground standing on the boat. The area is naturally framed by the surrounding island masses, and the high contrast created by the white against the really dark draws the eye. We immediately know this piece is about the arrival of the figure.
Böcklin uses great echonomy to show this - letting the ocean and the sky be big and simple areas.
What also stands out to me is that there are only a few basic shapes in the image but they are used with great variety and repetition. The rectangle is used to create depth and add visual weight to the piece. The standing figure has a shape that is repeated in the trees, and there's oval shapes in the rocks repeated throughout the island.
There's also interesting rhythm going on. Long horisontal lines creates the foundation for the piece and then there's long vertical lines cutting the piece in half. This cross is broken up by a zig-zag rhythm going from left to right. The piece wouldn't be the same if the treetops had the same height.
I had a great time doing the study. It's been a long time since I did someting like this. It was a struggle to focus on the big areas first, because I found myself wanting to keep on working in detail on some areas before I had established the whole.
I'll definitely do more!! aiming for those 20 studies at least!