The title of this painting is a play on the phrase "éminence grise," the phrase literally means "grey eminence" and is a reference to one who wields power without holding an official position. The figures in this painting wield power. They are not shadowy figures, they are luminaries: two in the open, center stage, and one more distant figure with the strongest light shining on it.
This painting more than any other made me feel like I was directing a play when it dawned on me that I could play with the focus of this painting - and thereby tinker with the narrative - by dimming or raising the light on the figures. I had three bits of action on the stage - each attempting to take focus - and I had to ask myself who or what is this painting about. I felt very attached to the smaller solitary figure on the right - upstage and distant from the rest - suggesting to me that this figure had significant interest and influence in what was happening in the world of the painting. The central figures have the focus: they are taller than the rest, closer than the rest, in the center, one is in a red cloak, the other a white cloak. Eminence! And then there was a pair of lovers on stage right (left side of the paper), exactly where lovers should be according to stage theory (if you believe in theory).
So I decided to play with the light. I put the lovers in the dark by layering a transparent wash over them. The story may indeed be all about them but right now we are not to focus on them. We are to know they are there, but they are not the focus at this moment: the figures in the center are the focus. At first I thought the figure in the distance needed to be played down because it could take focus from the central figures. But I liked the balance this figure offered to the composition. And maybe this figure that is observing the proceedings needs to tug at the viewer's attention.
So I started to play with the light on this distant figure. First dimming it with a wash, and then bringing it up by lifting the wash. I did this several times before I realized that I get to create the framework for the story the viewer will create while looking at this painting. Illuminated and in the background, the smallest figure appears to be the one with the most power.