Choose at least 2 innovative works that represent women in any media and compare and contrast them, dating from the 19th century through anytime in the 20th century…………………
Table of Contents
1.0 Women in Painting
1.2 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Women involvement in art and especially painting has been most fundamental particularly in shaping the artistic view of some of the world’s renowned painters. The way women are portrayed by painters in paintings during the first half of the 20th century was very peculiar but interesting at the same time.
This paper is going to look into two works that have represented women dating back from the 19th century and try analyzing them in their form, content, and the artist’s attitude and approach to their chosen subject. My own reaction on the interpretation of the images chosen will also be given at the end of the analysis.
1.2 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, originally titled The Brothel of Avignon) was a painting by Pablo Picasso. It was a large oil painting done in 1907 which depicted the feminine figures in the painting in a confrontational and disconcerting way. The women figures in the painting are shown in a menacing way and their bodies are submitted disjointedly with angular body shapes. Two of the women in the painting have their faces shown in African mask-like faces while the remaining three women have their faces shown in Iberian style. This depiction gives the women a savage characteristic in the primitivism adaptation. The painting by Picasso has always been considered seminal in modern art and cubism development (Richardson, 1991). The painting by Picasso to say the least was very controversial and it lead to disagreement and anger. The anger was in fact spread to his friends and close associates. With the painting, Picasso departed from the European culture of painting.
When the picture was first exhibited it was considered immoral. The title given to the painting by Picasso originally Le Bordel d’Avignon was constantly criticised and led to Andre Salmon re-titling the painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon to tone down the negative impact the painting had created in the public eyes (John & Marilyn, 2007).
The questions that begs however, is; why did he (Picasso) have to depict women in the painting the way he did? In other words, what were the connections in the painting to his life? The painting depicts five nude female prostitutes linked to a brothel in the (Avinyo Street) in Barcelona. During his period, such paintings (those that depicted nudism) were not common. But being an art, Picasso decided to express what he had been experiencing in the several years he had been working and living in Barcelona, and the many trips he had been taking to Paris. After he had settled in Paris, he concentrated on his paintings more and achieved recognition for his Blue period paintings. The paintings mainly concerned themselves with studies of poverty and the desperation that he was able to observe in Paris and Spain during his travels. His attitude towards the painting was not to celebrate nudism as was previously thought, rather those with a critical mind and could understand the message being portrayed by Picasso would understand that he depicted women engaging in prostitution as part of their way of earning a living. Furthermore, he showed that it was not limited to a particular group of women. He showed the picture black women as well as white women from the native Spain. Meaning women during the period of the painting were desperate to earn a living and they did the un-imaginable to rid themselves from their predicament. It was not all about disrespecting women or portrayal of nudism as a virtue in the society according to Picasso.
In contrast to Picasso’s depiction of nudity which he used to illuminate the plight of women in the society (Sluijter, 2006) Danae by Titian is a classic example of how a painting can be used to celebrate sexuality. Titian painted Danae with extra reclining nudes to show the porcelain smooth skin and Danae’s perfect body. The womanly features in Danae have been highlighted by the use of modelling. Additionally, the way she has been painted and posed does bring out her sexuality. Titian has made Danae’s neck look a little bit elongated and thus seem very elegant. This painting shows Titian’s obsession with beauty coupled with hyper sexuality in art as can be shown in the modern art. Titian managed to show Danae’s body in a very unusual way. Most of the women are not portrayed the way Danae has been portrayed in the painting.
Picasso’s painting has been described as ridicule to the modern movement. The ideas presented by the painting were not celebrated by the public. Yet as society advances so do the complexities in society too. His painting clearly showed the happenings of the period when the painting were painted. In relation to society, it showed how society had degraded women to sexual objects. Furthermore, society did not care about such reduction. It was proudly letting such injustices continue to the women in society. In relation to art, Picasso was obsessed by the discovery of African, Native American and Micronesian art. He was very intrigued by the simplicity of the above communities’ cultures. During the 20th century, Picasso amongst other artists were very inspired by their new found interest in primitivism, tribal mask, African art and Iberian culture. This was coupled with the conviction Picasso had acquired from the works of Paul Gaugin which were fundamental in Paris circle avant-gardism (Edward & Paul, 2004). This made Picasso continue to use the success he had achieved by painting oversized nude women which illuminated his interest in primitive art. The power evoked by the savagery depicted in Gaugin’s work contributed a lot to the development of Les Demoiselles in 1907. The use of women in his (Picasso’s) paintings consequently helped him achieve his idea of primitivism.
Titian’s work has had a large impact in the modern view of society. It has been described as the genesis of the negative portrayal of body images especially by the media. It has created pressure on young children and adults alike to become more beautiful. This has even been worsened by the media portraying celebrities who have presumably near perfect bodies. The excuse that most give is that, nudism is not new and it has been in the public domain for a long period now (in short nudism has already been normalised and is in fact celebrated especially by Titian’s painting of Danae. It has led to a craving of perfection which according to nature is practically impossible.
Women have been the subject of art during the 20th century onwards. While their depiction in paintings have helped in realising their plight and furthering of the artistic expression as seen in Picasso’s work, the female image has also been used to achieve other results as well. It has created an obsession with perfection which has led to a wide spread belief of ‘celebrity’ beauty and thus affecting the way people view the female gender. However, it is true to conclude that women’s contribution to modern art and society is fundamental in whatever way a person chooses to look at it.
Edwards, S., & Paul, W. (2004). Art of Avant-Gardes: Art of the Twentieth Century. New Haven, Yale
John, R., & Marilyn, M. (2007). A life of Picasso. The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932. Alfred A. Knopf. p244 ISBN 978-0-307-26666-8
Richardson, J. (1991). A life of Picasso. The Cubist Rebel 1907-1916. Alfred A. Knopf. p24-26. ISBN 978-0-307-26665-1
Sluijter, J.E.(2006) Rembrandt and the female nude. Amsterdam University Press, ISBN 9-0535-6837-9 University Press ISBN 0-3001-0230-5
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