Portraiture is an art form that can be dated back thousands of years and is used to represent and express the story of the sitter in the painting. Portraits once portrayed the rich and powerful but with the introduction of photography, portraiture is a commonly used art form- ranging from photographs to paintings and sculptures. Many different art periods influenced the style of portraiture, such as the impressionists and post impressionists- who explored concepts of representation and expression. The values and thoughts of the sitter in the portrait became almost more important than the realness of the art. As part of my portfolio, I will examine a series of portraits from the artists Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo.
Pablo Picasso is an artist i have previously explored and his portraiture is a very great example of creating an environment though a painting. Picasso is very well known for co-founding the cubist movement in the early 20th century- however his blue period (1901-1904) is also very influential to portraiture. His paintings and portraits were monochromatic using only shades of blue and blue-green, with very little warm colours. During this period, Picasso’s work was heavily influenced by his failings as an artist financially and the suicide of his close friend, this sorrow he felt was depicted in his work through not only his use of colour, but composition also.
The above portrait is called The Old Guitarist (1903), and depicts a poor and blind musician, like many of his works as Picasso himself, was poor for a period of his life. The man holds a large guitar which is the only shift in colour in the painting, which i think may symbolise this man’s happiness only lies with his music. The guitar fills the space around the man and he seems oblivious to his surroundings as he plays his guitar. This portrait is a full body painting and his elongated body and posture are very striking and depict the feelings and thoughts of the man. What i find most striking about this portrait is that the man’s face is not the focal point, I think the guitar is. This almost blurs the man into the background, the muted blue palette also does as these colours create a two dimensional form, flattening to painting. The man is ghostly pale depicting how ill he is, the painting depicts not only the life of the old guitarist, but also the thoughts and feelings from Picasso at the time.
Another portrait, The Weeping Woman (1937), also depicts sadness but in a very different style. On the 26th of April 1937, the air force of Germany bombed the Basque town of Guernica- one of the worst attacks of the Spanish Civil War. Picasso responded to this by creating a series of paintings, the first being a large anti-war mural called Guernica. He then created a number of portraits- The Weeping Woman is the last in this series. The figure in this painting is influenced by his lover Dora Maar, who was an artist and photographer who documented the creation of Guernica.
Picasso painted the image of a woman crying to not only symbolise the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War, but to symbolise an image of suffering. The weeping woman depicts a sobbing woman, holding a handkerchief to her face. This portrait has been created in a two-dimensional style typical to Picasso’s early analytical Cubism- using pointed and overlapping fragments. Although this portrait is of the head and shoulders, the sharp black lines lead you to the mouth and chin, which is the focal point of the painting. Picasso’s use of colour here is very interesting as although he is depicting sorrow and tragedy, he has used a very large colour scheme. I believe he may have done so to depict the impact of suffering- the woman is noticeably bright and colourful- perhaps reflecting her personality. The sorrow she feels however is depicted in the focal point, with the more sombre colours conveying sadness. The handkerchief looks like shards of glass and depicts pain. Both of these portraits by Picasso are very powerful images of sadness and sorrow, interestingly though they are both very different styles of portraiture.
Another artist similar to Picasso, who depicted their emotions through their work is Frida Kahlo. Kahlo had a very difficult life, suffered life threatening injuries in a bus accident as a teenager- whilst recovering she began to focus on her paintings, depicting the pain she felt.
The Broken Column (1944), depicts the devastation caused from the bus accident. In this portrait, Kahlo is almost naked, her body is split down the middle and her spine has been replaced with a metal column. Her skin is pierced with nails. This portrait is most striking as you can clearly understand the pain Kahlo was in as her body looks broken and destroyed. Although she has tears streaming down her face, her head is held high and she looks ahead which I think depicts her power and strength to overcome her battles. The background depicts an open, barren landscape, perhaps conveying how isolated Kahlo felt at the time of her accident.
Kahlo not only had a very difficult life physically, she also had a very turbulent relationship with her husband Diego Riviera. This portrait was painted after her divorce and at the end of her affair with photographer Nickolas Murray. Unlike the broken column, Kahlo stares directly at the viewer, she is in the centre of the painting and her face is the focal point. As with The Broken Column, I stated that Kahlo looks powerful and strong, in this portrait however her intense gaze creates even more confidence and I think shows she has overcome her battles. In this painting, Kahlo wears a thorn necklace, that looks like the roots of a tree. She is surrounded by animals and insects and the leafs remind me of a forest or jungle. There is lots of imagery and symbolism regarding this painting, the leafs and animals reflect nature which is often a symbol of fertility and life, but this is in stark contrast with the black money and cat which symbolise bad luck and death. Diego Riviera gave Kahlo a monkey as a gift, and in this painting the monkey tugs the thorn necklace, causing her pain. This can be a symbol of the pain caused by her marriage. Overall, I think this portrait conveys the pain and difficult Kahlo has faced and overcome.
Both of these artists are very good examples to explore when examining portraiture, as their styles are very different, but they are able to convey a lot of emotion through their work. These portraits reveal a lot about the artists’ lifes and about the time period they were painted :).