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The paper analyzes The Young Ladies of Avignon by Picasso and The Potato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh. Despite the difference in style and theme, both paintings display similarities in using unconventional approaches in order to communicate the message in a symbolic rather than realistic manner.
Statement about the First Subject
The author of the painting is Pablo Ruiz y Picasso, a Spanish painter who lived and worked in France in the first half of the twentieth century. Picasso is known for pioneering several forms and styles in art, including collage, constructed sculpture, and cubism (Fichner-Rathus, 2016). His best-known works include Guernica, Head, and The Young Ladies of Avignon.
The painting is most often associated with Cubism, which is characterized by distorted and disjointed shapes, emphasis on characteristics of the depicted object rather than its natural appearance, and the involvement of multiple perspectives used to broaden the context. Besides Picasso, the style is most often associated with Andre Lhote and Georges Braque.
The painting’s purpose was to deviate from the established norms of portraying the female body in an idealized manner.
The author used oil on canvas and resorted predominantly to the body-color palette to emphasize raw and primitive femininity. It portrays five nude prostitutes in a non-conventional confrontational manner.
Statement about the Second Subject
The Potato Eaters was painted by Vincent van Gogh, a Dutch painter who worked in the second half of the nineteenth century. His major works include Sunflowers, Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear, and The Starry Night.
The painting is the product of post-impressionism, which is characterized by depicting real subject matter using unnaturally vivid colors, overemphasized geometry, and distorted shapes to emphasize symbolism. Besides Van Gogh, the movement is associated with the names of Georges Seurat and Paul Gauguin (Shiff, 2014).
The purpose of the painting was to depict the sense of community pertinent to simple folk through the choice of color and shapes.
The painting is oil on canvas and depicts a family of peasants sharing their meal around the table.
Points of Comparison
Both paintings utilize unnatural shapes in depicting a human body. The Young Ladies of Avignon depict the prostitutes in an unconventional manner, with the faces that resemble African masks rather than human faces. In The Potato Eaters, the peasants have facial features, and the anatomic properties of their hands dramatically exaggerated and disproportioned.
Both paintings use an unbalanced color proportion to emphasize the idea. The Young Ladies of Avignon resort to fleshy colors, which are unnaturally saturated in two of five figures. The Potato Eaters uses dusty, earthy colors for the surroundings and the people.
Both paintings use contrast to support the underlying message. The Young Ladies of Avignon use high contrast, especially for the faces, while The Potato Eaters use low contrast.
The unnatural shapes were utilized by Picasso to break away from the established tradition of depicting human forms realistically, which aligned with the theme of a tabooed subject (the brothel). Van Gogh used distorted shapes to underline the earthly burden of hard work that characterizes the life of peasants.
The unbalanced color scheme further increases the symbolic message conveyed by each painting. In the first case, the saturated body color makes the raw femininity more prominent, while in the second case it connects the depicted persons with the earth they must cultivate to get their daily meal.
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The contrast further increases the symbolic effect. In the first painting, it makes the impression more explicit. In the second case, the dimness solidifies the impression of gloom and hardships of life.
The analysis shows that both paintings choose to defy the established norms of realistic depiction in favor of distorted and unconventional visual decisions. In both cases, this is done to emphasize symbolism and strengthen the message communicated by the author.
Fichner-Rathus, L. (2016). Understanding art. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Shiff, R. (2014). Cézanne and the end of impressionism: A study of the theory, technique, and critical evaluation of modern art. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.