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What'S In A Portrait?

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Autor:  anton  01 November 2010
Tags:  Portrait
Words: 1863   |   Pages: 8
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What's in a Portrait?

What's in a portrait? Is it simply just a photographic image of a person only done in oil paints, or is there much more to it? Is a portrait a way of peeling away the layers of a person and visually representing who they really are? Gericault's Monomania: Portrait of an Excessively Jealous Woman and Cezanne's Madame Cezanne in the Conservatory are both portraits of women. Even though these paintings are portraits of women they are completely different portraits. These are not just paintings depicting two different women. They show us who they really are, or what they meant to the artist. The artists paint them in a way that represents how history and time period affect the way and artists paints.

In Gericault's Monomania: Portrait of and Excessively Jealous Woman, the artist captures the pure emotion of a woman suffering from a debilitating mental disease. The composition is symmetrical for the most part and the subject is positioned in the center of the canvas, which emphasizes her more as a point of focus. The brushwork is visible, but disappears around her face where there is great detail to clearly show her emotional state. The rest of her contains very visible brushwork, and it's very sketchy. Most of her body doesn't even seem to be brushed, but more like the paint has been blocked in with a palette knife, thus making the details of the face stand out more. Contours have been completely eliminated in this painting; he uses direct tone and color instead to convey the painting. There seems to be no direct light source everything seems to be in the dark, perhaps hinting at the subject's mental state of mind. The only thing that seems remotely lit up is the women's face drawing more attention to the expression on it. The colors are of a darker palette, and there is a slight sense of complimentary colors with the red and a very deep dark green. The repetition of the color red in her clothes and again in her eyes is a very strong emphasis in this painting. It helps draw more attention to her expression thus adding more emotional content to the painitng. Plus, the red in her eyes alludes to her instability. There is no sense of deep space. The women seems have been painted from straight on, although there is something to the right of the artist that is drawing her attention that way, quite possibly making her have her present expression.

He really captured the intent glare of a jealousy. Her scour is chilling it's so full of envy. Gericault manipulates all the elements of this painting to draw attention to the volatility in her face, thus setting the mood for the piece. It's not just her expression that hints to her illness. She is very unkempt which also lets the viewer know she is not of sound mind. Her bonnet isn't tied but rather just thrown on her head. Her hair is sticking out on the left side. One does not just see how the disease is affecting her physical appearance, but she is painted in such a way that you almost feel like you are inside her head feeling what her disease is doing to her.

According to Thomas Crow Gericault produced his paintings about mental patients in wake of his disappointing reviews over The Raft of Medusa. He had produced ten paintings, however five survived. They are dated back to his final return to England in 1822 until the last years of his life two years later. The portraits are connected to a psychiatrist named Etienne-Jean Georgette. He published a statement arguing for the expansion of the insanity plea in capital cases. As a result he was denounced by royalist for downplaying their role in society. His argument was based on the psychological findings of J.E.D Esquirol who had created different categories for mental illness such as "monomania." Georgette theorized that there were many different aspects of mental dysfunction. A surge of monomaniacs emerged. The whole idea of it all was very revolutionary at the time. Gericault represents all these types of mental illnesses in this portrait series. Others included theft, gambling, and the kidnapping of children. This painting clearly depicts a woman who suffers from a condition that makes her overly jealous (295-99).

Gericault's style is typically Romantic. The visible brushstrokes were meant to contrast with the neoclassical style of virtually no visible brushstrokes. The expression on her face is also typical of the Romantic time period. She is meant to have a strong expression on her face because Romanticism was about showing great emotion; this was to contrast with the stoic expressions that are commonly found in many neoclassical paintings. Romanticism was more about finding a strange beauty in more unusual subjects that weren't blatantly appealing to the eye. Gericault was going against the grain and creating artwork that was not considered aestically pleasing at the time. There is nothing in the painitng that is ideally beautiful. However, the lines in her face, the glare in her eyes, or the way her bonnet is draped around her head glowing like a halo gives the portrait an eerie beauty that is magnetic.

In Cezanne's Mme. Cezanne in the Conservatory Cezanne's depicts his wife modeling for him sitting in the Conservatory of their home. The composition of the painting is symmetrical with Mme. Cezanne centered in the canvas almost iconic looking. She is slightly tilted, which gives her a more pleasant ambience, like she was placed there with great care. If she were to be looked at from straight on she would be very intimidating. The background is cut in half by the diagonal created by the back wall with a tree weighing out the left side and a flower bush weighing out the right and thus creating a balance in the background. The strokes are very visible and very brushy. The painting looks as though it was done right on the spot spontaneously. This was a very typical style during impressionism.

The subject is clearly lit by sunlight but it's not coming from any particular direction. The conservatory in the background gives the picture a sense of depth. The color palette used in this portrait is a very bright one. There are a lot of complimentary colors used as well as colors relating to the primary triad. The same colors that Cezanne uses the background appear again on his wife. The result makes his subject look like one with the natural background. There is a strong sense of harmony because she blends with everything around her like they are one.

Other than the use of color there is absolutely no other hint that would lead one to think that this was his wife. Her face is so expressionless there is almost a lack of passion; one would think that this was just a portrait of some random person in the conservatory. Her stoic look also gives her an air of mystery. The color he uses give off a very happy, blissful emotion, and its what really sets the mood for the entire piece. Cezanne expresses his feeling for his wife through the use of color. One interesting characteristic of the painting is her hands, which are unfinished. However, the visible brushstrokes that are seen throughout the portrait hide her hands incompleteness very well.

According to Jansen Cezanne was known for his emotional temperament. He came to Paris in 1861. He had a great respect for Romantic artist, specifically Delacroix. However, he was soon swept away by all that was Impressionism (746-47). Mary Tompkins Lewis concludes that Mme. Cezanne in the Conservatory was one of his final paintings of his wife. At the time Cezanne still lived apart from his wife and actually had his mother stand in and poses for the painting on his family estate. Though the setting is somewhat complicated it was a theme at the time to place a women in a flowering environment and make her look as though she is part of it. Though she looks cold and unwelcoming the she is made to look as one with the flowers in order to represent her feminine side (149-150,243). Cezanne believed that art and nature went hand in hand. In a letter to Joachim and Henri Gasquet he wrote, " Art is a harmony which runs parallel with nature." This painitng is evidence of that statement. He harmonizes nature with his wife to show an underlying passion for the two (Harrison and Wood 992).

Both paintings have similar aspects. They both convey some form of emotion. Gericault shows it more blatantly with direct facial expression that is in great detail. It is there to draw you to the painitng and make you feel some thing. It is the main source of mood in the piece. However, in Cezanne's portrait the color is what draws your attention first and is the main source of the paintings emotion. The brushstroke adds to a feeling of spontaneity and in a way sweep you up into the moment. A majority of the painting is based on the color palette used throughout the portrait. The subject's face in this painting show's little to no expression. One would think that this would take away from the paintings tone but in fact it increases it. It draws your into the portrait more because you want to know the meaning behind this women's blank face. You want to know more about her because you know nothing about her. Cezanne is more effective in drawing the attention of the viewer by using brighter colors and showing less upfront emotion. Gericault is directly showing you who the woman in his portrait with much more detail so there is less mystery. She is a monomaniac and underneath she is suffering and the viewer clearly sees this. Cezanne doesn't show you who this woman is directly but you can see that she means something to him through the colors, brushstrokes and composition of the piece.

So what is in a portrait? A portrait is more that a pictorial depiction of the person. It can show the viewer who the person really is and even allow the viewer to step inside the subject's head like Gericault's Monomaniac: Portrait of an Excessively Jealous Woman. He shows you the multiple aspects of an insane woman. Portraits allow you to see how the artist themselves see the subject of the portrait. In Cezanne's Mme. Cezanne in the Conservatory, he is showing you a portrait of his wife and though she is not ideally beautiful he makes her part of a beautiful environment, which inadvertently makes her appealing. Both these portraits go beyond the borders of what a portrait can do for a person and they do so successfully.

Works Cited

Crow, Thomas, and Emulation: Making Artists for Revolutionary France. New Haven: Yale

University Press, 1995.

Harrison, and Wood. Art in Theory 1815-1900. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

Janson, H.W. and Anthony F. Janson. History of Art. New York: Henry N. Abrams Incorporated, 1997.

Lewis, Mary Tompkins. Cezanne. New York: Phaidon, 2000.

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