June 23, 2013

Alexander Roslin: The Lady with the Veil (1768); Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

While largely forgotten today, Alexander Roslin (1718-1793) was one of the leading portraitists of his time and surely the most successful Swedish artist from the 18th century era. Roslin, who was born in Malmö, got his training and developed his skills as an artist in Stockholm, but decided to leave Sweden in 1745, in hope of important commissions abroad.
This decision proved wise: soon he was given the opportunity to demonstrate his qualities as a portrait painter at the courts of Bayreuth, Parma and Rome, among others. Roslin found his final destination in Paris, where he would live – with an exception of two years in service of Catherina the Great - from 1752 until his death. In Paris, he was admitted to the French Academy of Fine Arts and painted numerous portraits of significant figures of the leading political and cultural circles.
The reason why he was in such high demand as a portraitist, particularly among the rich and famous, must be sought in the fabulous way that Roslin could render the texture of precious materials such as fabrics and jewels, as well as his talent to show people at their best. His work possesses Classicist elements, but also bears characteristics of the Rococo style in its elegance and charm.
Ironically, Roslin’s best-known portrait by far, The Lady with the Veil, is not of a member of the high society, but of his own wife, Marie-Suzanne Giroust. Roslin depicted her as a Bolognese lady dressed up for the carnival. Her mischievous smile, the veil and the fan in her hand have strong amorous connotations. The seductive quality was not lost on the famous philosopher and critic Denis Diderot, who, when he saw the painting on show at the Parisian Salon, characterized it as ‘très piquante’.
(text: Maarten Levendig)

June 8, 2013

Pablo Picasso: The Weeping Woman (1937); Tate Gallery, Liverpool

Pablo Picasso (1881 –1973) was known for his obsession with women. Picasso's relationships were always intense and passionate, though he also had a reputation for being abusive and cruel. Their impact on his work was immense: one could easily describe Picasso’s entire career based on his wives and lovers. For each of them, he created a unique pictorial vocabulary, and thus each of his style periods can be linked to a certain person. As Dora Maar, one of Picasso’s most important mistresses, put it: ‘When the woman in the artist’s life changed, virtually everything else changed.’
Picasso met Dora Maar in 1936, on a terrace in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris and was instantly fascinated by her. That same night, she was playing a game at the café table, jabbing a sharp knife between her gloved fingers in rapid succession. Inevitably, Maar wounded herself. Picasso would exhibit her bloody gloves for years in his apartment, as a souvenir of their first meeting.
Dora Maar was an impressive, striking woman and a well-known photographer and respected artist in Surrealist circles. She was also involved in left-wing political activities, and it is well possible that she stimulated Picasso to paint the Guernica (1937), his famous condemnation of Fascist Spain for bombing this Basque town. As part of the preliminary studies for Guernica, Picasso made a series of drawings and paintings of weeping women, trying to express their pain and suffering during a war. These portraits clearly reveal the facial features of Dora.
The universal and personal significance for Picasso coincided here: the style of The Weeping Woman reflects the rising tension in their relationship and forebodes its disintegration. Dora’s face is fragmented and her features are dislocated. The Surrealist artist Ronald Penrose, who purchased Weeping Woman shortly after its completion, poetically caught its essence, writing: ‘The white handkerchief pressed to her face hides nothing of the agonized grimace on her lips: it serves merely to bleach her cheeks with the color of death. Her fumbling hands knotted with the pain of her emotion join the teardrops that pour from her eyes.’
(text: Maarten Levendig)