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What's In A Portrait?

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Autor:   •  November 1, 2010  •  1,863 Words (8 Pages)  •  616 Views

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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


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