Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Closely Looking at Picasso's Woman in White at The Met + Food: Almond Snowballs

The Met Museum's Grand Entry Hall (NYC)

Picasso's "Woman in White", as it appears
hanging on the gallery wall of the Met Museum.

The Met Museum's descriptive wall plaque.

Looking At...
"Woman in White"
Painted in 1923
by Pablo Picasso 

Editor's Note:
As a Christmas / Holiday Present for all who love art and Picasso, I offer a very close look at one of my favorite paintings. A large high quality print of this Picasso work hung in the sun-parlor of my grandmother's house, where we spent many summers and holidays while growing up. Unlike many of Picasso's more difficult to appreciate works, "Woman in White" is preciously beautiful and its very easy to sit in front this work of for hours and admire. 

"Woman in White" is such a simple work that deep analysis can be difficult, how much is there to actually look deeply into? Let's just jump in and see, maybe for the first time, the details of this masterpiece. 

First some history...

Picasso's Woman in White is a masterpiece of his Neoclassical Period, which lasted from 1918 to 1925. Here, the artist depicts a seated figure as a dreamlike vision of fragile perfection and refinement. He achieves this effect through the application of several layers of white wash and superimposed contours in soft shades of brown and gray. As in many of his other figures of the period, the idealized treatment of her facial features reflects Picasso's study of classical art. Her informal pose, along with the loose-fitting, almost diaphanous dress, gives the figure a gentle and relaxed air. The muted color scheme adds a romantic and pensive tone.
Picasso painted this work upon his return to Paris after a summer sojourn in Cap d'Antibes. There he, and his Russian wife Olga Khokhlova, vacation with Gerald and Sara Murphy. Although the model for this work has always been thought to be Olga, Sara Murphy did have classical features and some believe this canvas could be a portrait of her. Countering that thought, photographs Picasso took of Olga posing with classical sculptures, especially classical heads, demonstrates he thought the classical sculptures resembled Olga. 

The Murphys were a wealthy American, expatriate couple, living in Paris in the 1920s, and their circle of friends included many artists and writers (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, etc.). Sara Murphy was an American beauty and Gerald Murphy was a liberal minded artist himself. Between 1921 and 1924 Picasso was infatuated with Gerald's wife Sara. They met in the fall of 1921 and the families remained close, as mentioned, they vacationed together in 1923.
We may never know the true identity of the sitter, but since Picasso frequently fused the features of different people into a single idealized portrait, it is possible that this is just such a case. If so, the features of Olga and Sara are integrated here into a masterful and striking composition, full of tenderness and classical beauty.

The painting is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. This blog is intended for limited educational use only and photos are intentionally low in dpi. Do not reproduce. Photos were taken with permission of the museum.

This is a portrait of a classical young beauty,
painted in subtle white on white tones,
with some pinks and browns added to accent the flesh tones.
Combine that technique with pencil lines and painted outlines,
and you have the origins of why this painting is so magnificent.
Just look at the work! It does not take art history lessons
to feel the emotions Picasso felt for this beautiful woman,
the aesthetics of great painting and the appreciation of simple beauty.

For her head, notice the shadows are not painted, only the highlights are painted
and the contrast with the underpainting creates a sense of the shadows.
Only a few quick strokes of brown paint define the details of her face, neck and hair.

Shades of pink push her neck into shadow and separate her flesh from the gauze of her dress.

The proportions of the the arms are perfect, and by looking closely it appears Picasso reworked many areas of the painting again and again,
painting over his mistakes with a haze of white oil paint washes.
The white washes also softened the underdrawing
making all parts, good and bad, a working part of the finished masterpiece.

Let's now focus on the head and face.

With the ear redrawn,
the top of the head redrawn,
the right eye redrawn
and the nose altered in length,
the light washes of pink and white
do make the earlier marks both right and wrong simultaniously,
those marks add depth, energy and vibrations to the painting.

Both eyes are defined by three strokes of brown paint plus a dot for the pupil of the eye.
One can see the build up of paint, with new color being applied over older colors.
The nose is strong and straight. a Roman nose,
defined by a quick bright accent stroke along the ridge,
plus the pink on the side and the darker underpainting,
which is transformed from bold to subtle through Picasso's washes of light color on top.

The tip of her nose almost loses its definition as it rounds up.

Her lips are petit and her neck and chin
are strong but elegant.
Notice the quickness of the defining outlines
in the center of the lips and on the chin and neck.

Notice the dark underdrawing and underpainting,
then a swipe of red, followed by the defining center line,
and finally the quick dabs of light pink for highlights.
When viewed at a distance, her lips are seductive and perfect.

The original pencil or charcoal marks are easy to see within and outlining her dress.
All overpainting in this area seems to be quite slowly applied with
consideration, thought and care. (Not quick and snappy.)

Her folded arms add tension to the pose.
Is she simply resting comfortably, or upset and
about to be authoritarian or is this a defensive pose?

The messy underpainting is tamed by the hazy white overpainting
and her fingers seem to be digging into the flesh of her upper arm.
Her fingers appear perfect, but are barely defined.

Something difficult to define has been painted over in her forearm. Looping rounded shapes
can be seen. It could even be an older painting (say of birds) started and abandoned.

Her left arm seems to have been shortened
and the elbo comes to a very sharp poin and angle.

Her dress finishes the painting with very little detail
and the folds created with the charcoal (graphite?)
and the light highlights creating the depth
through creative use of 
negative space.

More folds with the original drawing showing through.

Brushwork in the dress.

Brushwork in the dress.

Finally we will check out her hair.
Notice the top ridge was lowered dramatically.

The hair appears to have been almost solid black
during an earlier incarnation of the painting,
then painted over to make soft  subtle.

Quick brown strokes of paint make the hair flow down.

Again the highlights look deliberate in their application of paint, not quick strokes.

Hair continues to flow with only a few fresh strokes
and many more messy strokes underneath.

Her hair fades to a conclusion.

The hair points to  his signature
as Picasso concludes the masterpiece.

Detail of Picasso's signature.

(Source: Met Museum press website, close inspection of the artwork and photography by Jack A. Atkinson)
Almond Snowballs

Like Russian or Mexican Wedding Cookies
but for Winter Solstace!

1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
parchment paper
1/2 cup powdered sugar

- Preheat oven to 350°. Bake almonds in a single layer in a shallow pan 6 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. Cool completely (about 20 minutes). Reduce oven temperature to 325°.
- Process almonds in a food processor 30 seconds or until finely ground.
- Beat butter at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy. Gradually add vanilla and 1 cup powdered sugar, beating well. (Dough will be crumbly.)
- Combine flour, salt, and almonds; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until blended.
- Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls, and place 2 inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
- Bake at 325° for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets 2 minutes. Transfer to wire racks, and cool 10 minutes. Roll cookies in 1/2 cup powdered sugar.
(Source: family 3 x 5 recipe card)

Until later,
ARTS&FOOD is an online magazine dedicated to providing artists and collectors around the world with highlights of current art exhibitions, and to encourage all readers to invest in and participate in “The Joy of Art” and Culture. All Rights Reserved. All concepts, original art, text & photography, which are not otherwise credited, are copyright 2015 © Jack A. Atkinson, under all international, intellectual property and copyright laws. All gallery events', museum exhibitions', art fairs' or art festivals' photographs were taken with permission or provided by the event or gallery. All physical artworks are the intellectual property of the individual artists and © (copyright) individual artists, fabricators, respective owners or assignees. 
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