As an artist’s model it pains me to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: very often in art, subject is secondary to style. Certainly, the first thing the viewer notices about a painting is the subject, but soon after that initial observation, the artist’s individual rendering of that subject – his style, technique, personal vision – takes over and becomes the dominant aspect. We art models look at paintings of ourselves and think, “That’s ME! My pose! My body!”. Other people look at the same painting and think, “Look at how he painted that nude person. Look at his palette and his brushstrokes.” Boo!
On the positive side, it’s the existence of those incredibly diverse styles which allow the same subject to be painted over and over again without boring the hell out of people. Imagine if everyone painted a vase of flowers the same way? Or a landscape? Or nudes? Yes, even nudes would get monotonous after a while without a variety of representations.
For “Music Monday” this week, I had planned to post and discuss just one of the following works – the Lefebvre. But then I came across a Picasso of the same subject, with the exact same title no less! Typical Picasso, disrupting the status quo. Messing up my plans, Pablo! So I thought it would be fun to put them side by side and do a little compare and contrast.
Both of these paintings are called Girl With a Mandolin. The first is circa 1870 by Jules Joseph Lefebvre, a French academic painter who focused mainly on female subjects, mostly nude, some clothed, often idealized, always beautiful. “Ugliness”, even if artistic in nature, had no place in Lefebvre’s work. His girl here is a somber and forlorn gypsy, a moody brunette with expressive, soulful eyes, dressed in dark colors, clutching her mandolin as though it’s all she has in her vagabond life. And what a fabulous model. Lefebvre used many great ones.
Next is Picasso in heavy Cubist mode, from 1910. His mandolin girl is not depicted with a finely-drawn personality, ethnicity, or identity of her own like in the Lefevbre. However that is not to say that the model, Fanny Tellier, has no individual presence in the piece. She certainly does. But this is Cubism after all. Her forms, her contours and physical structure inspired the geometric shapes that Picasso employed to “translate” her onto the canvas. Note that the neck/shoulder/chest areas are especially strong and prominent. While the Lefebvre is more intimate and sensitive, the Picasso has vigorous rhythms and a strenuous, active energy that is perhaps lacking in the Lefebvre. On that last point, consider that Picasso’s girl is playing her mandolin while Lefebvre’s is holding hers rather submissively, a detail that significantly affects the action issue:
So my dear readers, what’s the verdict? In a battle of style, whose Mandolin Girl do you prefer? I have my preference