Museum Paper

Pablo Picasso’s Ma Jolie! (My pretty girl) is a piece of analytical cubism that many may find difficult to comprehend. The painting, whose name is derived from a popular song of his time as well as his lover’s pet name, depicts a traditional theme – a woman strumming a musical instrument. He manages to reduce everyday life and objects to simple geometric forms and shows them from a multitude of vantage points at once. The objects in the painting are dismantled and reassembled so that the subject is seen from a great number of viewpoints. This is in contrast with the conventional paintings that depict objects from just one viewpoint. From the painting, one can easily read the words Ma Jolie. This is in an immense juxtaposition to the highly-jumbled form of a woman playing a stringed instrument in the painting. At the lower center, a triangular form that is strung like a guitar or zither below which strings a keen eye can observefour fingers. One can also observe the strummer’s elbow protruding to the right. In the upper part of the painting, one can barely make out what could be a floating smile amid a network of semitransparent planes. There are many clues that hint that the painting is of a woman holding or playing an instrument. These include the triangular form of the instrument, the strings, fingers and an elbow jutting at an angle and the almost elusive smile. It is difficult to discern these forms as the picture only hints at this since lines, intersecting planes and coded shading makes the painting achieve its effect by form rather than realism. The figure seems to disappear in the network of planes. The fact that the artist uses brown and sepiaissuggestive of influence by Rembrandt. The artist lays emphasis on the handmade nature of the brushstrokes making his human presence readily felt. The artist inscribes the words Ma Jolie –a refrain from a song and a treble clef to further bring out the musicality in the painting. The inscription also partially alludes to Marcelle Humbert, his lover. Picasso thus presents the woman as being barely visible.However, the fact that the phrase "Ma Jolie" is concise, distinct and easily legible suggests conventionalattractiveness.

Willem De Kooning’s Woman I,on the other hand, is a representation of the artist’s view of the general woman on canvas. De Kooning depicts the woman as a clumsy, wild-gazed being with savage attractiveness. To achieve the effect, he uses abstract expressionism style of painting where he combines abstract form with expressionist emotional value. He seeks to express emotion rather than the external world. De Kooning uses color and painting strokes to achieve the desired effect. This piece of work is large in scale, it uses screaming colors and is free-flowing. In this painting, the artist uses what is commonly referred to as action painting. He paints with rapid sweeping, aggressive brushstrokes that are characteristic of this style. The paint seems as though made by a giant hand. He uses wide paint smears, which strangely appear delicate mostly due to the fact that he uses pink and aquamarine in his palette. His exaggeration of the size of eyes, limbs and breasts coupled with teeth grinning violently and pink legs that awkwardly stick out create an overall picture of ferocity.

One can draw numerous parallels from the two paintings in terms of the use of color, the application of paint and the overall size of the paintings that serve to bring out the theme, the artist’s feelings on the subject and the impression created to the observer. Picasso uses a limited number of colors in Ma Jolie. The colors are rather silent. He focuses more on the arrangement of the colors rather than their number to bring out the effect. The painting is made using the conventional technique of applying darker colors first followed by the lighter pigments. This is important in the analytical cubism style employed in the painting since it serves in building forms and also in creating highlights thus making the objects in the painting discernable. De Kooning, on the other hand, uses a wide range of colors in Woman I. He employs the extensive use of color in order to bring out the mood, theme and his personal feelings on the subject of his painting. The painting is made in gaudy colors including pink and aquamarine. The use of these softer colors is in contrast with the general portrayal of the woman in the painting as ferocious and brings out a hidden aspect of attractiveness. He also applies colors indiscriminately regardless of their tone. In the painting, he uses pastels expressively and does not apply the darker pigments first.

The mode application of the paint also varies greatly. In Ma Jolie, Picasso uses fine careful strokes of the brush. This is paramount, since the objects in his painting are reduced to geometrical figures, mostly lines and planes. Since the painting largely comprises a network of intertwining semi-transparent planes, it is paramount that the brush strokes are done delicately. The impression of femininity that Picasso wants to create and the musicality of the painting also dictate that the strokes should be gentle. De Kooning, however, uses aggressive strokes that go in line with the mood created by the painting. The first impression created upon the observer’s mind after viewing Woman I is that of shock due to the hideous grin, the massive breasts, the wild eyes and huge limbs. To achieve this, De Kooning uses rather forceful and rapid brush strokes. This effectively creates the initial awe intended by the artist. The use of these strokes largely defines this piece of work as being in abstract expressionism style. It also gives the observer the general feeling of the artist on the subject as the viewer is forced to ask themselves the question, ‘Does the artist only intend to show us how he perceives women, or was he even actually attacking the woman in the painting with the savage strokes of his brush?’

The size of the painting is also another contrast that brings out the artists’ feelings on their subjects. While Ma Jolie is 100 – 64.5cm, Woman I is a massive 192.7 – 147 cm. The large size of the latter serves to create the awe in the observer that the artist intends to create. The large size of the painting also emphasizes the massive size of the features in the woman. The fact that the painting is life-sized makes it appear more real-life. The use of a smaller canvas by Picasso, on the other hand, brings out the delicacy of the figure following the general feeling that the smaller, the prettier and more delicate. It is also in line with the title of the painting – My Pretty Girl – which suggests a small-sized lady.

The two paintings bring out their respective artists’ feelings on women. The two also juxtapose cubism and abstract expressionism styles of painting. The artists have been able to do this through their different use of palettes, application of paint and even the size of their paintings to drive home their point. The viewer is left with no doubt as to what the artist expects them to feel on the subject.

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