To find two paintings that should be compared in this essay I have visited Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). There was a large number of interesting and thought-provoking works of different cultures and countries. However, I selected Henri Matisse’s Tea in the Garden (1919, oil on canvas) and Pablo Picasso’s Head of a Woman (Jacqueline) (1961-62, oil on canvas). These two works show different approaches to portraying a woman. Moreover, they reflect various tendencies in the usage of elements of art and principles of design.
These paintings are located in different galleries of LACMA. However, they are both placed on a rather light background. It helps to present the works in a better and more effective manner. In general, the colors of these paintings are rather dark; and they would be less expressive on dark walls. There are very informative museum labels. Besides, each of the works and visitors also can find the additional information in the corresponding booklets or an audio guide that can be bought at the museum. While I was preparing for a visit to LACMA, I searched their website for some prominent collection items. I saw these two masterpieces. However, I was not completely sure that I would choose them. When I came to the museum and saw them in reality, it was an absolutely different impression than looking at them as reproductions. First of all, it is not possible to consider the size of a painting when looking at a small picture on the screen or in a book. These masterpieces are rather large. The work Tea in the Garden is 211.5 x 140.3 cm; and the painting Head of a Woman (Jacqueline) is 111.76 × 93.98 cm. Moreover, the colors of real masterpieces look differently as when you directly experience a piece of art you can feel more nuances that are impossible to find in the reproduction.
The formal analysis of these paintings has found more differences than similarities. First of all, the artists used the lines differently. Picasso was more interested in highlighting the shapes and contours with the heavy lines in comparison with Matisse. In Head of a Woman (Jacqueline), the lines are almost everywhere. Therefore, they are a main element of the painting that forms the very first impression. The head contains heavy lines not only outside as, for example, such ones showing the hair of a woman but also inside. The female face looks distorted and separated into different pieces by dark lines. In Matisse’s work, the lines are softer and less aggressive, i.e. the borders of the path, the braches of tress, and others.
The approach to colors is also different. Picasso painted his work with almost monochromic tones. He used black, grey, and some shades of blue. Therefore, a color scheme is quite limited. The painting produces an impression of coldness and, to a certain extent, looks like a black and white photo. Moreover, it is necessary to highlight the following fact. These colors are not naturalistic. In contrast to Picasso, Matisse focused on quite natural tones. The painting depicts two women having tea. The garden surrounding females looks quite realistic even despite the fact that Matisse’s style is not realistic at all. The colors Matisse had chosen also helped him to convey the spots of light on the path and in the distance where the trees did not shade the ground.
The shapes that form the main objects in these masterpieces are of different nature. Matisse painted a garden, two women, and a dog in an expressive, yet quite understandable manner as the shapes of their bodies, the table, chairs, and other crucial objects are quite natural and organic. It is also very interesting how Matisse used small round forms to create an impression of lush foliage in the background. The shapes in Picasso’s painting are quite distorted. At first, it is not possible to differentiate where the nose or lips of a woman are. The way the artist had arranged shapes made the female head look as composed of two parts talking to each other.
However, the textures of these works are quite similar. Matisse and Picasso did not try to hide their brushwork. It was usually done by the painters of previous periods. A closer look at the masterpiece by Picasso Head of a Woman (Jacqueline) allows to see the traces from the brush bristle. Moreover, the background colors may shine through the upper layers in some places that may seem unexpected at the first glance. It is also true for the masterpiece Tea in the Garden. This technique is applied by Matisse to almost all places of the painting, i.e. the bark of trees, the dresses of women, and other elements.
In terms of the subject matter these masterpieces are difficult to compare. The analysis of these aspects depends on the angle used to look at these works. In general, the subject matter is similar as both painters tried to portray women. However, a closer examination of paintings has showed that these works are different. In case of Picasso it is the portrait that does not have any other details than the face of the woman. Meanwhile Matisse placed the figures of females in a corresponding environment that also played a crucial role in this piece of art. In addition, these differences lead to opposing approaches to iconography of these genres. Despite the radical artistic innovations of Picasso, he follows the classical traditions of portraits, i.e. the head and the shoulder of the person on a more or less homogeneous background. As Matisse’s work is a more genre painting than a portrait he added different elements there that would be appropriate for the scene, i.e. a table with a tea set, a dog close to the women, etc. The messages that the artists were trying to communicate to the audience and the symbolism of these works were based on different ideas and assumptions. The distortion of the female head in Picasso’s painting refers to the complex subconscious processes taking place in human’s mind and soul. The masterpiece urges a viewer to think about the things that prevent the one from being harmonious and sole persons. In addition, some interpretations of the painting with the vocabulary of feminist art criticism are also possible. Picasso distorts the woman’s appearance so much that it seems almost aggressive. The mood and style of Matisse’s work is different. It symbolizes the happy and quite life in connection with nature. These ideas were very popular in the art of the early twentieth century when Primitivism was one of leading tendencies.
Although the paintings by Matisse and Picasso look rather different, it is important that they have rather many details in common. They were significantly influenced by the works of Cezanne. Art historians argue that they were greatly inspired by “a retrospective at the avant-garde Salon d’ Automne exhibition, which had a powerful influence on contemporary artists, especially Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse”. However, the differences between these approaches to art can be also explained by the historical context of these pieces. Matisse’s painting was created one year after the end of the World War I. Therefore, it is supposed to symbolize the return to order and harmony being characteristic of the pre-war period. Scholars also highlight that his masterpieces became calmer and more balanced after the war. Tea in the Garden is also a bright example of expressionism principles that were defining the painter’s approach to art at this period. The colors are rather bright and dense. The shapes are significantly simplified. It is also clear that a key purpose of the artist is not to give a photographic copy of reality but convey his own individualistic interpretation of the scene. Picasso’s painting was created about fifty years after the piece Tea in the Garden. He was a very successful and prolific painter at this period that enjoyed the world-wide popularity. He developed his early approach to Cubism having made it more complex and multidimensional. Excessive stylization and distortion of shapes and forms became one of crucial features of Picasso’s art. It can be clearly seen at the piece of LACMA. It is also evident that the artist rejected many traditional principles that had played leading roles in the previous periods. He did not use a perspective. The figure of the woman looks quite flat; and it is composed of more geometric than natural shapes. All these characteristics go in line with modern art tendencies of the 1960s when non-representational art witnessed its new revival after the World War II.
In conclusion, the paintings created by Matisse Tea in the Garden and by Picasso Head of a Woman (Jacqueline) are quite different. It is even despite the fact that they were both created in the twentieth century by the artists working in France. They have very few similarities (such as, for example, the use of textures). Moreover, the pieces are in most cases based on different techniques and ideas. To a certain extent, these differences can be explained by various social contexts of the 1910s and 1960s, as well as different artistic styles that the artists were creating in. Matisse was working in expressionism; and Picasso was engaged in cubism.