Exploring thefunctions of figures in three works of ‘landscape’ art by three differentartists.This essaywill look at three different landscapes to get a wider scope of the importanceof figures and their meanings within a painting. I have looked at threedifferent artists, so that I can see how figures are important from differentperspectives, rather than choosing one style/movement where figures may holdvirtually the same meaning to several artists. I have chosenSalvador Dali’s Equestrian portrait as my first figure as I feel from lookingat the image, that the figure has had the biggest visual impact on thelandscape, obscuring most of it.
Pablo Picasso’s Family of Saltimbanques is aclose second, as the figures are prominent within the landscape but existwithin the landscape not outside of it. I have chosen to explore ThéodoreRousseau’s ‘Oaks at Apremont’ last as there is only one visible figure, aShepard tending his animals. I initially discounted this painting as it hadonly one small, main figure, however, the figure may have been placed there fora reason and during my research into the image, I am curious to see if thefigure was intentionally added and has a deeper meaning or whether the figurewas placed there for the artists aesthetic pleasure. Fig.1 – ‘Equestrianportrait of Carmen Bordiu-Franco’ 1974,Salvador DaliEquestrianPortrait of Carmen Bordiu-Franco (C.1974)Salvador Dali(Spanish, 1904 – 1989)Oil on Canvas160x180cm PrivatecollectionThe figure ofCarmen Bordiu- Franco was created as a wedding present for the marriage ofMaria del Carmen Martinez Bordiu y Franco to Alfonso de Bourbon-DampierreCarol 131.
Bordiu was the granddaughter of Francisco Franco, the PrimeMinister of Spain at the time and she is featured on the silhouette of a horse.Dali explained during an interview with Jesus Ramos that the painting (fig.1)had an underlying political message and that it was a symbol for him, thatFranco was a steady force, guiding the future of Spain history Bosquet 72. Dalisays of the painting, “in the constant changing clouds of diplomacy the horseof history is cut out, allowing us to see the luminous horizon line and theimmutable sky of the serene Spain of the Caudillo Franco” Secrest 72.The elementsthat appear within the horse are in focus, whereas Carmen and the image outsideof the horse are seemingly smudged, connoting chaos and this is furthered bythe pathetic fallacy surrounding the painting.
The weather within the horse iscalm, sunny and bright (signifying the positive influence of Franco within thekingdom) whereas the weather outside the horse, is dark and brooding as if astorm is brewing outside of the horse.Two pieces ofSpanish iconography are featured within the calm of the horse. The Escorial, (whichhistorically is the home of the King of Spain) and a small replication of ‘TheSurrender of Breda’ by Diego Velasquez Epstein 224. James Morris called thisspecific Velasquez’s work “one of the most Spanish of all pictures” Morris29. These images both represent Spain in the painting (fig.1) and the safetyof the images within the horse could depict the safety of Spain in Franco’shands.
Dali depictsBordiu as an adolescent in this painting “because I see her like that, verychildlike … I painted her barefoot precisely because I see her as childlikeand I didn’t want to give it an equestrian idea in the ‘sportive’ sense butjust symbolic” Taylor 144. Carmen’s role in the painting (fig.1) is vital asshe is a well-known figure in Spanish society at the time and an outcome ofFranco himself. Dali has made her a symbol of what a woman should be like underFranco’s rule.However, Dalimay have intended for Carmen to be the posterchild her grandfather’s rule butfrom my own perspective, he has created a powerful documentation of women andtheir roles in Francoist Spain. Carmen’s figure shows the lowered status ofwomen at the time. By portraying Carmen as an adolescent, Dali captured thehighly restrictive and domestic role women played within Franco’s oppressivedictatorship. At the time women were not allowed to vote and could only work orapply for passports with their husband’s permission.
The otherpossibility is that as the painting (fig.1) was commissioned by Franco’s innercircle, Dali painted a scene that would be read as support of the dictator andhis regime, yet was satirical to Dali, and implies that there whilst he maysupport Franco, he is prepared to openly critique him and his policies. If thepiece is irreverent, without Carmen to represent the position of women at thetime, the piece would read entirely as a support of Franco, the landscape andVasquez’s work would seem a positive representation of Spain and reinforce theidea of Dali believing that Franco’s rule is the right path for the country.In summary,the landscape within this work (fig.1) depicts scenes of Spanish origin. Theaddition of Carmen symbolises Dali’s belief that Franco’s dictatorship and thecontinuance of the rule of the Franco family is the true and correct path forSpain, and that anything outside of that would be chaotic. Fig.
2 – La Famillede Saltimbanques, 1905, Pablo Picasso Les Famillede Saltimbanques (C.1905) Pablo Picasso(Spanish, 1881-1973)Oil on canvas,212.8 cm × 229.
6 cmChester DaleCollection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (USA) La Famille de Saltimbanques (or The Family ofEntertainers in English) is a 1905 painting by Pablo Picasso.
The work (fig.2) featuressix Saltimbanques, (a kind of travelling circus performer), in a barren anddesolate landscape. The background was originally a busy racecourse untilPicasso created a different background for this landscape, which is basedaround the environment of his birthplace in Malaga, Andalucía, Spain. Alley591. The background influenced the meaning of the painting, transporting theSaltimbanques from a lively, exciting area into an arid, grey location.
Thetravelling circus and Saltimbanques was a subject Picasso shared with his newfriend, Guillaume Apollinaire McCully. To both the poet and the painter thesewandering performers became an allegorical reference to Picasso’s position inmodern society as well as the position of contemporary artists. Picassospecifically highlighted that that idea in Family of Saltimbanques, where heassumes the role of Harlequin who is only seen from behind, as if forgotten,and Apollinaire is the strongman, central to the painting (fig.2) Salmon 164.The circustroupe have been arranged to look as if they about to depart soon, for a newdestination, this is shown both literally in the painting (fig.
2) andmetaphorically through the symbology of the figures. Picasso is the drab suitedHarlequin Salmon 164, holding the hand of little girl. This is possibly arepresentation of his younger sister, Conchita, whose death at the age of sevenaffected Picasso deeply McCully. He promised to sacrifice his passion forpainting and declared that he would never paint again if she survived herillness. Her death created his first obsessive connection between art, life anddeath in his work McCully. He would continue this obsession throughout hislifetime. The pot-bellied jester is the leader of the group and supposedlymeant to represent the Symbolist Apollinaire. The older acrobat in the backgroundis supposedly the poet Andre Salmon McCully.
Both Apollinaire and Salmon weregood friends of Picasso’s. Picasso’s lover of the time, Fernande, is probablythe woman strangely distancing herself from the group, perhaps a symbolisationof her actions during Picasso’s more melancholy ‘Blue Period’ McCully. In thepainting (fig.2) the muted colours create the haunting, empty mood of thisdeserted and basic landscape. The arrangement of the figures in the landscapeis like that of a pastoral scene, except the landscape has been emptied of alife. The figures themselves are drastically separated from the traditional’big-top’ setting, connoting the isolation and sadness of their environment.
The family ofSaltimbanques is symbolic in many different ways, but the overarching theme isthe transition to another phase and the revisiting of past events or peoplebefore the start of the new phase. Without the family of circus entertainers,the landscape (fig.2) would go from bleak and barren to empty and boring.However, without the muted background, we might not read the expressions of theSaltimbanques as closely and understand their meaning. I think that thissymbolises that even though Picasso has lived through significantly hard timesand tragedies, he would not be the same without them.
The message of Picasso’spainting is just as symbolic as Dali’s but instead of representing hispolitical ideology or painting to appease a dictator, Picasso has created thisto symbolise his own demons and his transition into another state whetherphysically or most likely, mentally. BothDali and Picasso use the background of the paintings to solidify the meaning ineach painting. Picasso uses images based on places in his hometown to drivehome the feeling of isolation, whereas Dali uses his backgrounds to create asense of unity. Fig.
3 Oaks atApremont, Théodore Rousseau, 1850-52Oaks atApremont (C.1850-52)TheodoreRousseau (French 1812 – 1867)Oil onCanvas, 99.5 x 63 cmThe Louvre,ParisOaks at Apremont(or ‘les chênes d’apremont’ in French) helped Rousseau to become regarded asone of the “great landscape artists of the nineteenth-century” in the eyes ofKaterin Huguenaud Huguenaud.
Under apeppered sky, the flourishing and stoic oaks stand tall in the summerlandscape, offering shade to the shepherd and his flock of animals. The humanpresence in this scene is minimal, consisting of only one figure, a Shepard andhis flock of animals. KaterinHuguenaud states that “the Romantic construction of this landscape is replacedby a naturalism that does not seek to seduce”. I think by adding only thesingular small figure, the shepherd complies with this idea of naturalism.
Thejob of a Shepard is typically one of solitude and by depicting this accurately,Rousseau has maintained the sense of reality. Rousseaupreferred to “evoke the landscape’s wild, untamed side, often through vividlighting effects and looser brushwork” Huguenaud. He has seemingly achievedthis in the painting, but without the inclusion of the Shepard, the painting issimply a landscape. However, the inclusion of the Shepard transforms thepainting into a pastoral or genre painting, evoking a sense of life within thescene. Rousseau also emphasized, “the landscape as a subject, without imposingmythological or historical narratives onto it, offering a realistic depictionof the unrelenting midday sun, and of the way in which the light falls”Huguenaud.Greg M.
Thomas stresses two features in Rousseau’s paintings: their formal constructionand their message Thomas 203. Thomas has written that “Rousseau borrowed hisfixation on the middle distance from Dutch landscape artists, but he used it tounusual advantage” Thomas 203. He goes on to state that “Canvases, dividedinto three planes, pulls the eye toward the middle ground, which isencompassed within an ellipsoid construction”. We can see this in action withthe shadows of the oaks creating an oval shape in the centre of the painting.
Thomascontinues “The foreground is typically shrouded in darkness, sometimes framedby trees, while the middle distance is bathed in light, revealing a forestclearing, a plain, a meadow with cattle grazing, a river or a pond”. Theforeground isn’t darkened in this particular painting, but is framed by theimpress stature of the oak trees and the light cutting through the shadows,creating a clear path through the fields, towards the river. Thomas arguesthat: The viewer’s eye is drawn toward a smaller area within theellipse, represented by a person, animal, or clump of trees, that creates whathe calls a central “reflection point.” The effect of the oval motifwas to grant the landscape greater independence than the stage like vistasusually offered the viewer, which suggested that the landscape was both aspectacle made for him and one he built through his gaze. Since an ellipsoidmiddle ground does not alter with every movement of the head, it does not seemto depend on the viewer for its existence. This spatial organization bothattracted the viewer and alienated him, and thus embodied perfectly Rousseau’sambivalence toward man’s relationship to nature.Thomas 203 Without theShepard and his placement within the painting, the painting would become asimple landscape that would exist for the viewer’s pleasure and would notalienate the viewer like Rousseau had hoped. ‘Oaks at Apremont’ is verydifferent to the two other paintings as the figure doesn’t initially seemimportant.
According to Thomas, the Shepard is in fact one of the most essentialelements as it helps with the construction of the ‘reflection point’. However,he is useful in terms of the construction of the painting, but unlike the firsttwo paintings (fis.1&2) I have looked at, carries no symbolical reference.
Having chosenthree paintings from assorted styles/movements. I expected to find littlecomparisons within the three paintings. The similarities between Picasso’s ‘LaFamille de Saltimbanques’ and Dali’s ‘Equestrian Portrait of CarmenBordiu-Franco’ were strong in terms of symbolism and in the fact that bothartists are Spanish and have used images of their hometown or home country.However, that is where the similarities between them ended, Dali had created asymbolic piece to represent someone else’s life, whereas Picasso had created apainting to create express his emotions and a segment of his life. Rousseau’s’Oaks’ has little link to any other painting I have looked at in this essay, apartfrom the fact that it depicts a landscape.
Even the landscape itself is vastlydifferent, containing luscious greenery as opposed to the sandy dunes featuredin both figure one and two.