I admire Frida as a woman as well as an artist, no one else has been a precursor of modernity like her. She was emancipated; she married an older man and they split up to marry again the year after, she had unfaithfully relationships with both men and women, she was a famous painter appreciated by her contemporaries, she was strong and determinate, she lived together with her pain and turned it into art. Charismatic, clever, ironic, charming.
The Two Fridas can also be interpreted in a different way, disconnected from the relationship with Diego (even if they were very close to each other).
I think the double portrait represents the need of the artist to highlight the duplicity of her soul. A part of it is connected to her culture and traditions, and the other is desirous of emancipation and adventure, inclined to experimentation, a Frida who dresses differently, maybe the one who just come back from Europe, a new Frida. The amazing extract from her diary shows her primitive duality, we read about a Frida who sees herself doubled into another child, happy, “I remember her cheerfulness” says the artist. Ambivalence is the symptom of a complex personality; the sick Frida, and the carefree and dancing Frida, the loved Frida and the abandoned Frida, the traditionalist and the avant-garde woman, these are all faces of the same medal.
di Elisa Martino – art curator
Comparative Essay: Frida Kahlo and Paul Cezanne
Presented to Lincoln University
In partial fulfillment of the
Requirements for the degree of
Bachelor of Science
Department of Sociology/Anthropology
(c) Laqueya Carter, 2010
Since there are various ways to look at a work of art, people may interpret it in many different ways. This paper will attempt to compare the different works of Frida Kahlo and Paul Cezanne. Their different styles along with their similarities will also be explored. This paper will discuss the different backgrounds and lifestyles that these two artists have endured. This paper will also demonstrate the similar mental states that these two artists shared. This comparative essay will entail three major components: formal theories, sociocultural theories, and expressive theories. The three works of art that will be compared consist of; “The broken column” and “The two Frida’s” by Frida Kahlo and “Man and Skull” by Paul Cezanne.
Born in 1907, Frida Kahlo’s main focus was on the study of medicine however, after a series of life changing events, Kahlo shifted from medicine to painting. Kahlo was influenced by indigenous Mexican culture. This is depicted by her use of bright colors and symbolism within her works of art. Frida Kahlo was also influenced by many personal life experiences. These experiences include Kahlo’s unfaithful marriage, traumatizing miscarriages, and several medical operations. For this reason, it is apparent that many of Kahlo’s paintings portray pain and anguish.Other influences consist of European influences which include realism, symbolism, and surrealism.
“The Broken Column” by Frida Kahlo is an example of a personal life experience painting. In this painting, Kahlo is facing front with a distraught look on her face. She has a series of nails embedded within her skin. With Kahlo facing front, there is a missing section leading from her neck down to her stomach. Behind this missing section there is a depiction of her spinal cord, hence the name “The Broken Column.” In this painting, Kahlo is positioned in a “desert like” environment. This is portrayed by very dry looking sand. The painting in itself along with Kahlo’s background gives the viewer a sense of what kind of pain she has experienced.
“The two Fridas” by Frida Kahlo is another example of a personal experience that Kahlo painted. Her divorce was the motivating influence behind this painting. In this painting, Kahlo is sitting down on a chair next to her split identity. The two Frida’s are facing forward showing a depiction of an extracted heart. She has a pair of scissors in her hand along with blood dripping down her dress. The background in this painting is also very dark and gloomy. This is important because it helps the viewer understand the subject matter a little better. Moreover, if the background were filled with bright and vibrant colors the painting might not persuade the viewer that it is a painting that is suppose to portray pain and betrayal.
In comparison, Paul Cezanne was a French artist and a post-impressionist painter. He was born in 1839. Cezanne was largely influenced by the impressionists. He worked with Picasso who was at first his mentor. Picasso also introduced Cezanne to Manet and Degas. Cezanne’s works demonstrates his incredible mastery of color, composition, and design. His different brushstrokes are very unique and recognizable.
“Man and Skull” by Paul Cezanne is a painting that depicts grief and unhappiness. In this painting, there is a man sitting in a chair with his head resting on his hand. The man in the painting is well dressed and well groomed. Upon the man’s face there is a very sad and depressed look. This is apparent because his eyes are blank, and it seems as if they are not fixated on any particular object or thing. His mouth is in a frowning position, the corners of his lips are facing downward. His head resting on his hand is a universal sign for boredom or depression. His facial expressions along with other elements such as what was going on in the artists’ life, one would argue that in this instance it represents depression. In the painting, his elbow is resting upon a pile of books as if he were reading them. Sitting on top of one of the books is a skull. The skull has a slight discoloration to it, and it is positioned at a diagonal. There is a curtain in the background hanging behind the man. The painting in itself gives the viewer reason to believe that this man is depressed or in some form of distress.
With regards to the seven principles of design, both Frida Kahlo’s and Paul Cezanne’s workshave a great combination of unity and variety. In relation to art, unity refers to the appearance of oneness in a work of art. This principle of unity is demonstrated in all three selected pieces. With regards to “The Broken Column” and “The two Frida’s” by Frida Kahlo, she portrays unity by only using a few colors. One can look at these two pieces and not feel disoriented while looking at the work. Furthermore, at the same time one will not get bored with the work either. Each of these paintings are intriguing in their own different ways. Viewers are not likely to get bored with these paintings because they each have something to grasp the viewers attention. At the same time, they are not so attention grabbing that one would feel overwhelmed. For example, In “The broken column" there is an exposed spinal column and nails piercing Frida's skin. One will probably not get bored with this painting because it is interesting to see these unusual things, but at the same time not too unusual that it loses the viewer. Paul Cézannes’ “Man and Skull” piece also portrays a nice combination of unity and variety. While looking at this piece one can see that it flows together harmoniously. Nonetheless, it will not disorientate the viewer nor does it look chaotic.
Balance is another principle that a work of art should strive for. Balance refers to the equilibrium in a work of art. Both Frida Kahlo’s and Paul Cezanne’s works portray a sense of balance. When one looks at these works, visual balance is apparent. With regards to emphasis and subordination, both artist’s conquer this principle. For example, in “The Broken Column” by Frida Kahlo she draws our attention to the spinal cord which is portrayed by the broken column. She puts emphasis on the missing section so that we focus our attention to that area. The colors in the background are sort of “neutral” so that it does not distract the viewer from the main focal point.
Other principles of design are also apparent in these selected works of art. Principles such as directional forces, contrast, repetition and rhythm, and scale and proportion are also depicted in Paul Cezanne’s and Frida Kahlo’s work. Some principles of design are more noticeable than other however, all seven principles are portrayed in these works of art.
Within the life of Frida Kahlo, there were many things that influenced her paintings. Furthermore, the things that were taking place in the world along with things that were happening in her life play a huge role as to why she painted the way she did. During Kahlo’s childhood the Mexican Revolution was taking place. This revolution was said to have lasted until the 1920’s. In Frida Kahlo’s paintings it is apparent that she was influenced by Mexican culture. Thus, the Mexican Revolution may have had some impacted on what she depicted in her paintings. Her use of bright colors and symbolism shows a relationship between her paintings and her Mexican culture. For example, Frida frequently used a symbolic monkey in her paintings. In Mexican mythology, monkeys are symbols of lust. Kahlo usually portrayed these monkeys as protective symbols (Wikipedia).
Kahlo had many personal life experiences that she portrays in her paintings. For example, In “The Broken Column” one can see the pain and suffering that she was going through. One can interpret this painting in many different ways however, her broken column can relate to the accident she underwent in 1925. One could interpret this painting as a result of her accident because one of her injuries included a broken spinal column. On the other hand, one could interpret this panting as a result of Frida’s incapability of conceiving children. This could be depicted by the dry looking sand within the background of this painting. In relation to “The broken Column” that was painted in 1944, this life changing accident is an evident influence for this painting.
Frida Kahlo was very politically motivated. She was an active member of the Communist Party of Mexico. She later left this group because of a few disagreements. However, her art still had political value. In the beginning of Kahlo’s painting career, politics had very little influence on her paintings. But, in 1948 Frida rejoined the Communist Party and that inspired her interest in demonstrating her political allegiance on canvas (Wikipedia.)
Other influencing factors that were going on in Frida Kahlo’s life consist of her unfaithful husband, her inability to conceive children, and the multiple medical operations that she encountered from her accident. In the painting “ the Two Frida’s” Kahlo depicts her unfaithful marriage. In this painting Kahlo is sitting next to her “spilt identity” which is said to be Cristina Kahlo - Frida’s sister. It is known that Diego Rivera had an affair with Cristina while he was still married to Frida. This painting shows the unfaithfulness of Rivera. The two Frida’s are sitting down side by side while holding hands. Within the painting there is a depiction of an extracted heart. This probably signifying the betrayal of her husband. It is clear that Kahlo is going through some sort of pain in this painting because the viewer can see the blood coming from the heart and dripping down to her dress. Again, her unfaithful marriage atthis time in her life was an influencing factor as to why she painted the things that she did.
At the time, people liked Frida’s work however, she did not get the recognition that she deserved. Although she was a great painter she was still only referred to as “Diego Riveras’ wife.” During her lifetime, she did not enjoy the same level of recognition as her husband, but today her work is just as critically acclaimed as that of her male peers and painters.
Within Paul Cezanne’s life there were also many things that influenced his paintings. In the beginning of his painting career, Paul Cezanne painted using very dark colors. This was probably a result of the depression that he was feeling at the time. Paul Cezanne was a very isolated painter. He had a very uncomfortable relationship with his father, thus he isolated himself from his family. During this time of isolation, Cezanne went to Paris for about six months. During this time, he destroyed many canvases amongst his time of depression. It is apparent in some of his paintings that he was sad and depressed.
For example, in the painting “Man and Skull,” Cezanne depicts a man who has a very sad and depressed look on his face. When the viewer looks at this painting, there is an automatic sense of sadness and grief. The skull that is positioned on top of a pile of books probably signifies death or suicidal thoughts. It is clear that in this paining Cezanne’s motivating influence was the depression that he felt during this time, perhaps from his continued isolation. Although Picasso introduced Cezanne to artists such as Degas and Manet, Cezanne still isolated himself from the group. Thus, many of his paintings reflect this sort of “depressed” attitude, mainly through his choice of dark colors.
Furthermore, many of Cezanne’s works were rejected by the Salon. This in turn added on to Cezanne’s depressed state. No one really liked his paintings at the time, and they were continuously rejected. Cézanne's art was misunderstood and discredited by the public. His early years were difficult, and his career from the beginning was tainted with repeated failure and rejection. Cezanne did not get the recognition that he deserved until later in his life almost close to death. At this time, he began to get immense recognition for his paintings. Today he is regarded as one of the great forerunners of modern painting.
Depression, isolation and betrayal can influence the subject matters that artists pick because they may internalize it and have no other way of expressing it. For example, Frida Kahlo was hurt by the ones closest to her- her husband and her sister. The ones she typically would turn to for expressing her pain were the ones who caused it. Painting was ultimately her only means of expression. Similarly, Cezanne had trouble fitting in with those who were closest to him and with his peers. Therefore, he felt isolated and painting seemed like his most convenient escape from his problems.
The mind states of these two artists also influence the subject matter that they pick. While Frida Khalo’s and Paul Cezanne’s works seem visually different from one another, the mind states of these two artists are very similar. While depression is an obvious mind state that they share, they share some latent mind states as well. Some of these mental states could include death and isolation. For example, it is obvious that Cezanne portrays death in “Man and Skull” because there is a clear depiction of a skull, which could represent death or suicide. Similarly, Kahlo also portrays a sense of death in her paintings. An example of this can be identified in both “The broken column” and “The two Frida’s.” In “The broken column” Khalo demonstrates death within herself because she cannot conceive children and perhaps from the several miscarriages that she endured. The sand in the background of the painting symbolizes her “dryness” or infertility. So in a sense, her infertility is an intimate “death” that she had to live with. Similarly, In “The two Frida’s,” Kahlo’s portrayal of the extracted heart could symbolize the death of her and Rivera’s marriage.
Both Frida Kahlo and Paul Cezanne’s works have mastered the visual properties of aesthetics. Beauty rather than something that is pretty has meaning attached to it. Although “The broken Column,” “The Two Frida’s,” and “Man and skull” reflect a sense of pain and distress, these works are beautiful because they entail and underlying message.While viewing these three works of art, a person may not originally see the beauty within it. Since these works of art portray sadness, pain, and misery, one may not be able to look beyond that until they understand the full meaning.
The reason these three works were chosen for comparison is because they all have a common denominator. That common denominator being pain, hardships, and struggle. While looking back on Frida Kahlo’slife, there were many incidents of grief and pain. Incidents such as her unfaithful marriage, the car accident she encountered leaving her with many life changing injuries, and the inability to conceive children. Much of which she portrayed in her paintings. Similarly, Paul Cezanne also had his times of depression and rejection. He isolated himself from his family, which ultimately led him to become sad and depressed. Furthermore, to add on to his struggle, his work was not generally accepted. In fact, his work was repeatedly rejected by the salon. When looking back on these artists life, one can see the pain and troubling times that they had to endeavor.
After further research on these artists, there is a more in depth reason as to why these three paintings were chosen for comparison. The pain, hardships, and struggle portrayed in these paintings can relate to a lot of things that are going on in today’s world. For example with regards to “The broken Column,” in today’s society there are a lot of women going through some of the same problems that Frida went through. Issues such as life changing accidents and infertility can be identified with millions of women across the world. Similarly, issues such as infidelity portrayed in ‘The Two Frida’s” and depression which is portrayed in “Man and Skull”,” can also be connected with the people of today’s society. Now-a-days it is not abnormal to hear about a person being depressed or a person who is living with infidelity. So, along with the artists’ expression of pain, struggle and hardships, these painting can also relate to the issues of today’s world. In other words, these three works of art were chosen for comparison because the pain that is reflected in these paintings can unfortunately relate to a lot of the pain that is experienced today by everyday people.
“The Broken Column,” The Two Frida’s,” and “Man and skull” all depict some form of pain. For example, in the painting “Man and Skull” by Paul Cezanne the depiction of a skull was probably put in to the painting to symbolize death or suicidal thoughts among the young man. When a person views this painting, they can almost feel the pain of the artist. Similarly, in Frida Kahlo’s “The Broken Column,” you can see the pain in her face, which is depicted by the tears running down her checks. Furthermore, the nails embedded in her skin gives the viewer the notion that she has probably been through some traumatic events in her lifetime. The “dry looking” sand in the background of this painting was probably put there to symbolize her inability to have children- another aspect of pain that Kahlo had to deal with.
In conclusion, these works of art have the principles of aesthetics attached to them. While a person may not realize it at first, the underlying message is what makes the work so beautiful.Understanding what Frida Kahlo and Paul Cezanne had to deal with in their lifetime makes their work even more impressive. The use of color, balance, emphasis, and subordination all help the artist to demonstrate a powerful work of art. Realizing the underlying message in these paintings, which is ultimately pain, depression and struggle, helps the viewer to understand why the artist relayed the message in the manner that they did.
Art textbook: From class
Herrera, H. (1993). Frida kahlo: the paintings . New York: Academic Press.
Wikipedia: online source