Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter best known for her surreal portraits and figurative images. Because of these images, her face is recognised worldwide and her sad story is narrated throughout her work. Kahlo suffered from polio and, after a terrible accident surrounding a bus crash, she broke her spine, collarbone and pelvis, and her reproductive system become severely damaged after a handrail impaled through her abdomen. Her marriage to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera was also troubled and erratic.
The Two Fridas 1939
The Two Fridas is one of my favourite examples of Kahlo’s self portraits. The two separate depictions of her represent her torn feelings at the imminent demise of her marriage to Rivera, as they divorced in 1939 and later remarried. We can assume that the Frida on the left represents Frida the wife, and the figure on the right is Frida the artist. Notice how the two Fridas hold hands in comfort and unification as Frida the wife cuts open her vein, which would surely connect to Rivera.
However, not all of Kahlo’s self portraits are actual physical representations of her face or body. What the Water Gave Me is a composition of imaginings and hallucinations set in a bathtub. Kahlo’s bisexuality is referenced in the below right image of two nude women reclined on a bed.
Winslow Homer was an American artist who primarily worked in a Realist style depicting landscapes and marine scenes. He used oils and watercolours but also experimented with wood engravings and etchings. Homer travelled to England and France during his career and later ventured to the exotic climate of the Caribbean, where Salt Kettle, Bermuda was painted. In America, he worked around the north east of the country in Massachusetts, Maine and New York City, where he opened a studio in 1859.
Salt Kettle, Bermuda 1899
Salt Kettle, Bermuda is one of my favourite works by Homer, and indeed throughout the Realist movement. I love the linear style and the reflections of the harbour building on the peninsula waters; the effect reminds me of the artworks we used to create in primary school with layered tissue paper and PVA glue!
Painted at the very end of Homer’s life, Right and Left depicts two ducks in a hunting scene (right and left refer to the shooting action). Notice how the colour palette differs from Salt Kettle, Bermuda: like many other artists such as Claude Monet and Henri Matisse, this muted palette is likely to be because of Homer’s old age and physical condition.
Henri Matisse was a prominent French artist most known for his vibrant use of colour and wild Fauvist style. He studied in Paris under William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Gustave Moreau, where he specialised in simple figurative studies, landscapes and Impressionist-looking still lifes. The painting below is the second version of his study Dance and is a perfect example of Matisse’s interest in primitive composition and subject. The five nude dancing figures are painted in a striking vermilion hue against a deep blue and green background. The colours are all similar in tone with no real use of light and shade. This ensures the figures and their captured movements are the compositional focus. It also intrinsically connects the dancers to their natural surroundings.
The Dance II 1910
By the 1940s, Matisse had become too ill to paint and resorted to a ‘cutout’ technique, using gouache on paper. The Snail is a well known piece done at the later stage of this period, just a year before Matisse’s death. Only when the title of the collage is known does the spiral shape of the snail become clear, but even then it is difficult to interpret, possibly highlighting Matisse’s physical and mental struggles.