Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Depiction of women in oil paintings at the Tate Modern


     With the label “ modern” comes a possible stigma. To some, the term modern may suggest a  lack of history and depth. Others may perceive modern as “art for the sake of art” with no real contextual value.Leading up to the visit, a question arises. Will the Tate Modern be something that all visitors find compelling?Will those who relish“old” and “ historical” perspectives leave feeling satiated from their experience? Simply put, absolutely. The Tate Modern, a combination of Bankside Power Station and some newly renovated parts of the building, has something for everyone.
        Two oil paintings in particular presented themselves as distinct and powerful. The first painting, titled Chloe Boughton-Leigh (1904) by Gwen John depicts a woman staring off to the side as she is painted by her friend. The colors in the piece appear muted, with very little contrast. The brown and very basic hues leave no lasting impression.Noticeably absent is a sense of femininity of the sitter. Chloe Boughton-Leigh (the sitter) wears a dress which covers her body, with the exception of her forearms and part of her neck. The gray dress is plain, but does not suggest poverty. In fact, the jewelry and book in her hand would point to the opposite. They put forward for consideration the idea of a wealthier and educated lifestyle. A painting hung strategically in the right hand corner may reflect the sitter ( or painter’s) appreciation for the arts. This would also serve as another indication of education. The vacant look in the sitter’s eyes can be interpreted as someone who has experienced quite bit in her years. Is it a look of fatigue? Boredom? Perhaps a longing for something to be different? 
       This is in sharp contrast to a painting titled Morning (1926) by Dod Procter. Like John’s Chloe Boughton-Leigh, it is of a female. However, the female in Morning is younger, looking like she is deciding to wake up or not. A peacefulness ( almost a provocativeness, which is controversial considering the sitter is sixteen) appears in her pose, and somehow this is more feminine than the previously discussed painting. The neutral whites and beige colors project a mood that is deliberate and relaxed. Oppositely, John’s work gives off a more tense and morose mood. Chloe looks as though she is masking something that she does not wish to share. Her eyes are also open, whereas the subject of Morning has her eyes closed. That contrast alone changes the mood of the painting. Perhaps if the Morning subject had been painted with open eyes, the entire meaning of the painting would change. Both artists are women, and yet they paint women in such different styles. 
        Keith Roberts argues that in Gwen John’s early works, like Chloe Boughton-Leigh, “ an attempt is made to suggest character, whereas later the figures painted seem to merge, into one another and the personal identity is no longer important” ( Roberts, 1968). This is true of Chloe Boughton-Leigh because all one sees in the painting is the sitter. We are enveloped by the image of her sadness and tension. Conversely, critics praise Dod Procter for her  “ dream like other worldliness”  and for her “ "restrained image of a woman in a light dress” ( James, 2009). I enjoy how to pictures of similar subjects can elicit such polar opposite responses.


James, A. ( 2009).  Art in Britain. The American Magazine of Art, 151( 1273), 252-256.

Roberts, K. (1968). Notes from London. The Burlington Magazine, 110 ( 780), 166-168.

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