Thursday, December 21, 2017

Ugly Paintings: Women by Picasso and de Kooning

Once upon a time -- 150 years ago, perhaps -- the consensus was that paintings should be beautiful. Modernism was a conscious, ideological reaction to and condemnation of traditional art. In other words, what academic painters did, hard-core modernists tried to do the opposite. So rejection of beauty became part of that hard-core package.

I don't hold that a painting must be beautiful to be great. But I also think that great paintings are far more often beautiful than not. Moreover, I find it difficult to think that really ugly paintings are great ones.

There are always a few exceptions, but not the ones of women by Pablo Picasso and Willem de Kooning featured here. The art world seems to disagree with me because the Picassos auctioned for many tens of millions of dollars, and the de Koonings aren't worth chicken feed either.

First, two Picasso paintings -- the first, a portrait of one woman, the second showing women. Then two de Koonings in the same sequence.


Dora Maar au chat - 1941
An auction sale report is here.

Women of Algiers - 1955
A report for this painting of a bordello is here.

Woman I - 1950-52
As the numeral implies, de Kooning painted a series dealing with women.

Two Women in the Country - 1954

Picasso's paintings are more structured than de Kooning's, the Algiers being almost cheerful.
Borderline ugly, I'd call it. The Dora Maar is just plain awful so far as I'm concerned, though I'll credit Picasso for doing a reasonably good job on the kitten. I find the de Koonings simply horrible. His apologists would praise the emotion and artistic action seen in his brushwork. A lot of emotion does not guarantee a painting's greatness. Here, ugliness rules.


Lisa Jeffers Fulton said...


emjayay said...

The Women of Algiers is not ugly to me because it is so much about colors and shapes. It maybe expresses the chaos and cacophony of a street market or something similar. But then there is the differently rendered woman on the left, looking like a Queen in a deck of playing cards. But the other one and the de Kooning seem like they are expressing a love/hate attitude to women, maybe a sort of Freudian unconscious mother/women based deep seated resentment of the sex the artist is also sexually attracted to. Or something.