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Family Picture

Two artist at the forefront of the Avant-garde movement during the Modernism Period were Max Beckmann and Fernand Leger. Two of their paintings, Family Picture by Beckmann in 1920 and Three Women by Leger in 1921 were painted one year apart and were excellent examples of the Avant-garde style. Both paintings give an insight into the artistic period which was an opposition to traditional ideas. There are many stylistic likenesses in the paintings yet they are also uniquely different.

One of the similarities of Family Picture and Three Women is the Avant-garde style which is evident in the way that both artist took traditional subjects of the family portrait and the reclining nude and depicted them in non-traditional ways. In Family Picture, Beckmann depicts a dysfunctional family instead of the formal family setting of previous artistic periods. The setting is a small, cramped and distorted room which sets an uncomfortable tone for this family that is forced together by blood and nothing else. Instead of portraying the similarities of the family members, this painting accentuates their differences.

Seated at the piano with saxophone in hand, the family musician is symbolic of the artistic qualities of the family, while beside him stands the woman who is aware of her sexuality. At the table sits the elderly woman who is disgruntled with her family, the discontented woman, and the family intellectual with the child who is reading at her feet. Beckmann was also considered an expressionist and this painting would be a perfect example of a real family during the Modernist Period or any period because families are not the smiling faces with dressy clothes that are often shown in traditional photographs or paintings.

Leger does the same with the established subject of the reclining nude in Three Women. In conventional paintings, the female nude is depicted in a sensual manner and yet in Leger’s portrayal, These women’s bodies have been simplified into rounded and dislocated forms, their skin not soft but firm, buffed, and polished. These women’s bodies have been simplified into rounded and dislocated forms, their skin not soft but firm, buffed, and polished. 1 The depiction of Leger’s nudes takes away all sensuality and portrays them in a way that makes them mechanical.

While both paintings are similar in depicting traditional subjects in nontraditional ways, they are different in the way that they portray the subjects differently in shape. In this painting, Leger combined a horizontal figure, a vertical figure, and a still life against a background of rectilinear elements. 2 Three Women uses geometric shapes in the background and in the figures of the women, while Family Picture shows a distorted sense of real figures. What makes them different is that Beckmann chooses to use distortion while Leger makes his subjects seem mechanical.

In both Three Women and Family Picture, the medium that is used is oil and canvas. However, the oil is much thinner in Family Picture allowing the texture of the canvas show and symbolizes the shallowness of relationships. while Leger uses the technique of using the paint more liberally yet using fine, almost imperceptible brush strokes for a polished look. Leger and 1 Museum of Modern Art, 1999 2 Herbert, 1980, p. 12 Beckman both use bright vivid colors, but in different ways. Beckmann uses a wide variety of colors with red and green playing a dominant role.

He also uses darker hues to create shadowing and depth perception. Leger uses only a few colors to achieve his goal, but the ones that he chooses, shades of red, green, black, brown, and yellow, are striking. They both use intense values in their colors to represent a time when many issues needed to be noticed. Both artists use the element of balance. Leger’s painting is asymmetrical but balance out with the patterns he chooses for the background. That way the eye is equally drawn to the three female subjects. However, Beckman uses a symmetrical form in his painting.

His objective was obviously for the viewer to be able to start at any point in the painting and his/her vision would be drawn to the rest of it. Beckman completely distorts the depth in Family Picture by creating objects that are larger than they should be in the background of the painting and all of his characters the same size. He also distorts the proportions of the bodies of his subjects by allowing their heads to be larger than they would be in reality. Three Women has a slight concept of depth, but it is not prominent because Leger uses geometric shapes as his background.

Leger uses strait lines to create his mechanical tone of the subjects, while Beckmann makes use of uneven and curved lines to produce distortion and movements. The subjects in Family Picture display variety through their differences. Each individual subject wears different colors and is representative of a type. Beckmann uses this variety to bring attention to the way that society at the time tried to compartmentalize people. Three Women uses little variety in its subjects. The only difference of the clone like women is their placement and the color of one is darker.

Their hair style, face shape, and body shape is identical. Leger’s message through these mechanical women was to identify how this technological society with its new views of women was also taking away their mysterious sensuality and individuality. Both Beckmann and Leger deal with space in their paintings, but they do so in different ways. In Family Picture, Beckmann uses all of the space that is in the painting. It is crowded with people, objects, and sometimes even different colors to convey a sense of cramped chaotic atmosphere.

Leger allows for more spacing in Three Women and by using lighter colors to fill his geometric shapes to create openness. Leger’s subjects seem frozen in time with no emotion or ability for movement, while Family Picture seems to flow with movement. It is as if the subjects will continue with their lives with the blink of an eye. Beckmann and Leger were born in the eighteen eighties and died in the nineteen fifties in Europe to working class families, so their lives spanned the same time and their experiences were similar.

They also were connected with many great artist of their time period, but that is where most of their similarities end in the nineteen twenties when Family Picture and Three Women were painted. Leger was much more affected by World War I than Beckmann. That is why his subjects during the twenties have the mechanical feel. His objective was to cause people to think about the fast growing use of technology during the period and how it could reduce humans to non-feeling machines. It also represented the way that those affected greatly by this modern war tried to go back to normalcy and shut down their emotions so that they could survive.

At the same time, Beckmann was enjoying the peak of his popularity in his native Germany. During the Weimar Republic, Beckmann was seen as one of the foremost modern artist and he won many medals and honors for his work. As Beckman said, We have to get as close to people as possible…so that we give them a picture of their fate. To achieve this, the artist could not afford to be a distant observer. Rather, as Beckmann had declared in November 1917, one needed to be a child of one’s time. 1 He too saw the world around him changing, and that is why he used distortion, but he did not see it as negative.

Family Picture by Beckmann and Three Women by Leger are typical of the Avant-garde movement in which they were created. Their likenesses are what place them in the same artistic period, but it is their difference that makes them stand out and show the different views of the people of the changing society. 1 Rainbird, 2003, p 17? References Belting, H. 1989. Max Beckmann: Tradition as a Problem in Modern Art, N. Y. : Timkin Publishers. Buenger, B. (Ed. ). 1997. Self-Portrait in Words: Collected Writings and Statements, 1903-1950, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Hoffman, C. and Weiss, J. (Ed. ). 1984. Max Beckmann: Retrospective. St. Louis: Saint Louis Art Museum and Prestel-Verlag. De Francia, P. 1983. Fernand Leger, New Haven: Yale Univ. Press Herbert, R. 1980 Leger’s Le Grand Dejeuner, Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Rainbird, S, (Ed. ). 2003. Max Beckmann. New York: Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 100 Retrieved April 13, 2009 from http://www. moma. org/collection/object. php? object_id=79078

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