By Marése O’Sullivan
The images of modern women were strong and dramatic, evoking very fine and different depictions. The male artists I’m discussing seem to have a visual focus on the power of the physical body – the woman figure dominates the frame – while the female artists insist on the detachment and solitary nature of the woman.
Below are some of the male representations of women. All image credit to the Tate Modern.
Meredith Frampton – Portrait of a Young Woman, 1935
Frampton’s portrait centres on a tall woman who dominates the frame. Her sharply-angled body evokes tension, as do the taut strings on the double bass, enhanced by the dark atmosphere. Half her face is in shadow, perhaps a reflection on the pre-World War Two era. The contrast of light and dark – including the black and white floor – perfectly demonstrates the inner conflict of the woman: both wanting to be herself and who the painter wants her to be. The seemingly natural environment, with music and flowers, is full of arrangements and falsities: the bended plant sways towards the border of the painting, echoing the woman’s need for release; the instrument sits unplayed, its bow at the edge of the table; her tight curls are set in place and emphasise her frown.
This should be a traditional portrayal of feminine beauty – with her red lips, flowing figure, and pastel clothing, but her almost angry expression, tense body language, and somber surroundings reveal a subverted moodiness and discontent. She does not look at the viewer, her eyes fixed on a point in the distance.
Meredith Frampton – Marguerite Kelsey, 1928
This woman remarkably almost blends in with her surroundings. She manages to appear almost expressionless, but there is a hint of sadness in her eyes.
Her beige dress reveals little of her pale skin. Her red shoes, tucked behind her, hint at a joyful personality that she’s hidden from the viewer and painter.
Her tightly-pinned hair and stiff fingers add to the taut structure of the painting. These women don’t seem comfortable in the environment that they’ve been placed in by men.
Francis Picabia – Otaiti, 1930
This woman is portrayed a lot more sensually. With a fantastically evocative blend of darkness and light, her uncovered body is powerfully sensualised. She is kneeling, defined in black, with pursed red lips. Her focus is on the creature above her. The entanglement of brown and yellow colour gives this painting a more earthly feel. Merged with drawings of beasts and faces, this woman is firmly connected to her natural self.