Researching portraits that convey a mood or atmosphere

Picasso’s blue period started when his friend, Casagemas,  tried to kill his lover and then commits suicide. This understandably affected Picasso and looking at Picasso’s work from this time blue is the dominant colour and the subjects are dark with the bodies deformed or stretched. the-blindmans-meal

‘The blind man’s meal’, 1903 source:

This painting is warmed only by the orange jug and the bread, the rest is described in blue tones which evokes a feeling of sadness, coldness and loneliness . This says to me that the water or wine in the jug and the bread is all the man has. The man seems a little stretched, twisted. Does the blindness symbolise the presence of spiritual inner vision as claimed in the article above? perhaps;  but I am not convinced of this. I feel it just adds to the sadness of this portrait.

In Van Gogh’s ‘The potato eaters’, a peasant family are seated around a table for a meal. vangoghmuseum-s0005V1962-800


They are an odd looking bunch of characters and the earth colours perhaps reflect a life lived from the soil. But they have each other and a meal so it is not all bad! I can see how a restricted pallette will help to tell a story and may use this in the next exercise.


Rembrandt’s ‘Portrait of a Rabbi’ ,1657, source:

I love how the light is just hitting the side of the face, leaving the rest of the portrait very dark, such a dramatic tonal contrast. The Rabbi looks rather sad and maybe he is reflecting on his life. This seems to describe well some sadness and the light and shade on the face gives him a tired, world weary look.  I very much like the strength and contrast of a chiaroscuro portrait. I feel it is worth setting up a strong light to achieve this when working on a portrait as it enhances the features of the sitter.



In contrast, Marc Chagall’s portraits are full of life and happiness. the colours, the flying figures ….



This is how Chagall saw the world and this is how he expressed what he saw. 6127862197ddd4838017b0cbea8f81d2

I love this one, ‘Couple dans mimosa’, source:

It is full of love and life and colour, the couple are wrapped in each other and seem to be high above the ground, with fruitfulness surrounding them while the moon looks on. The figures are not anatomically correct but somehow it all works to describe love and life….

I have been looking at the work of  German Expressionist artist Emile Nolde. nolde1Source:

His portraits are surreal, haunting, they stare back out at you and through you. The blue and grey background contrasts with the warm skintone and red mouth. the blue eyes are piercing and a little threatening as Nolde contemplates himself for his self portrait.


Author: Wendy Kate

Happily sharing my life in Spain with a tall bearded man from Dorset.

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