This essay will examine two pieces of artwork. Both of these pieces are portraits of their subject; however each artist chose a very different approach to their particular work. In 1795 Gilbert Stuart created “George Washington” with oil on canvas. This particular piece was from a series of portraits of President Washington painted by Stuart. One of the portraits from this series later became the portrait on the dollar bill. Stuart was a portrait painter. He painted rich and famous individuals in the late 1700’s into the beginning of the 19th century. This period, the 18th century, was known as the Rococo period. This was an extension of the baroque style. Rococo paintings are ornate but unlike baroque style works, they are more suited to private residences of the rich than in cathedrals (434-435). The culture at the time was one of revolution. Many of his subjects were important figures to the Revolution, including President Washington. Stuart’s style was very traditional. He paid close attention to detail and painted individuals to look as they would in life.
In 1962 Andy Warhol created “Green Marilyn” using a silkscreen on synthetic polymer paint on canvas. It was one of his famous mass productions. Andy Warhol created art during the modern period. After the end of World War II, Western art was on the rise. The center of the art world moved to New York City and gave rise to the New York School of art (536). This was a period of post war expressionism. Artists were free to try new things and be more creative. This is what led to Warhol embracing Pop Art in the 1960’s. Pop Art is short for “popular” and portrays everyday items and images, often like advertising and media (543). Andy Warhol would take images of everyday items like Campbell’s soup cans or famous people like Marilyn Monroe and show them as repeating images or in unusual colors. “Warhol’s style was cool and detached” (544), he claimed that his art was all on the surface and contained no deeper meaning. Because of this belief he would not comment on his pieces. He was surprised that people sought out a meaning behind his works, they were looking for social implications that he said he was not making. This essay will examine these two works by first discussing the subject matter, next the design, followed by the mood, the medium and techniques used, and finally the styles used by the artists.
The subject matter of these two pieces is similar because both artists created a portrait of a famous American; however, this is where the similarity ends. The theme of “Green Marilyn” is the Human Experience (69). It was created soon after the death of Marilyn Monroe. Warhol tended to paint objects that were currently en vogue with popular culture and Marilyn Monroe was very famous. The work was probably created to pay homage to her life at a time that the entire country and some of the world was mourning her death. Color plays an important role in this composition. As in “Green Marilyn”, I initially thought the theme for “George Washington” was the Human Experience, but after further thought, I believe the theme is Politics and Social Order (57). “George Washington” was created in 1795, four years before Washington’s death. He was President of the United States at the time of the painting which made him a popular subject. This painting shows him as a very distinguished individual, as fitting his public office. It is very dark and portrays the President as very stoic. This does not humanize him to the populace, but rather makes him appear unapproachable.
Design plays an important role in art. There are several similarities and differences in the designs of these two works. Contour lines, lines drawn to record boundaries (83), are used to set off Marilyn’s face. Warhol uses a well defined the line between the face and hair along the forehead making the hair look like a cap, not apart of the face. Stuart on the other hand does not use lines in his portrait of George Washington. He uses shading and implied light to make the subject stand out from the background. This actually makes Washington appear 3-dimensional on a 2-dimensional canvas. Warhol’s painting of Monroe however does not stand out from the background, he did not intend for her to appear 3-dimensional. In both portraits the face is a figure, a shape used to detach and focus on, and the ground, the surrounding visual information the figure stands out from (89), is plain making the face the focal point. The major design difference between these works is the use of color. Warhol uses mostly tertiary colors, mixtures of primary color and adjacent secondary colors on the color wheel (95). The colors are also very intense, pure colors not mixed with much grey (96). This combination makes color the most obvious aspect of the work. Stuart uses varying degrees of white and black and values of red. Values of color refer to relative lightness or darkness (96). Red was probably mixed with grey to come up with skin tone, cheeks and a small amount in the background to highlight the face. The reason red and grey were probably mixed is that artists may add a mixture of black and white paint, grey, to a color to lower the intensity allowing them to make various shades of the color (96). In this case various shades of red to highlight Washington’s face. Both of these portraits are asymmetric. Asymmetry in artwork is when both sides of the composition do not match (129). In this work, Washington is set slightly to the left and the right side of the painting is relatively empty which draws the focus again to the face. Like Stuart, Warhol focuses on the face of his subject by setting it slightly off center making the artwork asymmetrical. The artist’s use of lines, shapes, color, and asymmetry are just a few of the design elements used by Stuart and Warhol that make their portraits sometimes similar and often times different.
The moods of these two pieces are very different even though they both are portraits of their subjects. Stuart’s painting of Washington is very stoic and dark. It is also very true to life. He tried hard to make Washington appear as he would have during that time period of his life. President Washington was a serious man and the piece was created during a time of turmoil in the U.S. These two things play into the fact that Stuart painted this portrait in a serious manner. Warhol on the other hand used color to make Marilyn Monroe appear dramatic. He created a silkscreen from a famous picture of Monroe and then used various colors in his prints to make each reproduction somewhat different. This work was created soon after Monroe’s death so they act as a tribute to her life; the life of a famous actress who was outgoing and flamboyant in her public life.
Gilbert Stuart created “George Washington” using oil on canvas. Oil paints are created using pigment mixed with a medium, a liquid that holds the particles of pigment together, typically linseed oil (168, 172). These paints dry very slowly which allows artists to blend colors by layering. Andy Warhol however utilized synthetic polymer paint on canvas in 1962 when he created “Green Marilyn”. These paints are commonly known as acrylics and they gain popularity in the 1950s. Acrylics were the first paints that competed with the use of oil paints by western artists (180). They are more versatile than oil paints and they can be used in ways that mimic many differently types of paints and they can be used on various surfaces (180). Gilbert Stuart took advantage of the properties of oil paints when creating “George Washington”. The painting must have been created using layers of paint. This is evident when looking at the realistic colors of the subjects face. The shade of the skin varies to highlight his cheeks, nose and chin. He may have used glazes, thin, translucent veils of color applied over the thicker underpainting (175). This is evident by the flawless glowing finish of the painting. The strokes are not heavy in this work; the colors are well blended together which makes the painting appear very realistic to me. Andy Warhol used synthetic polymer paint on canvas to create his unique “Green Marilyn”. The paints were actually applied using a silkscreen. A silkscreen is a fine mesh of silk mounted in a frame, rather like a window screen. The artist then works from drawings to block out parts of the screen not meant to print by plugging up holes so that no ink passes through (203). A different screen is created for each color (204). This allowed him to make the same piece of art using many different color combinations. Even though both of these pieces were created using paints, their mediums were very different. “George Washington” was created using a traditional approach utilizing oil paints applied with a brush, while “Green Marilyn” uses a much less widespread approach, synthetic paints applied with a silkscreen, making them appear very different from each other.
Both Stuart and Warhol style’s are representational. This means that subjects are easily recognizable, however only Stuart portrayed his subjects in a naturalistic way, as they would in life (29). Warhol’s Marilyn was not naturalistic because of his use of color.
In conclusion, Stuart and Warhol both painted famous American’s, but they often differed in their approach. This paper briefly discussed the subject matter, design, mood, medium and technique, as well as the style of these two artists. Both Stuart and Warhol painted portraits that represented the individual but the employed color in ways that made them appear different. They also differed in their approach to design, Stuart did not use lines while Warhol did and Washington appeared 3-dimensional while Monroe did not. The mood in Stuart’s painting is very stoic and dignified while Warhol used color to make Monroe dramatic. The mediums used also made the artworks different. Both artists used paint; however one was oil based and the other acrylic. Also, Warhol did not use a paintbrush to create his work, he used a silkscreen. The styles were similar in that they represented their subject but Stuart’s was naturalistic in appearance. Finally, I chose these works initially because prior to taking this course I was not very familiar with fine art, I tended to gravitate to photographs. I thought by choosing portraits it would be similar subject matter to what I am used to seeing through photos. This course has opened my eyes to many of the elements that go into creating a work of art.