Posts Tagged 'painting'

Foucault’s reading of Velazquez’s ‘Las Meninas’



Las Meninas

Diego Velazquez, 1656

Oil on canvas, 318cm x 276cm (125.2in x 108.7in)

Museo del Prado, Madrid

I feel Foucault’s main point in this text is the idea of gaze within and beyond the picture, and it is this gaze which I will discuss. Whether it is the artist, who first appears to look at us as though we were the models; or the maids’ somewhat intense looks at their young mistress.

The frequency at which gazes are shot about the image and outwards towards the viewer is astounding. The gaze, however, always returns to the place in which we, observing the painting, are standing. But we are and yet are not the observed, due to the fact that the intricacies of this painting are held on the back wall within the mirror and its misty figures. Where the view feels he or she would be reflected we instead are shown the apparition of the king and queen of Spain. It is they, not we, who are being represented on the canvas which back takes up the left hand of Las Meninas. And so the royal figures gaze upon the same scene as we do, yet also they gaze back at themselves, and equally, at us.

It is this reciprocity of the gaze which draws us in:

‘the painter’s gaze, addressed to the void confronting him outside the picture, accepts as many models as there are spectators; in this precise but neutral space, the observer and the observed take part in a ceaseless exchange’ (pp.4-5)

Are we seeing or are we being seen?

In my next post I will take a look at another interpretation of this painting and consider some  of Velazquez’s other works involving the royal family.

Grace Hartigan (1922-2008 )

Hartigan began her career as a draftsperson, but began to paint when she moved to New York in 1946 and became exposed to the friendship and society of the Abstract Expressionists. Her professional break came in 1950 at a show at the Samuel Kootz Gallery organised by Clement Greenberg (an art critic and big advocate of the Abstract Expressionist movement) and Meyer Schapiro. Up until 1951, however,she signed her canvases “George Hartigan”.

‘Hartigan’s fame reached its peak in the late 1950’s. During this time, Hartigan was featured in a Life photographic essay “Women Artists in Ascendance” and her work included in several prestigious exhibitions such as Twelve Americans and the Sao Paolo Bienal.’*

However, Hartigan’s career spanned beyond the so-called ‘New York school’, exhibiting in many places across the world, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and in 1967 she became the Director of the Hoffberger Graduate School of Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art. ‘[F]rom 1965-2007 she mentored, criticized and generally helped hundreds of painters find their own paths’#

hartigan et al(Hartigan second from left, pictured with (r-l)Walter Silver, Jane Freilicher, Larry Rivers)**

Sources- #,,, *, **

Louise Nevelson (1900-1988 )

(Russian born, emigrated 1905 to Rockland, Maine)


Portrait of Nevelson by Ugo Mulasc (1965)

It is encouraging to see pictures like this portrait of Nevelson producing works, in the action of creation, as from a certain perspective that would be viewed as a typically masculine trait.

Between 1929/30 Nevelson studied at the American Art Students League. In 1931 she visited Europe and was inspired by African art and Boccioni, Brancusi and Picasso. A year later she studied under Hans Hofmann, and then in 1933 had her first solo exhibition in New York. Her paintings and sculptures showed in galleries all over the world, including in the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1962.

Nevelson escaped small town life through a marriage that she soon found constraining, spliting from her husband in 1931. It seems she was only too aware on the restraints placed on her as a creator, not just because of her sex, but because of her class too- “I soon recognized that within their circle you could know Beethoven, but God forbid if you were Beethoven. You were not allowed to be a creator, you were just supposed to be an audience. They thought they were terribly refined.”*

She is also the first of our featured artists to be well known for sculpture, not just 2-D work. Poetically described ‘Her sculptures included wood assemblages typically painted in either jet black or, later, in white and gold as well, ranged in size from the small and personal to the large and monumental, inviting viewers to observe a world into which they could not go but in which they often feared they had already been placed.’* Like many women artists, Nevelson had a long career and achieved, if not fame, success. In 2000, the United States Post Office issued five limited edition postal stamps in recognition of Nevelson’s contribution to art.


Sources- *, Art of the 20th Century (Taschen, 2000, p.778), (“an organisation to educate the public on the life and work of the American artist Louise Nevelson”),

Robert Motherwell(1915-1991)


Motherwell was both a critic and painter and is seen by some as the voice of the Abstract Expressionists: “Without his tireless devotion to communication (in addition to his prolific painting), well-known abstract expressionists like Mark Rothko, who was extremely shy and rarely left his studio, might not have made it into the public eye.”* He studied philosophy, art history, aesthetics and archaeology at various American universities. In the writings of Motherwell, as well as in his life, we see the rebirth of a kind of Renaissance man, a well rounded, intelligent and articulate artist- “Every intelligent painter carries the whole culture of modern painting in his head. It is the real subject, of which everything he paints is both an homage and a critique, and everything he says is a gloss.” ** [Note again the way language betrays a male-biased society]

Motherwell wrote: “It may be that the deep necessity of art is the examination of self-deception.”*** I feel this chimes with what I was discussing in the studies of Rothko and Pollock, the element of self in painting. In a broader way, does this mean that our standard knowledge of abstract expressionism is an exploration of the male self or psyche?

Sources: *, **, *** . Image:

Jackson Pollock (1912-56)

Pollock embodies a place in modern art history quite unlike any other. A male artist who fitted (or was made to fit) the troubled artistic genius type, to a ‘T’, in the era that could well be described when the world saw America take off as the capital of the art world. Pollock stood at the forefront- was the figurehead, if you like, of the abstract expressionist movement. Although he was arguably the most famous protagonist of the movement, even today people find it hard to class his work as art (“its just dripping paint” …especially when it sells for so much).

He studied at the Manual Arts school (LA) from1925-1929, after which he went onto study under Benton at the Art Students League (NY). His famous drip painting technique did not develop until 1946, a year after marrying fellow artist Lee Krasner. His earlier work drew influences from “primitive” works, especially Indian art. Gombrich considers Pollock as the artist who “most of all” aroused our interest in the process of painting.

“Every good painter paints what he is”*

Under the light of this study I feel I am somewhat hinting that Pollock was anti-feminist, but what I mean to point out here is the assumptions that are unconsciously at work here- a) that painters are men and b)that art is autobiographical. It could therefore been seen as a comment that supposes good artwork to be about the male self- it perpetuates the myth of the great male artist.

Pollock by NamuthPicture of artist by Hans Namuth (1915-1990)

The film from which this image comes from, from certain feminist perspectives was seen as “the attempt to install the image of the artist as modern, as American, as masculine”**

Sources- Taschen’s Art of the 20th Century, (Part 1: Painting, p.788/9, 2000), *, E. H. Gombrich, The Story of Art (p.602, 6th edition, 2002, Phaidon),, **Griselda Pollock Cockfights and Other Parades, Oxford Art Journal (2003 26:2, p.141)

To try out Pollock’s technique in a clean environment: (I wonder what the man himself would make of it…)