The Colors Grim - Candace Johnson

This gallery is based upon the theme of the colors that represent death in art—more specifically, those that represent and personify death in the form of the Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper is pictured in many different ways: sometimes hooded, sometimes a skeleton, sometimes an angel or sometimes even a god; however, I wanted to see if the colors used to represent this idea were as varied as the personifications in these paintings. In the Grim Colors, I shall explore that notion further.

In this particular piece by Klimt, we see that both life and death are depicted. Death is depicted with a skull and crosses, in many blue hues. To contrast this life is depicted in many different colors and people. The dark negative space is sure to draw your attention to the two centerpieces in this work; the lines and colors around “life” swirl in an almost chaotic and random pattern, while the blues around “death” are much more uniform and calming.
Hans Burgkmair, Lovers Surprised by Death, a woodcut, 1510/1510, From the collection of: British Museum
In this piece, death is once again represented with a skeleton/skull. The color of this piece is warm, but that is likely more due to age than anything else. The fine, black lines of this piece are extremely detailed, and get more detailed around the three subjects to mark them as clear standouts from the background.
Master IAM of Zwolle (around 1440-1504), Allegory of the Transience of Life, coloured engraving on vellum, 1480/1490, From the collection of: British Museum
In this work, the many skulls and the skeleton with the snake protruding from its mouth represent death clearly. The lines are very fine and detailed, while the background remains almost completely empty to draw your eyes to the figures and banners. The colors that the skulls and skeletons have in this piece are white, while the other subjects wear garments of color and vibrancy, showing the stark contrast between life and death.
Time and Death and Goody Barton, Thomas Rowlandson, 1756–1827, British, undated, From the collection of: Yale Center for British Art
In this work by Rowlandson, death is once again represented by a skeleton. Surprisingly, the representation of time is the one holding the scythe—a traditional staple of personifications of death. The skeleton is white, while the people and time have a pink tinge to their skin. The overall colors of this piece are very mellow and subdued, which creates a calming effect. This perhaps hints that there is nothing to be afraid of, as time and death are something that happens naturally to us all.
Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle, Arnold Böcklin, 1872, From the collection of: Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
In this self portrait by Böcklin, death is once again personified by a skeleton, and plays the fiddle ominously in the background while Böcklin paints a portrait of himself. The colors are somewhat muted, with Böcklin in the foreground being the brightest. The only part of death in the background that comes close to this is the fiddle—which can be perceived as a mortal instrument, much like Böcklin himself. The paint strokes are well blended on the subject in the foreground, but not quite so on the subject in the background. This helps to give the allusion that death is waiting.
Denise Poncher before a Vision of Death, Master of the Chronique scandaleuse, 1500, From the collection of: The J. Paul Getty Museum
This piece is interesting because the colors are very vibrant and bright, except for those used on the personification of death. In this case, death is a skeleton carrying four scythes, and his colorization is very dark, drab and muddy. This helps to show the decay, and the stark difference between those living and that which does not. The subjects in the foreground are extremely detailed, perhaps with death being the most which helps make him the focal point of this piece.
The Garden of Death, Hugo Simberg, 1896, From the collection of: Ateneum Art Museum
In this work by Simberg, the concept of the Garden of Death is depicted. The robed skeletons that lovingly cultivate various plants and such clearly represent death. This helps to facilitate the idea of life and death as they grow things. The colors of this piece are very interesting as the plants and space are very bright golds, reds, and otherwise. There is, once again, a stark contrast between that which represents life in this piece and death: the skeletons’ robes are black, and their skeletons are the traditional white.
Page from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer, -1285/-1285, From the collection of: British Museum
In this piece, death is represented by the god Anubis. This piece depicts Hunefer’s mummy, which is being supported by Anubis. In other pages that continue this scene, Anubis leads Hunefer to be judged. However, in this piece the colors are very vibrant and the humans, Anubis, and the mummy all share the same colorization—except for Anubis’s skin tone, which is much lighter than those who are mortal. The lines are simple, and with the visual clues one can easily read the story as it unfolds.
Dance of Shiva and Kali, Unknown, Indian, 1778/1882, From the collection of: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Here we have the Hindu god Kali dancing on the right for Shiva. In this particular piece, Kali represents death and destruction. Kali is said to dance at the end of an age, to destroy. The colors here are very bright. The background is green and Shiva is depicted as very light and fair while Kali is very dark. This helps to show the signification in the philosophy that the darkness existed before the light, and while the two contrast there cannot be one without the other.
Death and the Woodcutter, 2nd plate (La Mort de le bucheron), Alphonse Legros, 1837/1911, From the collection of: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
In this work by Legros, death is shown as a robed figure with a scythe coming to collect the aged woodcutter. Death isn’t represented by a skeleton or anything like that in this piece, but rather a bald and mysterious man or being. There are no real colors in this piece, as it is black and white, but the line work of the sketching clearly places detailed emphasis on death, the woodcutter, and the pieces in the foreground. The background is much more loose in its line work and uses a fair amount of negative space to help pull in the eye.
Credits: All media
This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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