Seeing Red

As consumers of art, we have come to associate the color red as a symbol of fervor and passion.  This passion manifests itself in an array of human emotion from rage to love, strength and leadership, even sacrifice and religious devotion.  This collection features pieces from no specific period, rather selections from various times that show how one color can evoke different emotions and how each artist manipulates different shades to tell their own story.  Though recurring themes exists throughout, each work has different function, as well as individual depth of emotion. 

MATERNAL, pt. I Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg, queen of France, and her children is an oil on canvas painted during the Rococo period. The story behind this painting is notorious. Antoinette, with waning public opinion, commissioned Vigée-Lebrun to paint her in a different light. Shown here with her children, the use of the color red conveys a maternal quality. The setting is Versailles, yet the background is not as detail and ornamented and pictures suggest. The artist purposefully leaves out the extravagance of the palace to emphasize the queen in a tender moment with her children.
MATERNAL, pt. II Lucca Madonna is an oil on panel by Jan van Eyck, credited as the inventor of the medium, and was painted in 1436 during the early Renaissance period. The mother Mary shown here on the iconic Throne of Wisdom, providing nourishment for a would be savior, is drape in a warm red gown. Like the portrait of Marie Antoinette, the color red symbolizes the maternal bond between mother and child, Mary and Jesus Christ. The artist is able imply several textures and through the use of brushstroke from the pattern on the plush throne to the lush velvet like quality of her gown. Van Eyck create a window in the room and paints a directional light that emphasize the Madonna.
DEATH, pt. I The Last Day of Pompeii is an oil on canvas painted by Karl Bryullov ca. 180-1833 during the Romantic period. The scene depicts the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The reds paint the literal fire and molten rock raining down upon the unsuspected, but also conveys an impending doom. In this very detailed scene, the artists gives the viewer variety, as one can look in each corner and see a different action. Every character is in an emotive pose, which is characteristic of the period.
LOVE, pt. I Munch’s Red and White is an oil on canvas painted in 1894 during the Impressionist period. In simplified line and form, the artist sets a scene of two women standing among trees against the water. The title suggests that these two women are complimentary and opposing force. It is through the use of color that the artist tells the story. The woman in red, facing the front, symbolizes an immediate passion. The woman is white, turning away, symbolizes the purity of a chaste love.
MATERNAL, pt. III Little Madonna with a donkey is an oil on panel and was painted by Miloš Alexander Bazovsky in 1941 during the Abstract Expressionist movement. In this abstract depiction of the Virgin Mary, the artist implies different textures from the donkey’s hair in the background to the spotted pattern on the Madonna’s cloak. Outside of the halos, at first glance, one might overlook the religious context of the piece. There is no discernable setting or background, rather the artist uses line to depict the shape of a donkey behind the figure of a woman. The color of her skin tone is green. As it is complimentary, the use of the green helps to bring out the importance of the red in piece. The religious symbolism is recognized in the color red, as it represents the maternal bond between Mary and Jesus.
DEATH, pt. II Untitled (Santiniketan Triptych) is an oil on canvas painted by Tyeb Mehta in 1986-1987. The artist approaches the subject of death through a celebration of life. The artist is able to set the scene using only simplified lines and shapes. There is a rhythm that is created by the people in the background dancing and playing instruments as they are witnessing a person’s final moments. In the center, through the artist’s use of color, we see the transformation from life to death.
LOVE, pt. II Tender Embrace is an oil on canvas painted by Arab artist Saud Al Attar in 2000. Through the pairing of color and texture, the artist uses large layered brushstrokes with dark reds and browns to create an “atmospheric fuzz” that evokes a sense of discord, which sets the backdrop for a tried love. The use of chiaroscuro, a nod to classical masters, emphasizes the emotion of the piece, the sadness in woman’s face, casting a shadow over the man. Reference: Bonhams. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2015, from
CONFLICT, pt. I Wang Guangle, 121101 is an acrylic on canvas painted in 2012 by Chinese artist Wang Guangle. The artist creates tension with use of color with red against the complimentary green. This use of gradient gives a forced perspective giving the piece a depth of three dimensional space on a two dimensional medium.
CONFLICT, pt. II Senatus Populusque Romanus, Latin for the Senate and people of Rome, in an acrylic on canvas painted by Markus Prachensky in 2004. Through the use of line, the artist creates a figure the viewer can recognize as a column, from classical antiquity. The artist's use of deliberately large brushstrokes along with paint splatter show the drama in the peice, perhaps referring to the fall of Rome.
DEATH, pt. III Whakapapa Birth & Death is an oil on canvas painted by Robin Kahukiwa in 2005. The artist gives the viewer a sense of rhythm that flows from one corner to the next in the actions of people. The artist is able to convey life and death through the use of color and light, as well as balance is created as life is depicted in daylight on the upper left, and death at night on the right. There also is a real sense of variety as the piece can be sectioned off and each quadrant could stand on its own. Together, the sections tell a complete story.
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