This is a new series by Artist/historian James Payne demystifying great works of art. We will be adding to this page as the content is produced. Subscribe To Great Artworks Explained Here
Frida Kahlo is the most famous female artist in history. She deviated from the traditional portrayal of female beauty in art, and instead chose to paint raw and honest experiences. A near fatal bus accident at 18 left Frida crippled and in chronic pain her whole life, but she managed to make a virtue out of adversity, and astonishing original art out of her pain. She was a Mexican, female artist who was disabled, in a male-dominated environment in post-revolutionary Mexico. A feminist icon who broke all social conventions, and produced some of the most haunting and visionary images of the 20th century.
In The Two Fridas, Kahlo explores multiple identities. Great Art Explained looks at the context in which this painting was created, and the numerous sources and influences. We discover that although Frida Kahlo’s work is uniquely her own, like her, it emerged from multiple hybrid sources.
The Raft of the Medusa was painted only two years after the French frigate, the Medusa sank. The lifeboats were full, so the lower classes and a handful of the crew had to build their own makeshift raft for 147 people which drifted away on a bloody 13-day odyssey. On the very first night adrift, 20 men were murdered, and by the fourth day, there were only 67 people left alive. They had resorted to murder and cannibalism to survive. When the raft was found 13 days later, only 15 of the original one hundred and forty-seven had survived. This is the story about the painting of that raft, which shook the world and scandalised high society. Not only for its anti-royalist statements. Slavery would not be fully abolished in France until 1848. Yet in The Raft of the Medusa painted 30 years earlier, Géricault chose a black man as the painting’s hero. Find out why in “Great Art Explained”.
Michelangelo’s David is the most famous statue in the world. From the moment it was unveiled, it was hailed as a masterpiece and a symbol of Florence. As the Italian 16th century historian, Giorgio Vasari wrote: “After seeing this no one need wish to look at any other sculpture or the work of any other artist.” All over the world we are seeing that statues have power beyond their initial reading. One man’s hero is another man’s symbol of oppression. Michelangelo’s David has had its fair share of controversies but has always been on the side of the oppressed, the underdog. David represents the power to overcome adversity in the face of insurmountable odds. And we can all relate to that. James Payne takes another look at a work of art that we have become so familiar with that we have forgotten how revolutionary it is. The story of Michelangelo’s David is anything but the story of a teenage boy king who slew Goliath.
Guernica is the most famous anti-war painting in history, and Picasso’s best-known work. It has gone from a piece that was created in protest at the horrific bombing of a small village in northern Spain, to an icon and a universal symbol of freedom from ALL wars. Picasso said, “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth”, and like so much of Picasso’s work it can be difficult to decipher the ‘truth’ in the political, artistic and religious symbolism. James Payne looks at some of the more acknowledged interpretations along with techniques, composition and artistic inspiration. Guernica is a masterpiece that always leaves the viewer with more than they brought to it, and here, Great Art Explained, traces the work from its underwhelming reception when first seen in 1937, through to its status over eighty years later as one of the most influential and iconic works of all time.
“For centuries a 500-year old portrait of a Florentine Merchant’s wife has captivated the world. She has inspired poetry, songs and countless artists. She is an icon, a brand and a ‘superstar’ who is visited by six million ‘fans’ a year. Artlyst contributor James Payne takes a fresh look behind the hype and celebrity status of The Mona Lisa to discover a revolutionary painting that not only transformed the face of art but also changed the rules. A painting so ahead of its time that centuries later we are still trying to figure it out”. – James Payne
Watch Episode #1 Below