June 10, 2003
Really looking

Ever since I was a kid I've liked this painting by Picasso, which I found

here. I just think it's really clever, and moving.


And I guess, thinking about it, that one of the purposes of this blog is to make myself look at paintings that I like more carefully, and to work out, e.g., why I like them, and how the guy did what he did.

I'm certainly not alone in liking this picture. It's one of Picasso's greatest hits, one of the ones that millions of people like. Do a google for "Picasso" "Woman Crying" and you get plenty of stuff to check out.

For example here, I found this:


And here, I found this:


As I say, a very popular picture. Those are copies of this painting done by schoolchildren.

It says everything about my skill at looking at pictures that until I took a hard look at this picture a day ago, I never got how Picasso really did the handkerchief. Instead of making it like a regular white handkerchief, he made it white by making it transparent, but in black and white instead of colour. I literally had never seen this properly. I had just gaped at the whole thing, the general effect, and you know, liked it, and thought she looked very sad. But if you had asked me to reproduce this picture, the way the kids who did these copies reproduced it, I'd have got absolutely nowhere. I have yet to scrutinise it remotely as thoroughly as they did. If I did, I'm sure I'd have at least another dozen wonders to recount.

They didn't get her right though. The original is miles more exact, miles better. The draughtsman has her looking startled, and the computer graphics guy only has her going through the motions, as if she were at a funeral. Comparing the original with these copies also made me look at the original much more carefully, and see its virtues by seeing the differences.

The hat adds to the effect, I think. It does indeed suggest a funeral, rather than just a regular sad circumstance. And by having the woman dressed more formally, it makes the extreme … "informality" isn't the word … more like non- or anti-formality of her grief all the more potent, by contrast.

And then there's that characteristic twentieth century thing of the painting being very, very obviously a painting, very obviously not a photograph, and yet packing an emotional punch which draws you in past the obvious non-realism (for example the excessive colourfulness) of what you are looking at, right into the drama. I think it is this contrast which makes this painting such a popular favourite. The painting is both intensely artificial and intensely real.

Such are my thoughts on "Woman Crying".

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:33 PM
Category: Painting