Twentieth Century Art Comparisons: Schiele, Kahlo, Duchamp

Three artists who have represented the figure in three very different ways are Egon Schiele, Marcel Duchamp, and Frida Kahlo. Each artist represents their own style through the themes of Expressionism, Abstraction, and Fantasy. Schiele represents the expressionist movement, and is well known for his erotic depiction of the female nude in a very innovative way. Duchamp depicts the female nude with a “humorous attack on the Futurist proscriptions against traditional, Academic Nudity” (Art Across Time, Second Addition, pg. 899).

Kahlo a mexican artist describes painting herself as, “I paint myself because I am so often alone, and because I am the subject I know best” (The Artist Revealed, pg. 237). Three artists with very unlike reasons for painting the female nude, in three different styles; Schiele and Kahlo were driven by emotion, alienation and hate. Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (1912, oil on canvas) however was driven by conceptual ideas that also drove the Dadaist movement. These three artists are some of the most significant figures within their styles, and also share the drive to create within their different themes of art.

Egon Schiele’s Semi-Nude Girl Reclining (1911, gouache, watercolor, and pencil with white heightening) is a perfect example of his typical stylistic elements in his nude drawings. His mark and expressive strokes are what establish Schiele’s style. The white that surrounds the figure is another mark of Schiele’s style that almost kind of traps the figure in the space she is in. This particular work is less erotic then his more known female nudes but still represents the female in the same kind of fashion.

Although not shown here Schiele produced many self portraits, like Kahlo that have the same feel as his Semi-Nude Girl Reclining. They all give off a feeling of alienation, and emotion. Schiele’s treatment of the formal elements are what differ from Kahlo’s figure, however Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, although it is painted in futurist/cubist style, some of the formal elements, like the line and handling of color, and composition are similar.

In Schiele’s piece his mark and line weight vary, which is very similar to Duchamp’s treatment of the figure but in a different way. It is interesting to see how the elements of each are similar and yet represent something totally different. Schiele’s figure is much more based on emotional expression, similar to Kahlo’s Henry Ford Hospital (1932, oil on metal), but different from Duchamp’s work.

Duchamp’s abstract representation of the figure is more of a reaction piece, which is what Dadaism is about. According to an online article written by Amy and Karl Olsen, Duchamp was a, “French painter and theorist, a major proponent of DADA, and one of the most influential figures of avant-garde 20th-century art.” Duchamp more famously known for his readymades, makes a sort of joke with this piece and yet it stands as a successful work of art, minus the intended “humorous attack”. Kahlo and Duchamp kind of share a similar importance in their movements with conceptual ideas. Unlike Schiele, Duchamp and Kahlo seem to be a little more motivated with their ideas beyond the artistic medium.

In Theories of Modern Art, Duchamp talks about how he feels there is no connection between Nude Descending a Staircase, and Futurism. Even though Duchamp didn’t intend for it to have any connection, the formal elements suggest the combination of both futuristic and cubism styles. However he does say, “my interest in painting the Nude was closer to the cubists’ interest in decomposing forms than to the futurists’ interest in suggesting movement…” (pg. 393). I think Duchamp’s particular piece is interesting to look at in comparison to Schiele and Kahlo’s works because Duchamps looks like a certain style but is meant to represent something else, which is very unlike the other two artists.

The theme that Duchamp’s piece follows I would say is technology, because even though Duchamp insists it has nothing to do with Futurism it resembles the idea of futurism showing movement, and that style was influenced by technology, particularly the technology of the camera. Even the title of Duchamp’s work includes the theme of movement, in Descending, so in a way his piece has a kind of irony to it, unlike Kahlo and Schiele’s pieces.

Kahlo’s piece is the most different when looking at the formal elements of the work. Also unlike the other two artists her piece is a self portrait, and in Henry Ford Hospital she paints herself nude with a angst ridden fantasy. Kahlo has a more “realistic” approach to her painting. Kahlo’s painting is directly linked to her life experiences. Art Annotations, an online article talks about her painting in relation to her experiences, “Kahlo painted Henry Ford Hospital immediately after she was released from the hospital following this second of her three miscarriages.”

Kahlo was very motivated by her emotional state, especially in this very disturbing work of art. Kahlo is known for painting many self portraits, similar to Schiele who also painted many. Kahlo’s work is very powered by emotion, and you can see in this particular piece although connected to many objects she still has a feeling of alienation, and the painting is filled with pain. Kahlo, Schiele, and Duchamp all depict the figure with their personal expression, and ideas which create all really different but important pieces in their bodies of work.

Each artist is driven by personal motives, and each artist has created powerful representations of the figure, either visually, emotionally, or conceptually. Schiele, Duchamp and Kahlo are all distinctly different in style, and yet they all play a major roll during the artistic movements of their time. These pieces are all created by what has driven each artist personally. It is interesting to look at what it is that drove them to create the figures in the way they did, and how they aesthetically are represented to fit with the artist and movement.

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