Critique by Comparison


Picasso and Tamara

Picasso stein.jpg (35594 bytes)Picasso is said to have worked extremely hard on this very famous portrait of Gertrude Stein taking many sittings and then revising it without the model a year later. Here we have an utterly conventional portrait in both technique and composition. The face and hands are solid although the rest is far less finished.

The eyes and part of the mouth are like decals that have been transferred to a solid head which looks like it was sculpted in rough, carelessly tinted plaster. The wig looks like a mud flap that is beginning to slide down the face along the side of a flat pancake ear. Unable to realistically separate the background and the cheek, Picasso drew a brown line around it.

In order to get the best overview of the rest of this painting, cover the face with a scrap of paper torn to fit over it and look at the remainder of the picture. Note the "brown sauce" effect, which is a term accusingly used to point out a characteristic of academic monotony. The solidity of the head and hands give way to a body which is little more than an amorphous brown blob. Under a little scrutiny the background deteriorates into a lot of dry brownish crudely blended schmier. Even the color is terrible and doesn’t display Picasso’s colorist’s skill.

I firmly believe that if this painting were judged on the basis of merit rather than the coveted Picasso signature its would hang ignored in some college hallway along with all those lessor portraits of esteemed worthies.

lempic madam M.jpg (36907 bytes)Most here are already familiar with Tamara de Lempicka's work because her paintings are starting to be reproduced all over the place. Like Bouguereau it is not the work but the artist’s name which is largely unfamiliar. You might want to take a look at Tamara’s other work reproduced on Brian Yoder's web page at

In my opinion Tamara succeeds in portraits that have an aim similar to Picasso's failures. They are more original, complete, better drawn, colored and composed than anything Picasso ever attempted in the portrait line. While I don't think they rank with the masters, they are fine competent work which few students or accomplished artists can imitate. They exhibit the skill and technique which Picasso lacks even though they are done with similar intentions (creating a portrait in a modern style while abstracting and simplifying some elements and using a modern palette). Best of all they are beautiful and never contain those scratchy areas of flat schmiery ugliness and unfinish so common in even the best of Picasso’s.

For all those who like to make believe that anyone who doesn’t like Modern Academic Art doesn’t like anything modern, Tamara’s works might serve as a starting point. Compare these to other Picasso portraits. Compare the technique composition drawing and color. You might then find that Picasso isn't really what he's hyped up to be.

You probably won't see Tamar's work in museums (along with hundreds of other fine artists) because it doesn’t conform to present fashion. In her time Tamara had a top reputation. She is now regaining popularity because viewers sense her skill regardless of their unfamiliarity with the name.

The real test for art is whether people like it.
It does not require any flattering Artspeak.


Some of My Work
Advice for Students
No Skill No Art
An Example of Artspeak
Raising Prices
Behind the behind
Parody and Laughter as Criticism
Critique by Comparison
Good and Evil
Modern Artists I Like
Any Comments?

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Copyright 1997-2002 Mani de Li
Modern Art, Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Pollock, de Kooning, Johns, Rothko, Miro, Warhol, Cezanne, Kline, Chagall, Dali, Greenberg, Bauhaus, Barnet Newman, Calder, Castelli, Dubuffet, Duchamp, Gorkey, Guston, Kandinsky, Hans Hofmann, Clement Greenberg, Paul Klee, Motherwell