1.7.6 Figurative Art

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Weeping Woman, Picasso
Man pointing, Giacometti

The term ‘Figurative Art’has been particularly used since the arrival of abstract art to refer to artists that retain aspects of the real world as their subject matter, though in a general sense figurative also applies retrospectively to all art before abstract art.

Modern figurative art can be seen as distinct from modern realism in that figurative art uses modern idioms, while modern realists work in styles predating post-impressionism (more or less). In fact, modern figurative art is more or less identical with the general current of expressionism that can be traced through the twentieth century and on.

Picasso after about 1920 is the great exemplar of modern figurative painting, and Alberto Giacometti from about 1940 is the great figurative sculptor. After the Second World War figuration can be tracked through the work of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and the other artists of the School of London, and through pop art, neo-expressionism, and new spirit painting.


Weeping Woman is based on an image of a woman holding her dead child. It is taken from Picasso’s anti-war mural, Guernica. Picasso painted both works during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). It was in response to the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica. The attack was carried out in April 1937 by Nazi Germany’s air force, in support of Spain’s Nationalist forces. Hundreds of people were killed. The figure of the Weeping Woman is based on artist and photographer Dora Maar. Maar photographed Picasso’s making of Guernica.
[Source: tate.org.uk]

Image source: tate.org.uk
Weeping Woman1937Oil/CanvasPortrait
Picasso, Pablo1881-1973, aged 91Spanish sculptorFigurative art
LOCATION:SIZE (cms): [1760-11]

Tate Galleries61 x 50

Image source: tate.org.uk
Man Pointing: Giacometti lived and worked mainly in Paris but regularly visited his hometown Borgonovo to see his family and work on his art.

His early work was particularly influenced by artistic styles such as Cubism and Surrealism. Philosophical questions about the human condition, as well as existential and phenomenological debates played a significant role in his work.

Around 1935 he gave up on his Surrealistic influences and pursued a more deepened analysis of figurative compositions.
[Source: tate.org.uk]

Frail yet erect, a man gestures with his left arm and points with his right. We have no idea what he points to, or why. Anonymous and alone, he is also almost a skeleton. For the Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, in fact, Giacometti’s sculpture was always halfway between nothingness and being. [Source: moma.org]
Man pointing1947BronzeSculpture
Giacometti, Alberto 1901-1966, aged 65Swiss sculptor/ painterFigurative sculpture
Tate Galleries179 x 103 x 42

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