Hello, good to see you. Today we are going to compare two photographs by Brooke Shaden with a painting by August Ronoir. Contemporary art meets art from the 19th century. And although the weather is wonderful today, we will be thinking about the best protection against rain – the umbrella.
When was the last time you took a walk in the rain and found protection under an umbrella? Maybe you were on your own or in the arms of someone. Does Rihanna think about a walk in the rain when she sings ‘Umbrella’? Looking at the lyrics, we see that the rain can also be a symbol for a difficult time in life. And then it is good to have a friend who is there with the protective umbrella:
‚Now that it’s raining more than ever
Know that we still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella.‘
But what if, we do not need the umbrella, the protection anymore? Our three art works give us an answer. When looking at them, the following questions might be helpful.
- What do we see?
- What do the umbrellas tell us about the women?
- Which art work attracts us most?
What do we see?
In both photographs by Brooke Shaden we see a woman. She stands in a lake in ‘The world above’. Its blue meets the sky’s blue. In this blue composition, the woman balances a black umbrella on her head. Just, it is turned around.
In ‘To be prepared’ the woman stands on a bald ground. The colour of her dress matches the sky’s colour. In her hands the woman holds one umbrella. However, more umbrellas join this one. They tower up in the sky, just like a sculpture.
Umbrellas and even more umbrellas, we find them also in the painting ‘The Umbrellas’ by Auguste Renoir. The french artist made this work in the 1880s. In the left foreground, we meet a woman who is looking at us. She gathers her dress as if to protect it against the rain. In contrast to the other figures in the painting, she carries no umbrella with her.
What do the umbrellas tell us about the women?
Looking at these three art works, we can ask ourselves: Do the women need an umbrella? Let us return to ‘To be prepared’. Yes, the woman here seems to need an umbrella. However, there are many others umbrella which she does not need anymore.
Although the woman in ‘The world above’ still has the umbrella with her, she does not need it any longer. In its turned position it seems to serve more the sky then her. Still, the umbrella’s presence reminds us of its original task, to protect.
In the painting by Renoir the other people need umbrellas, but not our protagonist. An X-ray examination of the painting showed that Renoir added the umbrellas on a later point. When he started with the work, he painted in the impressionist style. Bright and loose brushstokes. We find them in the background. Take a look at the trees on the left side.
From 1885 Renoir was inspired by artists such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Renoir also started to paint more classical. He not only added the umbrellas, but also changed the dress of our woman in the foreground.
No umbrella, please
Her plain dress tells us that she belongs to the working class. But also the women in the photographs wear simple dresses.
All three women are surounded by umbrellas. They either need only a last umbrella or no one any longer. They appear strong and self-confident enough to go without this protection. Look at the man in Renoir’s painting who is just standing behind our protagonist. He seems to offer her some shelter. However, she does not even acknowledge him.
Which art work atrracts us most?
The two photographs by Brooke Shaden appear mystical. What is the woman doing in the lake? Is she dreaming? And also the other woman seems to be lost in her thoughts. Thus, although their umbrella constructions are fascinating, they appear rather distant to me.
I feel in particular attracted to Renoir’s painting. In our last post, we have been talking about figures in backview (Backviews, 30.10.2019). They guide our gaze into the art works. But the woman in the painting is turned towards us. We remina with her.
What could she say to us? Maybe that the rain is over? Or that she does not belong to the crowd behind her? That she will manage on her own although it is difficult. This is also what the women in Brook Shaden’s photographs could say to us. They remain in these mystical, rather sad sceneries. With or without an umbrella, these women need no protection, they will cope with it just so.