Comparative Essay: Diaz and O'Keefe

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Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña painted a landscape called Forest Pool in 1862, and Georgia O’Keeffe painted a landscape called Pink Moon Over Water in 1924. These painters from two different countries and periods in time each had a similar goal in mind: to express themselves in their work. Through their use of composition, color, light and space the artists convey to the viewer a sense of their time through the values their paintings depict; Diaz’s emphasis is placed on the imagination and emotions of the artist in a surreal yet realistic setting, while O’Keeffe’s focus was on her personal view of the world and a rejection of reality. Forest Pool portrays a forest interior where the sun has penetrated the thick canopy of leaves and shines onto a pool of dark water, which also reflects the surrounding trees. The dense forest stretches far into the background of the painting where a patch of light hints at the possibility of a clearing. A lone man appears among the trees and bushes, perhaps gathering wood or food to return to an unseen family. Diaz painted Forest Pool during the time of Romanticism, when realism was a popular and valued trait in French works (Stokstad and Cothren, 2011, p. 944). The painting gives the viewer the sense of a real geographical location, untouched by the reach of humanity save for a single man. The painting depicts a kind of utopia during a time when forests were being harvested to feed the human desire for expansion. Romanticism occurred on the tail end of the European Industrial Revolution and considered a scene such as Forest Pool’s to be idealist and surreal, as it was rare to find such a place in nature.

Pink Moon Over Water, on the other hand, depicts rolling hills that rise up in front of a large body of water. An oblong pink moon hovers over and is reflected by the dark water, which merges with the sky. There are no signs of human or animal life in Pink Moon Over Water. All vegetation that could be growing on the hills appears to blend together into different shades of green. The landscape is almost otherworldly and appears to be removed from any reality possible on Earh. O’Keeffe painted the piece during the start of the era of Modernism, which usually rejects the idea of realism (Stokstad and Cothren, 2011, p. 1040). Instead of real or natural scenes, geometric shapes, bright color and abstract forms are used in Modernism to construct the artist’s view of their scene.

Modernism began in both Europe and America at the start of the twentieth century and continues into the present day. Early Modernism was influenced by the technological and scientific discoveries of the time, such as “…the first powered flight (1903); the mass manufacture of automobiles (1909); …the development of television (1926) and the jet engine (1937), to mention only a few” (Stokstad and Cothren, 2011, p. 1018). These advances, coupled with the horrors of World War I, fueled the pieces of the early Modern era; artists were encouraged to create their work based on how they viewed the world, in opposition to the idealistic view of the Romanticism.

Romanticism placed value in the emotion of the artist and of their work. It was not uncommon for the spirit of a Romantic era painting to be that of melancholy or terror, despite the movement’s name (Stokstad and Cothren, 2011, p. 915). Romanticism “…celebrates the individual and the subjective” (Stokstad and Cothren, 2011, p. 915) and focuses on the imagination of the painter along with the realism with which he presents his work. Nature was a typical subject of Romantic paintings, as is seen in Forest Pool: scenes were portrayed with a natural energy, and limited human interference provided the viewer a glimpse of the artist’s fictitious world (Stokstad and Cothren, 2011, p. 910).

Forest Pool’s composition is complex in comparison to that of Pink Moon Over Water. The placement of the trees around the water is true to how one might imagine they would grow in...
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