The Treatment of the Human Figure: a Travel Through Time

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The Treatment of the Human Figure: Examining Interpretations Through History

Throughout history artists have been fascinated with the human figure. Before photography was invented, painting, drawing and printmaking served as the only forms of visual documentation. It often felt the purpose of art was to capture a likeness; often the beauty of the human figure was stressed and imperfections of those who were being portrayed were minimized. Thus, here was little room for artistic expression or distortion of the human figure. However, beginning in the 19th century artists began to use the human figure as a model that could be manipulated and simplified to create captivating and intriguing artistic works as oppose to something that must mimic cosmetic beauty. Key themes in treatment of the human figure in the last two hundred years are the change from romanticized, cosmetic beauty to raw real images, the increase of the simplicity of design by breaking down the human figure into simple shapes, colors and values, and the exploration of the human figure in the context of movements such as Impressionism.

To begin, reality serves merely as a starting point for the first artists being examined, Marian Wagschal and Lucian Freud. The human figure in their works strives to capture raw, unpleasant features of the body. Wagschal puts a strong emphasizes on depicting the wrinkles, aged, and tired characteristics of her models as seen in one of her most notable works “Portariat of Judy Garfin” (1982). In this piece, she emphasizes the not so flattering features of her elderly model, a very different approach from idealized depictions found in traditional portraits. The Greek or Renaissance ideas of beauty and perfection are not an interest in her works; instead she uses the human figures to explore the complexities of human psychology. For Wagschal and Freud, the human figure is never idealized or romanticized. Freud uses a muted palette emphasizing the simplicity...
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