Sunday, June 3, 2007

Giuseppe de Nittis: "Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt"


I would like to analyze this Giuseppe de Nittis portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, a famous French actress in the second half of the 19th century.

Pierrot is a sad figure, and sadness is what the face of the stander expresses. It is interesting to notice that this is the only visible body part: all else is covered by the luscious costume. This is the first detail that encourages the viewer to look at the face before anything else.

The second is the geometry of the apparel: its form, together with the hat point towards the facial expression; the third is the color - amidst the white and grey tones, the skin and hair of the actress stand out and draw immediate attention. The posture also proves a contribution, as when she lifts her shoulders up and sinks her head into the jabot, it is forced closer to the (golden) center of the painting. Indeed, the forcefulness of this bodily movement endows the piece with additional drama.

I think that the enormous buttons play the symbolical role of tears. As the stander looks to the right, the buttons - tears - flow to the left and accentuate Pierot's inner tension. The richness of the brightly lit costume opposed the the shaded countenance emphasize the turmoil even more. This is an intense and riveting portrait.

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