Introduction

 

This comparison will look at Henry Moore’s, Woman Seated in the Underground, (Figure
1, 1941) and Pablo Picasso’s, Bullfight
Scene (Figure 2, 1960).

 

Picasso’s drawing was completed in ink on paper (480 by 623
mm in size) and depicts the picador, on his horse, lancing a bull. The focus is
not on fine detail, but rather on the motion and form of the figures; the image
is a still frame capturing the energy of the moment. A variety of tones are achieved
by watering down ink, which breaks up the figures into more descriptive forms,
as opposed to a solid silhouette.

This drawing is the tenth of the
fourteen produced that day (25/02/1960), which depict the different stages of
the bullfight.

 

Moore’s drawing portrays a woman seated in the London
underground during the events of the Blitz. A much wider variety of media was
used including: gouache, ink, watercolour and crayon on paper (483 by 381 mm in
size); however it is also a completed work, part of a series of drawings produced
under commission of the War Artists Advisory Committee. The figure itself
holds no facial features or expression; the atmosphere is portrayed primarily through
the media and line. Body language is another detail that
exemplifies the tone of the drawing. In the background we see a mass of people, ghosted in white crayon.
The sombre mood is enforced by Moore’s use of pastel greys and dulled
watercolours.

 

The drawings differ on many points. They express very different
visual languages through their choice of media, which is also influenced by the
type of drawing and more by the environment they were produced in and for what
purpose. However both artists avoid naturalistic detail in favour of media and
composition to describe their respective scenes. The artists have generated drawings
with emotion and meaning without having to directly reproduce reality. I am
arguing the necessity of true-to-life detail, achieved by a medium like photography,
to successfully portray a scene. In addition I will break down the
interpretation of the works from outside the artists perspective and how
successful the drawings translated their subjects.

 

 

Comparison

 

(Visual Language Analysis)

Majority of Moore’s shelter drawings depict groups of
shelterer’s, however here a lone woman sits apart, “Anxiously clasping her
hands” (Tate, 2004) sitting in an upright position, inferring alertness. Texture
is a large part of Moore’s drawing: “Network of nervous, scratchy lines that
describe the figure” (Tate, 2004), “In texture and colour the paper resembles a
slab of weathered concrete,” (Ashford, 2007). The texture and dulled colour perfectly
encapsulates the atmosphere of Moore’s Underground world – Moore used Pen, ink
and predominantly the wax-resist technique with watercolour in both his sketchbook
and finished drawings (Moore, 1988, pp.12). The tension is very much felt
observing the drawing; you feel sympathy for the heavily swaddled shelterers.

Moore emphasised that he never made drawings in the
Underground – “It would have been like making sketches in the hold of a slave
ship” (Moore, 1988, pp.10) – not wanting to unnerve people in the
circumstances. He would make notes and reproduce them later at home – “a note
like two people sleeping under one blanket would be enough of a reminder to
enable me to make a sketch the next day.” (Moore, 1988, pp.10) ‘A Shelter Sketchbook’ (Moore, 1988) contains
a particular sketch identical in resemblance to ‘Woman Seated in the Underground’. In this sketch the figure
contains more recognisable facial features, a decision must have been made to
remove these in the final drawing. “Moore’s interpretation was… somewhat
removed from the average shelterer’s own experience… His featureless sleepers
are all doomed and haunted… To him it is the collective pattern and not the
individual experience that is of importance.” (Newton, 1945, pp.9) Newton
states that Moore’s Shelter drawings form a collective, not focused on individuals
that can be recognised, but the collective suffering of a nation.

Moore found inspiration in the Underground mimicking his
sculptural eye – “I had never seen so many rows of reclining figures (referring
to his series of reclining nude sculptures) and even the holes, out of which
the trains were coming seemed to me to be like the, holes in my sculpture.”
(Moore, 1988, pp.9) Frances Carey goes further to say “The whole meaning and
substance of his past work is implicit in his new work.” (Carey, 1988) exemplifying
the influence of his sculptural work. Moore’s Underground figures have been
compared to “the casts of victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius at Pompeii.”(Phaidon,
2013) Almost sculptures themselves and similarly a faceless community, facing a
harrowing experience.

 

In 1960 Picasso would have been 79, yet he became more
productive in his later years, producing a larger volume and variety of work
(Penrose and Golding, 1981, pp.127) – The use of simply ink on paper in figure
2 supports this, the medium allows for a faster work rate. Picasso and Moore
used their subjects, depicted in Figures 1 and 2, to continue producing work in
times when the artists could be seen to be a transition to new stages in their
lives. Although Moore’s works were commissioned they still are very much an
extension of his sculptural work. Picasso’s however did not develop his
drawings as Moore did; instead we see a production of quantity.

It is evident Picasso used a brush with ink – this motion, of
the brush, mimics the direction of movement, particularly in the bull’s tail.
The ink was watered down to achieve a variety of tones, breaking apart the
figures making the forms more distinguishable. The scaling of the bull and the
receding matador in the background creates a sense of depth in a simplistic
drawing.

The Tate summary of Picasso’s drawing reads: ‘Bullfight Scene’ illustrates a dramatic
moment in which the picador spears the bull as it charges, while the matador
stands in the background, ready to step in for the final phase of the killing
to begin.” (Bottinelli, 2004) – Which gives adequate context to begin to decode
the image. However looking at the whole series, a narrative is evident; However
“many of them having been drawn before going to the corrida and made up of
memories of previous corridas – drawn, as Picasso has said, to earn his
admission to the arena” (Sabartés, 1961. pp.54) Sabartés tells us the drawings
do not strictly follow a specific narrative, yet still depict the sequential
stages of the bullfight.

Picasso and Moore’s visual Languages differ greatly. Both
artists are recreating a scene, but the artist’s processes are very different –
this could be attributed to Moore’s sculptural background and his new exploration
of drawing as an end of its own; versus Picasso who “felt to be active is to be
alive” (Penrose and Golding, 1981, pp.127). In addition Moore was producing
finished works for his War Artist Commission, as opposed to Picasso who
practised his drawing to fill his life, recording his days.

 

 

(Understanding the ‘truth’)

Artist Henri Matisse believed “there is an inherent truth
which must be disengaged from the outward appearance of the object to be
represented. This is the only truth that matters.” (Flam, 1973. pp.117) A statement that is applicable to both Figures 1
and 2. Sabartés presents an excellent example: “No one has seen a bull
exactly as Picasso sees him… His bulls are real bulls; bulls… wild creatures, vibrant with life and incalculable strength…
the true image of a bull, translated from the artist’s memories” (Sabartés,
1961. pp.52). Sabartés emphasises the importance of Picasso’s familiarity and
passion for the subject and how that is translated into the drawings. Looking
solely at his ink drawing, it is hard to envisage the true image Picasso was
portraying. The collection of which Figure 2 is part of demonstrates a narrative
that embodies something much grander. Sabartés continues, “I do not think that
it is at all possible to compare our vision to that of Picasso. Indeed, as he
has said, no one can imagine what he sees as he has really seen it.” (Sabartés,
1961. pp.58)

Moore’s drawings were misinterpreted by the British public: Art
critic Keith Vaughan believed “The decision to give Henry Moore, a sculptor
with an exceedingly personal sense of form, the material of tube shelters… was
surely one of great foresight and courage,” (Lehmann, 1943) – however Londoners
felt “insulted” as they were excluded from the Underground world Moore was
portraying (Lehmann, 1943). David Ashford described the drawings as “alienating
imagery of immemorial long-suffering and passive endurance’ (that) subsequently
became ‘the key image … of a putative “people’s war”,” (Ashford, 2007). Vaughan
believes knowledge of Moore’s previous sculptural work was essential to fully
understand the Underground drawings (Lehmann, 1943), which could explain the
adverse reaction from the public. Vaughan continues: “I have heard people call
these drawings morbid and unreal. I do not think either criticism is justified.
The qualities they stress are not less real because they lie deeper than the
obvious and the apparent.” (Lehmann, 1943) further exemplifying the need to be
familiar with Moore’s previous work to understand his intentions. The forms he
has evolved for the presentation of the human figure have grown out of… his
materials of wood and stone.” (Lehmann, 1943) Moore’s style comes from the
translation of his Sculptural background into the medium of drawing. Another
critic wrote: “Moore has surrendered nothing… of his individual style” (Read,
1941) exemplifying that Moore was treating drawing as “an end in itself” (Hall,
1966, pp.103) – During World War Two Moore’s rented studio was damaged by the
bombing. Moore was unable to complete his sculptural work, hence turned to the
medium of drawing (Moore, 1988).

Matisse’s writing explores the idea of a deeper than the
surface understanding: “it is thus evident that the anatomical, organic
inexactitude in these drawings has not harmed the expression of the intimate
character and the inherent truth of the personality, but on the contrary has
helped clarify it.” (Flam, 1973.
pp.117-119) Matisse maintains each drawing comes from the artists understanding
of the subject, which becomes identifiable to the artist: “It is not
changed by the different conditions under which the drawing is made; on the
contrary the expression of his truth by the elasticity of its line and by its
freedom lends itself to the demands of the composition;” (Flam, 1973. pp.117-119) The ‘truth’ of the subject is not altered by
the medium. A greater knowledge is required to fully develop the understanding
of the drawing: Just as Knowledge of the bullfighting tradition supplements the
simpler ink drawing; and that an understanding of Moore’s previous sculptural work
has significantly influenced his Underground works.

 

(Themes of the Drawings)

Jean Sutherland Boggs reasons, “As an old man, Picasso could
not help but be conscious of death… The bull-fight is surely a reminder of
death,” (Penrose and Golding, 1981, pp.127) Ronald Penrose has a more developed
understanding of the bull fight theme – “The man… the horse and the bull were
all victims of an inextricable cycle of life and death… The Bull is
everlasting, it is continually replaced and becomes in this way the symbol of
the enduring force of life.” (Penrose and Golding, 1981, pp110-111) Boggs
relates Picasso’s fascination with bull fighting towards the end of his life is
foreshadowing what is to come. While Penrose believes “The work of Picasso is
above all an inquiry by visual means into the nature of that elusive thing
reality” (Penrose and Golding, 1981, pp102) suggesting the bullfight theme is
not driven by the concept of death – New characters are constantly reintroduced
(bullfighters) but bull is “everlasting”, A metaphor for his own life; Picasso
transitions to produce new styles of work but He is the constant.

The theme of death is much more apparent in Moore’s drawing,
Erich Neumann’s ideas particularly: “Increasingly “abstract” ghostly figures… the
nearly recumbent sleepers are like the dead, and how the protection afforded by
the swathing blanket is often barely distinguishable from the final security of
death. Some of the shelter drawings are not just pictures of underground caves,
but of the underworld” (Neumann, 1959, pp.80). Many critics refer to the white
wax creating the ghostly featureless figures: “spectral, skeletal, bereft of
flesh and blood.” (Phaidon, 2013) In addition many have noted, “The apparent absence
of period detail led some… to interpret such figures as timeless symbols of
fear, vulnerability and endurance.” (Tate, 2004) The idea of timelessness
further adds to the concept of ghostly, haunting, figures. Furthermore numerous
comparisons have been made to “nightmarish slave ships” (Russell, 1968, pp.81)
as if the figures are prisoners.

Moore’s recollection of the Underground is quite the
opposite: “there were intimate little touches. Children fast asleep… People who
were obviously strangers… forming tight little intimate groups.” (Moore, 1988,
pp.9) What Moore described was that of a community coming together – “They were
cut off from what was happening above, but they were aware of it.” (Moore,
1988, pp.10) The removal of individuality only reinforces the idea of a
collective, however the public had misinterpreted the concept.

Picasso’s drawing portrays the event of the bull’s death as
part of the circle of life, but it is constantly replaced; a romantic
idealisation. Moore’s drawings have been compared to ghostly remnants, timeless
reminders of the blitz and the obvious death associated with it.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Picasso’s ‘Bullfight
Scene’ and Moore’s ‘Woman Seated in
the Underground’ depict two very different scenes, yet both are only
successful in portraying their subject to an extent. Moore’s drawing is very
visual, projects the atmosphere through the texture particularly. Moore’s
sculpture background heavily influences the outcomes, however left the public
feeling misrepresented, lost in the translation of his concepts. Picasso’s
drawing is successful in capturing the scene in a simplistic vision, yet the
drawing is best seen as part of its narrative where the tradition of the bullfight
is more apparent. The drawings are a projection of the artists ‘truth’, however
they need decoding: There is conflicting debate about the themes of Picasso’s
drawing, torn between celebration of tradition or foreshadowing what is to come
in his later years. Moore was fascinated by the idea of the collective,
removing individuality from his images; he upset the British public who felt
excluded from the Underground world. In addition many critics perceived Moore’s
Underground figures as timeless symbols of pain, comparing the scenes to be
purgatory-like – quite the contrasting view to what Moore saw and intended to
show of the Underground.

The Drawings show how ‘truth’ can be reimagined to depict the
‘artist’s truth’, yet the translation may not always be so apparent, and is
subjective to the viewers understanding.