What the Most Famous Paintings of Prominent Artists Really Mean
The baffling world of modern art may look puzzling since the artists’ main ideas are not obvious in each masterpiece. But you’ll be definitely interested to know what the artists were trying to say while creating their works of art, because collectors pay huge sums of money for the works of modern artists and millions of tourists are ready to spend hours in lines to be able to have a look at these masterpieces.
Bright Side has attempted to “decrypt” the hidden meanings of the most famous paintings. And they’re not that clear or obvious, by the way. So keep that in mind.
Lactulose, Damien Hirst, 2017
Damien Hirst, from Great Britain, is the wealthiest artist in the world. He’s been experimenting with colored circles for 25 years — it’s his brand. He uses them to talk about death.
The thing is, these are not just spots, but homeopathic pills. The artist is preoccupied with health in our modern society. The titles for his paintings created in his Spot painting technique were taken from the Sigma-Aldrich Catalog of Chemical Compounds.
The titles are grouped according to the type of medicine. The largest group are pharmaceutical products. Spot colors correspond to the letters in the formulas of psychoactive substances.
The Two Fridas, Frida Kahlo, 1939
The Two Fridas is kind of an autobiography of the most famous Mexican artist. By the way, all of her paintings are self-portraits.
According to the most common interpretation, this particular painting depicts a tragic event in Frida’s life — the breakup with her husband, artist Diego Rivera. The painting was finished in 1939, soon after their divorce. There are 2 Fridas, 2 different images, depicted. On the right, there is the Frida Diego used to love, on the left, there’s the Frida he betrayed. She’s trying to show the difference between her love and their close ties that remain, even after the divorce, and her deep loneliness and broken heart.
Walk, Marc Chagall, 1917–1918
Walk is one of the most famous of Chagall’s works. The artist’s paintings are also autobiographical, so the man and woman depicted in Walk are the artist himself and his wife Bella. He’s standing on the ground, she’s floating in the sky, but they’re together. Despite the distance, they’re holding hands, and overcoming the laws of gravity.
Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement, Joan Miró, 1935
This painting is one of 12 works created by the Catalan artist Joan Miró during civil disorder in Spain. At first glance, it’s completely unclear who these scary dancing beasts are. But we immediately notice the bright colors that contrast with the black apocalyptic background.
In fact, the artist wanted to show the horror of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939.) The pile of excrement in the bright yellow color are fascist ambitions, the dark orange area represents the victims of the war, and the red hands are blood.
Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, Paul Gauguin, 1897–1898
From the beginning of his career, Paul Gauguin had wanted to depict his thoughts about life and death. In 1897, he started working on Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, and by the end of December, the work was finished.
The painting should be read from right to left, as if it were an ancient sacred scroll. There are 3 major figure groups. Young women with a sleeping baby illustrate the beginning of life. Another group symbolizes the daily existence of young adulthood. In the final group, an old lady approaching death is the symbol of impending doom.
Campbell’s Soup Cans, Andy Warhol, 1962
Andy Warhol is an American artist and an iconic person in the history of pop art. His works are minimalistic: he used to create objects in the simplest and most easily recognizable forms. Let’s have a look at his popular Campbell’s Soup Cans.
In 1949, Warhol got his bachelor’s degree and started looking for a source of inspiration, trying to create something that had never existed before. The artist used to experiment a lot before he got a tip from interior decorator Muriel Latow, “Paint something you see every day and something that everybody would recognize. Something like a can of Campbell’s Soup.” So this is how the story of the painting began.
Birkenau, Gerhard Richter, 2014
The abstract Birkenau series is the work of modern artist Gerhard Richter and is devoted to concentration camp prisoners. The artist was impressed by photos of corpses from 1944, which were being prepared for cremation.
Richter projected the photos on his canvas, then he applied paint, layer by layer, to create an exact form of the mountain of corpses and the other parts of nature, depicted in a series of photos taken in Birkenau.
Orange, Red, Yellow, Mark Rothko, 1961
Orange, Red, Yellow is a painting by American artist Mark Rothko created in 1961. In 2012, it was sold for $86 million at an auction.
In fact, we don’t have to look for any hidden meanings or images in Rothko’s works. We need to perceive them in a different way: focus on your feeling that this or that color in the painting causes. The artist’s aim was to let people experience all emotions, illustrated in the depth of the colors.
The Three Ages of Woman, Gustav Klimt, 1905
The Three Ages of Woman is one of the most recognizable works of the Austrian artist. In 1911, it won a gold medal during an international exhibition in Rome.
The painting is the brightest example of Klimt’s symbolic works. On the right, there’s a little girl, in the middle, there’s a woman holding this girl, and on the left, there’s an old lady trying to hide her face. The more we look at this art, the more we are sure that it’s not 3 generations from one family, it’s one and the same woman during the different stages of her life. The work symbolizes a life cycle.
Café Terrace at Night, Vincent van Gogh, 1888
At first glance, we don’t notice anything unusual in this painting. But researcher Jared Baxter, who used to study the artist’s works, said that the painting might be an allusion to The Last Supper.
If we have a closer look, we can see a waiter in a white tunic dress standing in the middle. He’s surrounded by 12 people and there’s a cross shine in the background of the composition.
What were you thinking about while looking at these paintings?