A new portrait of Oprah Winfrey has been unveiled in Washington, DC. It utilizes symbols used by the Old Masters and suggests an unexpected origin for the color purple.
Official portraits have a way of suppressing the spirit of their subjects beneath a thick varnish of rigid formality. They suffocate them with arrogance. Only a few painted portraits are able to bring out onto the surface of the canvas something like the inner life of the figure – the dynamism, dignity and volition that first places the figure before the easel. And then there’s Oprah.
announced this week at the Smithsonian Museum National Portrait GalleryThe Chicago-born realist created this playful, luminous full-body oil-on-linen portrait of the celebrated American talk show host, author, producer, and philanthropist. sean michael warren (Winfrey nominated her to take on the commission in spring 2021) is vibrating with boundless enthusiasm. This is Oprah. And then some.
A portrait of a man revered for his ability to communicate honestly and effortlessly and to empathize passionately with his audience throughout an increasingly divided America, a portrait whose work has the power to communicate to those who encounter it as well as others. It feels fitting to be an inspiration to. It will take months and years to come, but the entire history of portraiture lies ahead. This striking painting, which captures Winfrey in a vulnerable moment across a garden of evergreens in a tornado of purple taffeta, is more than just a static snapshot of spontaneous joy.
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Warren’s carefully constructed works provide a welcome reminder of how to read paintings in an old-fashioned style. This skill is slowly being lost in the endless onslaught of endless selfies clogging our screens. Take that dress, for example. It had to be purple. Winfrey, who rose to fame in 1985 as a co-star in Steven Spielberg’s Alice Walker novel The Color Purple (she was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for this powerful role), wore a dress. I looked back on my choices. In a speech at this week’s unveiling ceremony. “For me, the color purple is the essence of what God represents: the complexity of making the color purple and the simplicity of it,” Winfrey said.
That disconnect has defined the aura of color for centuries, especially when it comes to the so-called. tyrian purple, an ancient dye once reserved for the clothing of royalty. Distilled from ancient times from mucus secretions collected from sea snails, Purple’s Abominable Origin They were always at odds with the simple legitimacy of their symbolism.
A thread of culture can be traced through the flowing gown of a floating angel, an early oil painting on wood by Italian High Renaissance master Raphael. resurrection of christ to the elegant ruffles of Oprah’s own purple dress; The depictions, both old and new, manage to take a color saturated with discomfort and privilege and remake it as something pure and new.
symbol of peace and strength
It’s not just what Winfrey is wearing that is intriguing. She is depicted holding a long olive branch. It is an age-old symbol of peace that appears repeatedly in art history. Fragment of an ancient Egyptian fresco to Picasso’s Dove of Peace. But here, the twig doesn’t seem to be something Winfrey intends to offer to others as a sign of friendship, reconciliation, or unity. Far from it. She is left-handed and appears to be clutching her stalk tightly with her dominant fist with noticeable force, as if trying to stab something – to make a point.
Here, the olive branch seems to indicate not a spirit of meekness or surrender, but a cautious spirit of “peace through strength,” as prudent leaders like to call it. Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I The Elder, painted between 1580 and 1585 by the Flemish master Markus Gieraerts, comes to mind. There, the expressionless Queen lovingly twiddles an olive branch with her fingers, while at the same time tapping the sword of justice (a symbol of supreme power) at her feet with the toe of her right foot. Just in case. As Winfrey moves her eyes back and forth between the sharp tip of her broken stalk in her grasp and her winning laugh, one notices a slight steely edge, a hint of caution, in the moment of amusement. I begin to feel a sense of determination.
Is there any reason to think Warren has any keen insight into the history of art, its symbols and subtleties, or its attempts to transform tradition? Previous portraits by the artist, such as one of the fictional patriarchs of the island of California; queen calafia (Creation of the Spanish poet Garci Rodríguez de Montalbo – Painting by Warren Detained at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid), bristles of equal strength and connotation.
Warren knows his artistic predecessors and is not afraid to call them out and discuss them in powerful paintings and murals that reveal his attentiveness to historical research. Warren, who had no training until he entered the American Academy of Art as a college student, thoroughly scrutinized the works of the Florentine masters. His hard work is evident in the mural, a huge, almost sculptural portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. As Oprah Winfrey’s surprisingly widespread and respected figure in American life, Warren was tasked with her most challenging subject yet: Living National Treasure. Was he successful? And then some.
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