Who does a better job as a war artist? John Singer Sargent or Picasso in the two paintings discussed below?
First consider this painting commissioned by the British Government's British War Memorials Committee and was completed in 1919. It is called Gassed and shows troops being lead away from the field of war who have been blinded by mustard gas. It is a large painting, about 8ft x 20ft.
Now, consider this painting, Guernica, commissioned by the Republican government of Spain in the 1930s and painted by Pablo Picasso. It's permanent home is in the Prado in Madrid. For copyright reasons, I am showing a tapestry copy of the original that hangs in the United Nations building. You can see a photo of the original painting here.
I am guessing you will know this one.
So which one would you vote for? I am going for Sargent and my reasons are quite simple.
1. Sargent's painting looks as though it is a painting of war. If someone didn't tell you what Picasso's was about you wouldn't have a clue.
2. Picasso can't draw and Sargent can. Please don't tell me about Picasso was a brilliant academically trained draughtsman. I have seen lots of paintings and drawings from his early days and they were bad. Any average person with an academic training would do better than him. I concluded that he decided to give it a go as a modern artist because he couldn't make it as a naturalistic artist. He is certainly a master self-promoter and that's mostly what you need to make it in 20th and 21st-century mainstream art. If someone on an illustration course at any university produced Geurnica as a project they would get an F for bad technique.
3. Picasso's painting is ugly and dull. There are lots of childish caricatures of screaming faces so from this we can get the message that this is about suffering and angst, but its done so unsubtly and crudely. Whether this is by design or accident, it does not make it appropriate, it makes it a bad painting. Some critics tell us it offers hope as well - but you could have fooled me. Do any of you read hope in this? If I see anything, it is despair (crudely portrayed) without hope. That demonstrates an artist who doesn't care for his audience and an artist who doesn't have a grasp of truth. For the Christian, no matter how desperate the situation, there is always hope that transcends suffering.
4. Sargent's portrays the horrors of war clearly but infused with hope. We see it in the human interactions, the blinded are being led by those who have sight. The light of the sun pierces the gaseous air. I see Christian hope symbolized in this. Sargent modelled his style consciously on that of the Baroque Master, Diego Velazquez. The baroque style is one developed specifically to communicate hope in suffering. It is uniquely suited to portray therefore the suffering of war without compromising on revealing the degree of suffering, but at the same time ensuring that Christian hope is portrayed too. Sargent was not a Christian, but his mastery of this Christian style meant that hope was there.
Anyway, not much more to say except, what do you think? Sargent or Picasso?