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Van Gogh, Picasso, Hopper and Guglielmi in five famous paintings expressing loneliness, isolation

With the pandemic imposing isolation, we are experiencing emotions that have already been captured in paintings by some master artists

Shorouk Yasser, Tuesday 28 Apr 2020
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The quarantine, the closed stores, and the empty streets, all of them are exceptional circumstances in which we live today and we are yet to see their impact on visual art. However, throughout the centuries, artists have expressed loneliness and isolation, reflecting these feelings in their works.

American painter Edward Hopper (1882-1967) is considered among the masters of presenting urban isolation. His paintings resonate a lot with viewers during these days we are experiencing and some galleries are showcasing his work. However, there are also other artists who experienced the same emotions and captured them on their canvases.

Below are five examples of loneliness and isolation as presented by Hopper, Dutch post-impressionist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Spaniard Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and American painter O. Louis Guglielmi (1906-1956).

Sunday by Edward Hopper (1926)

Here is a lonely man sitting in front of a store in a contemplative mood on Sunday (the day of rest). He hunches forward and closes his arms – a posture which exposes his feelings of boredom and despair.

The stores behind him are closed, and the display windows do not contain any goods, and no signs indicate the stores will open after what seems to be an everlasting Sunday.

Hopper did not identify the city, but some artists associate the place and the moment with the financial crisis that struck America in 1926, reflecting the early effects of the Great Depression.

Hopper

Morning Sun by Edward Hopper (1952)

A woman in a short pink slip sits on a bed, her hair tucked in a bun, her knees pulled up to her chest as she is looking through a window.

The sunlight coming from the open window lit her bare arms and legs, creating shadows of her figure on the bed and illuminating the white empty wall behind her.

In this game of light and emptiness of the room, Hopper underlines the solitude that surrounds the woman, as if she is a prisoner in her apartment.

Hopper

Bedroom in Arles by Vincent van Gogh (1888)

Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom appears a mix between loneliness and isolation, feelings he often experienced and shared with his brother Theo in volumes of letters that he wrote.

In one such letter, Vincent described to Theo the colour palette of the room in which he lived for one year (1888-1889): “The walls pale lilac, the ground a faded broken red, the chairs and the bed chrome yellow, the pillows and the sheet a very pale green-citron, the counterpane blood red, the washstand orange, the washbasin blue, the window green.”

Van Gogh’s emotions come through the work. The room is empty, the window is slightly ajar, the chairs point towards his bed, and the portraits on the wall are like silent spectators of this loneliness.

It is worth adding that a southern French city gave a lot of creative inspiration to van Gogh. During only one year, he produced some of his best-known works, including The Starry Night, Sunflowers, Self Portrait, and others.

van Gogh

The Absinthe Drinker by Pablo Picasso (1901)

The Absinthe Drinker comes from Picasso’s Blue Period (1901-1904), at a time when the colour blue and its shades control all of his paintings, reflecting the feeling of loneliness, poverty, and despair.

A woman sits lonely at a table, her face is sad, and her eyes look like she is waiting for something. Her right hand reveals tension, while the red wall behind her reinforces the sense of discomfort.

The hopeless loneliness comes to the fore through the canvas as she embraces herself with her arms. At the same time, the space adds to the feeling of isolation, lethargy and loneliness.

Picasso

Town Square by O. Louis Guglielmi (1939)

No one is around… The emptiness of the Town Square creates a strong contrast with the dynamism we would expect to find in the location.

In this Magical Realism style, Guglielmi communicates sadness and makes the viewer search for its reasons. These emotions are emphasised by the statue which looks downward in the abandoned city.

The only evidence of a human soul passing through the square is a coat thrown over the back of a chair – maybe forgotten by its owner.

The painting came from Guglielmi’s imagination expressing his inner world, one that had “the feel of a street, its bustle, and noise [but also] the mystery of a deserted alley,” as he referred to another painting in 1944.

Often capturing people, poverty and distress, Guglielmi was very aware of the city, its architectural loneliness and aspirations.

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