Project: Structuralist analysis

I have annotated two portrait paintings.

The first is Gainsborough’s portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews, which represents the subjects within what appears to be there country estate. The second is Velasquez’s portrait of Philip IV in brown and silver.

Both portraits are formal portraits and are constructed to showcase the wealth, power and influence of the sitters. They have a  number of features in common which might be regarded as portrait conventions.

The poses of the sitters show them in role. Mr Andrews as protector of his family and estate, Philip IV as statesman and protector of the nation. In both portraits the subjects engage confidently and directly with the viewer, indicating their status. Their expressions are quite serious demonstrating that they are not to be regarded lightly. The environments in which they are shown are directed at illustrating their status – a great landscape in the case of the Andrews and rich fabrics and furniture in the case of Philip. The paintings have detailed elements which are intended to be signs telling more about the subjects. Mr Andrews is carrying a gun and has a hunting dog beside him. Mrs Andrews is in a pose which a woman would adopt when nursing a child. Philip holds papers in one hand and a sword in the other.

One gets the impression that these portraits are intended to present  the subjects both literally as a naturalistic representation and perhaps more importantly symbolically as individuals of power, influence and wealth.

PDF files of my annotations can be found here:

Gainsborough Mr and Mrs Andrews annotation

Velasquez Philip IV annotation

For the second part of this project I have reviewed two portrait photographs – one formal and one informal. The idea is to determine what features the two have in common. The formal portrait is from Rineke Dijkstra’s Beach Portrait series. The second is an informal portrait of a friend’s son. Here are the portraits:

Beach Portrait by Rineke Dijkstra

Informal portrait of friend's son by Keith Greenough

The aspects in common with these two photographs are as follows:

  1. Both show a young boy
  2. Both boys are looking at the viewer
  3. Both are full body portraits
  4. Both have water in the background
  5. In neither portrait is the boy smiling.

The key points of difference are as follows:

  1. In the formal portrait the boy is posed standing full square to the viewer whereas in the informal portrait the boy is captured midway through climbing onto a wooden platform
  2. In the formal portrait the boy has a neutral expression whereas in the informal portrait the boy looks a little surprised and is exerting himself.
  3. In the formal portrait the boy is the key point of interest in the frame with no other distractions whereas in the informal portrait there are many other elements in the frame – the wooden platform, red lettering,  a notice leaning against the platform, white bars jutting out into the water and what appears to be the end of a pier reaching out into the water.
  4. In the formal portrait the boy looks a little awkward and self conscious whereas in the informal portrait the boy seems natural and unselfconscious.
  5. In the formal portrait the boy seems to be ‘on display’ almost as an ethnographic study. In the informal portrait what I see is a snapshot of a boy at play.
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