The Eye of the Beholder

Dear Liza,

The art show we visited at the Portland Art Museum was mostly made up of works in the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. As I wandered through the exhibit and read the notes for these three portraits of the same woman, I was figuring out how to put some pieces in context.

Frida and Diego met the Gelmans when Natasha was an assistant to Diego and then became Frida’s friend. Knowing that Frida and Diego fought about most things, I can imagine that being in their circle was emotionally complicated.
Also, Jacques and Natasha were wealthy, and by buying their art, helped support Diego and Frida.

So these three portraits, all of Natasha Gelman, interested me. The top one (with the lilies) is Natasha as painted by Diego Rivera. He sees her as a glamorous, dreamlike, almost movie-star person. Although it features the lilies he uses in many other paintings, this glamorous woman is very different from the Mexican peasants in his other works.

Natasha’s portrait by Frida Kahlo is more realistic. It focuses on her face and is less glamorous, less “come look at me”, and shows Natasha as a bit sad. It also shows off her expensive mink coat and diamond earrings.

The third portrait of Natasha Gelman is by David Alfaro Sisquieros, an artist who was also in the Mexican Modernist group. It shows her sitting on what could almost be a throne, looking strong and detached. Thinking about how the Mexican Modernism group was working for social equality and economic justice, it makes sense that Sisquieros would see this wealthy woman as a powerful ‘other’.

I like looking at these three very different paintings of the same woman, and thinking about how artists process their world view and emotions into their art.


Grandma Judy