Early vs. the Last Works of Great Artists: Part 2

Last week, we looked at the works of Frida Kahlo, da Vinci, van Gogh and Georgia O’Keefe. Looking at the the early and last works of these brilliant minds is not only interesting, they also give us some insight into how they evolved as artists. It is a well known fact that practice and dedication can turn an amateur into a master, but looking at these works, one can only guess at the unique mix of innate skill and passion that fed these artists’ creative processes.

1.MICHELANGELO

The Torment of Saint Anthony (1487–88), Source

Apart from a few drawings, The Torment of Saint Anthony is believed to be one of the earliest works of Michelangelo Buonarroti. It is a copy of Martin Schongauer’s engraving. At the time of making this painting, Michelangelo would’ve been around 12 or 13 years old. The painting was made under the guidance of his friend and fellow pupil Francesco Granacci.

Inspite of it being a copy of an engraving, Michelangelo quite remarkably added his own details and changes that made it stand apart from the original. He made the demons tormenting Saint Anthony look more like animals. In particular, he gave one of the demons realistic-looking fish scales (it is believed that Michelangelo would go to the fish market to study the scales of fish for this painting). The artist also added a landscape to the background. The colour palette used here, especially the greens and lavender, would later be something that Michelangelo would often return too (for example, in the Sistine Chapel). Another feature that would become common to his works is that of the centrally placed figure. You can also see this in The Last Judgment at the Sistine Chapel.

Rondinini Pietà (1564), Source

The Rondinini Pietà is a sculpture that Michelangelo worked on in the last year of his life. Although incomplete, we have an understanding of what the artist intended to make with the help of three drawings in which he had outlined his idea for the piece. This sculpture is meant to be of the Virgin Mary trying to lift Christ who appears to be falling under his own weight. This is an image that Michelangelo had been drawn to many times, such as in his sculpture Pietà in 1499. What is unique about the Rondinini Pietà however is that Mary and Christ are in an upright position.

2. GUSTAV KLIMT

Akt eines Mannes (1880), Source

Klimt’s earliest work Akt eines Mannes is such a departure from the style that he is now famously known for. In the style of Realism, this painting is a reflection of how well Klimt studied anatomy. The shadows and highlights on the skin have been masterfully applied to depict the model’s muscles.

Die Braut (unvollendet), 1917. (Source)

Die Braut or The Bride is an unfinished painting that Klimt worked on before his death. It is said to be his most Expressionist painting. The truly unique thing about it is that it shows the artist’s unusual process. The painting depicts multiple nude figures over which the artist has then started painting their clothes. In a sense, he was dressing them after first painting them nude. Some art historians believe that this is a reflection of Klimt’s “sexual obsession“.

3. SALVADOR DALI

Landscape Near Figueras (1910), Source

Admit it, you didn’t expect Salvador Dali’s first painting to look quite so ordinary. Where are the melting clocks and the surreal landscapes? Perhaps we gain a better appreciation of this conventional painting when we realise how old Dali was when he painted it– he was only six years old. Landscape Near Figures is remarkable when you take into account the mountains beyond a vanishing point, the depth created with brush strokes, and the slightly impressionist style that it uses. Showing such skill at six years of age must’ve been a early sign that Dali would grow to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

The Swallow’s Tail – Series of Catastrophes (1983), Source

The Swallow’s Tail – Series of Catastrophes is Dali’s last work, and is a typical Dali piece. What might look like a few scribbles is in fact a painting based on Rene Thom’s mathematical catastrophe theory. In fact, the shape of the swallow’s tale is directly taken from Thom’s graph of the same name. I am in no way good enough of a mathematician to explain this theory and the resulting painting to you, but if you are interested you can read more about it here.

4. ANDY WARHOL

Illustration “Success is a Job in New York” in Glamour Magazine (September 1949), Source

After studying design at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Andy Warhol moved to New York City where he worked on hundreds of illustrations for fashion and publishing. His illustration for Glamour Magazine in 1949 was what first gained him recognition. The whimsical drawing style combined with the use of unusual techniques (like blotted line drawing) and media (such as stamps) made him one of the most successful commercial artists of the 1950’s.

Sixty Last Suppers (1986), Source

Sixty Last Suppers is one of Warhol’s last works, taken from his Last Supper series. It is a little known fact that Warhol was a very religious man. He decided to put his own spin on da Vinci’s masterpiece after a suggestion from gallerist in Milan. Inspired by this idea, he used a photostat of the oil painting for a silkscreen, and proceeded to make over a hundred variations of the da Vinci painting. Twenty-two of these works were exhibited in 1986.

One of these renditions is Sixty Last Suppers. Warhol’s choice of screen printing the painting in a grid pattern on canvas gives it an odd sense of both flatness and depth.

When completed and exhibited in Milan, the Last Supper series became so popular that it was estimated to have been viewed by over 30,000 people.


Did you want to see any of your favourite artists featured in this list? Which one of these artist’s work surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments!


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