CIN140 Intro to Cinema Paper 1 Formal Analysis Paper

Art History 364

Paper 1 Re-write

Formal Analysis of Portrait of a Woman

This 1740 portrait oil on canvas by John Smibert depicts a woman, who seems to be middle-aged, posing in a respectable stance giving the impression of a higher status. The three-quarter painting portrays this woman with a stern facial expression combined with dark colors in both the background of the painting along with her costume. This intimidating stance and mixture of colors may imply that this woman is unapproachable, unwelcoming and of a wealthier status. The simplicity of the portrait as a whole accompanied by the colors of the portrait and the physical features of the woman gives the viewer a feeling of inferiority in society, but it also draws an audience closer to the portrait.

The lighting of this portrait plays a vital role in the positioning and depiction of the woman. Viewing this portrait, you are able to tell that the lighting comes from the upper right side of the painting, hitting the woman’s face on her forehead. John Smibert also used darker colors on the left side of the portrait rather than the right side, delineating where the light is hitting the woman. He does not use distinctive outlines to express this woman in the portrait; rather he blends the colors into one another creating less of a definition between the backdrop and this woman, yet still clearly profiling this woman in a distinct manner from the background. Not only do we see dark colors in the background of this portrait, but the woman in this painting is not wearing bright, loud colors either. Instead, what the audience sees is a woman dressed in a lighter brown dress, which easily blends in with the background if a ray of light did not highlight it.

John Smibert paid close attention to the dress of this woman and how it laid on her body. He clearly defined each crevice and wrinkle that the dress created when this woman sat down for her portrait. Through his gentle strokes and easy-flowing coats, viewers can get the sense that this woman is possibly be wearing either a silk dress or one that is made of velvet, depending on the light in which one views this picture. At first glance of this portrait, I noticed the glowing sensation emitted from the left side of the woman’s dress. The easy-flowing strokes of the paintbrush give an impression of softness with every touch. Just as a velvet top would shine in the light and give a warm, comforting feeling, the dress of the woman in this portrait does the same. This type of material further exemplifies previous notions made that this woman is of a higher status. The pattern portrayed on the woman’s garments underneath her dress express a simple, yet meaningful role in this portrait. The lace outline of the white material under her dress and displayed on her cuffs illustrates, furthermore, the high status of the woman in the portrait. This lace cuts into a v-shape around the chest area and is not a thick layer of lace, it contains just enough material to give the impression that this woman is of higher status but is not so ostentatious as if to brag about her wealth to others. This woman is not wearing any jewelry, which would further support previous impressions of a higher status, but the pattern and detail showed on the white parts of her dress are another good indication of the status intuition. A very simple, yet imperative, piece to this portrait is the way in which Smibert paid close attention to every detail in this woman’s dress.

While looking around the museum looking for a painting to write about, I noticed something interesting about portraits done by John Smibert. All of the faces he draws are very similar and the way in which he paints women’s hair is almost always the same, the hair is never fully pulled back and there is always a piece hanging on the shoulder of the woman. Clearly shown in his painting Portrait of a Woman, Smibert draws out the flowing, curly, half-pinned up hair of this woman. He doesn’t ignore the, in colloquial terms, “fly-aways” that most girls have when they pin back their hair. Instead, he highlights the disorderly ways of hair that most girls encounter and struggle to deal with daily. The gentle strokes of Smibert’s hands flow in a way that makes this woman’s hair look as it naturally would while this woman was posing for her portrait. There is no clear evidence in this portrait of what is holding the rest of her hair back, which could also demonstrate the class of this woman.

The simplicity of this portrait is what draws attention to it. At a first look, all you see is a woman sitting in a dark background setting with a seemingly effortless costume design. The more attention being paid to detail creates a more indistinct feeling of whom this woman was and her position in society. This three-quarter painting merely shows a woman sitting up right, posing for a portrait. The mystery behind it all is what this woman wanted to exemplify and what she was trying to get across to the audience. First impressions of this portrait give off one notion of a higher status, but with more notice bring more confusion. The ease of this portrait brings about more detail and meaning than one would first anticipate.