Art history is fascinating because of its continuous development, reflecting, through creative process, the changes in the world, societies, values. This is also true in relation to any individual artist – their practice develops throughout the years,lead by the artist’s main interest and overall purpose.
Often early works by the most acclaimed artists, although bearing her/ his individuality, are very different to their most famous style. However, these works are usually very much sought after by collectors, as they set a certain starting point for the artist and also are mostly rare and not often seen.
Here are 5 examples of early works by famous artists that you might not expect.
1. JACKSON POLLOCK (1912 – 1956, US)
“Going West”, 1934, oil on fiberboard 38.3 x 52.7 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Jackson Pollock is best known for his abstract ‘drip-paintings’, which he developed in the late 1940s, however, in his younger age, his work had a much more narrative style, with subject matter derived largely form the 19th-century American painters, such as Pinkham Ryder and Thomas Hart Benton.
In early 1934, Pollock painted a picture called “Going West”.
Soon he became more and more interested in European abstraction, and incorporated it in his work as a means of expressing the changing experiences of life in America.
The first of Pollock’s paintings acquired by a museum was a semi-abstract oil, gouache and plaster on canvas, “The She-Wolf”, bought by MoMA for $650 in 1944.
In the early 2000s a classic drip painting by Pollock became the world’s most expensive painting, when “No.5“, 1948, sold for $140 million.
“N17 A”, 1948, oil on fireboard, 86.5 x 112 cm, private collection
2. CLAUDE MONET (1840 – 1926, France)
“The Man in the Small Hat”, c1855-6, graphite on paper, 20 x 15 cm
Claude Monet – the founder of the French Impressionist painting, at the age of 15 was a known all over the neighbourhood caricaturist. It wasn’t until Eugene Boudin introduced Monet to painting in the open air (which wasn’t so popular in those days), that the young artist discovered the beauty of nature around him and devoted his life and work to expressing perceptions of the landscape and its constant changes.
“Impression, Sunrise” was painted in 1872 and first shown in 1874, at the independent exhibition, arranged by Monet and his fellow, like minded artists. The painters introduced the new technique and philosophy of painting, drawing attention to every day subjects, and making the image secondary to the overall impression from the painterly composition.
The term “Impressionism” was coined by the art critic Louis Leroy, in his rather negative review of the show.
“Impression, Sunrise”, 1872, oil on canvas, 48 cm × 63 cm, Musée Marmottan Monet,Paris
3. LUCIAN FREUD (1922 – 2011, Germany, UK)
“Gerald Wilde”, 1943, oil on panel, 30.5 x 22.6 cm, private collection
Lucian Freud had always been interested in depicting people, mostly – the people he knew and liked – he rarely painted strangers or did commissions. But there is a clear evolution in his style between the early years of “maximum observation”, when he proceeded solely “by staring at my subject matter and examining it closely”, to the mid 1950-s when he wanted (in his own words) to deliberately “free myself from this way of working”.
Unlike major artists before him, Lucian Freud was not commissioned to paint the portrait of his monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, but had to ask. The Queen sat for him over a 19-month period in 2000 and 2001. The result divided both the press and the critics and has been a subject of dispute for a long time. It’s not unlikely that in this tiny portrait in the characteristic Freud style, he depicted the monarch as his own alter-ego, giving the queen similar facial features to his self-portraits.
“HM Queen Elizabeth II”, 2000–2001, oil on canvas, 387 mm x 593 mm, Royal Collection
4. PABLO PICASSO (1881 – 1973 Spain, France)
“Portrait of the Artist’s Mother”, 1896, pastel on paper, 49.8 x 39 cm, Museo Picasso
Pablo Picasso started producing masterpieces at an early age. Taught by his father, Picasso produced one of his first known paintings “The Picador”, 1890, at the age of 8. A few years later at the age of 15, he painted a portrait of his mother, a clear example of the young artist’s skill and talent.
He started exploring more radical styles in the 1900’s under the influence of Henri Matisse’s Fauvism, and later – ritual tribal art.He produced his first pre-cubist work in 1907 – “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, (1907) – but it was received with shock and repulsion by his friends and fellow artists.
“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, 1907, oil on canvas, 243.9 x 233.7 cm, MMA New York
5. MICHELANGELO BUENAROTTI (1475 – 1564, Italy)
“The Torment of Saint Anthony”, 1487–1488, oil and tempera on panel, 47 × 35 cm, Kimbell Art Museum, Texas
Michelangelo’s first known painting, “The Torment of Saint Anthony“, was completed when the artist was only 12 or 13 years old. The work is executed in egg tempera and oil on a wooden panel and is one of only four known easel paintings generally believed to come from his hand. Today it is considered to be the most expensive painting executed by a child – after having been sold for $6 million in 2009.
“Creation of Adam”, painted by Michelangelo in 1508–1512 as a part of the decor of the Sistine Chapel, today is one of the most reproduced religious images of all times alongside Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”.
“Creation of Adam” ( Sistine Chapel ceiling), 1508–1512, fresco, 280 cm × 570 cm, Rome
Please find Part 2 of this article in Abode’s news section.