“Art is made to disturb” said Francis Lalanne, which he always tried to do but for the wrong reasons. In the world of painting, this is also the case with several paintings that caused a scandal in their time, which we invite you to see now.
NDRL, it is in my nature to be honest so I prefer to tell you right away, I have no damn notion in painting, but really nothing, so I’m going to present the facts to you without pushing the analysis any further and ridicule me more.
1. The Last Judgment – Michelangelo
When it came out in stores, this work by Michelangelo caused a bit of a mess because the Church did not like the over-representation of the nudity of all the characters in the fresco. And if the artist liked to imagine that everyone would be naked during the last judgment it was not to the taste of the representatives of the word of God, that’s why after his death we hired a painter to come dress up certain characters and paint togas on a large part of the bodies.
2. The New Maja – Francisco Goya
Unsurprisingly, what posed a problem with the mores of the time on this painting was obviously the fact that the bed was not made. It looks neglected and untidy room. Oh yes, and also apparently nudity was taboo and the shameless direct gaze of this woman on the viewer was also a problem. Have you noticed how much painters especially liked to paint naked women? It’s crazy this mania among women to get naked as soon as a painter arrives.
3. The Ladies of Avignon – Pablo Picasso
Did you know that Pablo Picasso was a big bastard? There, it is said. Unsurprisingly, this painting “Les demoiselles d’Avignon” caused a lot of problems at the time because it represented super badly drawn naked prostitutes. Well that’s my totally subjective opinion but in real life the thing went wrong with the critics.
4. White square on a white background – Kasimir Malevitch
Looking at this painting, do you tell yourself at first glance that it caused a huge controversy and that its author was imprisoned? If you answered yes you are super strong in painting. Considered the first monochrome of contemporary painting, the painting caused a huge scandal because it was considered borderline as the death of art. Not only was the painting censored, but Malevich was imprisoned in Leningrad. It’s crazy what people are willing to do when they don’t like a painting.
5. A funeral at Ornans – Gustave Courbet
We see in this painting by Gustave Courbet a fairly classic burial scene. Why was that a problem? Because the people of the time were still pretty stupid: the painting measures more than six meters by three and the critics found that it was much too big in size to represent a funeral of common people. This kind of dimensions was reserved for biblical paintings or paintings of important people. We had to be pissed off in those days to yell at stuff like that.
6. Luncheon on the Grass – Édouard Manet
Considered by Émile Zola as Manet’s best painting, “Luncheon on the Grass” did not only make people happy during its exhibition. The reasons are on the one hand the nudity (we are starting to see a trend) but also the decor which critics considered flat. The scene seems way too theatrical for the depiction of people having a picnic if you will. Personally, I don’t really understand why one in four people is naked and why it’s one of the women, but hey, apparently it’s a beautiful picture.
7. The Sick Child – Edward Munch
Painting the memory he had of his sick sister before she died of tuberculosis at age 15, Munch may not have expected the painting to cause a scandal. If the theme of sick children already existed, this painting caused indignation when it was presented in Oslo. The reason is that people saw it as an unfinished, muddled and blurry work. Munch defended himself by saying “I did not paint what I see but what I saw”. It is class. The Nazis later labeled Munch’s paintings “degenerate art” before removing his works from German museums, and frankly pissing off the Nazis is reason enough to make art.
8. The Death of the Virgin – Caravaggio
This painting, which represents the death of the Virgin Mary, posed two major problems for the Church: the first is the realism of the scene: there are no angels or biblical characters in the shot and you can barely see the halo around the head of the virgin. The second problem is that the model used by Caravaggio to represent Mary was a famous prostitute… That doesn’t go down well with the Church, God is love but not in a priced form.
9. The Origin of the World – Gustave Courbet
At this point it’s more nude, it’s porn. But Gustave Courbet wanted to bother, or get people talking about him to get some buzz. Still, even Facebook censors this painting today, which means it’s still disturbing.
10. The Man Controller of the Universe – Diego Rivera
Commissioned by the Rockefeller family to be installed at Rockefeller Center, Rivera’s mural quickly ran into trouble before it was completed. It was to represent capitalism in opposition to communism, except that journalists from the New York Telegram accused the work of being anti-capitalist when they saw the work in full creation. In response, Rivera painted Lenin’s head on the mural, further pissing everyone off and causing the original artwork to be destroyed when he refused to remove it.
11. The Source – Francis Picabia
This work, partly financed by public money to be displayed at the Salon d’Automne, caused a scandal at the time. Considered a “barbaric work” by the Paris city council, we even had a debate in the Paris Chamber of Deputies to discuss this new movement which seemed to piss everyone off.