Women’s Representations Before and After World War II


Women have been the focus of artists since pre-history. A close analysis of the painting can provide insight into the way the public and the author perceived women at the time. This paper will analyze two paintings representing young women performing leisurely activities, a compare and contrast approach will show the differences and similarities between the painting, as well as their common theme.

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Woman Reading with Peaches

The first painting is “Woman Reading with Peaches” by Henri Matisse. It was painted in 1923, five years after he moved to a suburb of Nice. The painting is done in the expressionist style, with simple features and pastel colors. Much of his work at the time depicted leisurely activities and had a feeling of relaxation and pleasantness. The painting depicts a young woman sitting at the table. She is crossing her arms on top of a book. On her right is a metal tray with two peaches and a glass of water. She is wearing a yellow and white dress and a bracelet on her left arm. One of the more interesting features of the painting is that unlike other paintings by Matisse, her face is comparatively less detailed. The tray with water and oranges is much more detailed, with rich shading and detailed reflections. In a very odd choice, her eyes are completely black. However, this is not a representation of makeup on her eyelids because her right eyebrow is lifted in an intrigued or slightly surprised expression. Also, her dress hints at the summer season with its bright yellow color and loose fit.

The emphasis of the painting is the woman and the tray with water in peaches. The tray adds a hint that this is a leisure activity. Her proportions are realistic but are not defined enough to get a clear picture of what she looks like. Her lack of defined features creates an unnatural feeling, especially her completely black eyes and smooth fingers. Perhaps intentionally, this creates a sense of movement in the picture with the viewer first seeing her, then the book, and then the tray. Through this motion, we gain the impression that her leisure time was interrupted by the artist. As if he walked into the room and first saw the woman, then he was what she was doing, and then the context for her activity.

Girl with Ball

The second painting is titled “Girl with Ball” by Roy Lichtenstein, and it was painted in 1961. This is one of the more popular paintings by the author. It depicts a young woman dressed in a one-piece swimsuit holding a ball over her head. The painting is based on a 1955 ad for the Mount Airy Lodge in Pocono Mountains. This painting is one of his earliest pop artworks, and it is done in a comic strip style, with simple but detailed facial features. The painting uses bright colors and reflects the atmosphere of a summer vacation that was originally intended by the photo in the advertisement. The woman is wearing a blue swimsuit with white detailing. Her eyes and nose are monochrome and do not feature any shading. Her mouth is colored bright red with white teeth, utilizing the same colors as the ball. The background is yellow, with an uneven strip of white shapes at the bottom, representing the ocean. The painting is simple, but it effectively conveys the feeling of energetic activity on the beach.

Just like the first painting, the emphasis is on the young woman during her time of leisure. Unlike the previous painting, however, this activity is more energetic. The woman is shown either in the moment of catching a ball or throwing it. She is very excited while doing so, and this emotion is accentuated by the bright colors of the painting. Her features are simple, yet more defined than the previous painting. Her proportions are realistic due to being taken almost directly from the advertisement. Her face and hands are well defined, although neither is shaded. The painting has a strong sense of movement. The eye of the viewer is first drawn to the brightly colored ball, and then slowly moves down the painting due to its vertical orientation. The painting acts as a freeze-frame for a moment of leisure on the beach during a hot summer day. However, its origin as an advertisement and the nature of pop art brings a feeling of artificiality to the piece.

Comparison and the common theme

These two paintings have differences and similarities, as well as a common theme. Both paintings are done in simple styles with an emphasis on women performing leisurely activities. Both paintings take place during the summer and involve summer-specific attire, and both have a slightly unnatural quality to them. However, the paintings are focused on very different types of activities. Matisse shows the viewer a relaxed moment in the everyday life of a woman. There is no clear subtext to the painting. It just shows a natural activity that was likely common at the time. There is very little emphasis on the visual beauty of the woman, with almost no detail in her facial features. On the other hand, Lichtenstein portrays a completely artificial scene. With the original image being an advertisement, it is likely that the picture was taken in a studio with artificial lighting. Her body and facial features are accentuated, and she could represent the standard of beauty in post-war America. The painting highlights the artificiality of the commercial practice of using women to sell products, which became a common trend after World War Two. Her outfit would be illegal to wear in 1920s America, and it shows how the times have changed between the two paintings.

Although Matisse often painted naked women in sexual contexts, these paintings were always done sincerely and portrayed natural forms of women. “Woman Reading with Peaches” shares this natural feeling and is done without an ulterior motive. With the prevalent commercialism of post-war America, the image of a woman became a tool. “Girl with Ball” represents a cynical image of a woman, created as a fantasy to sell vacation trips. There is nothing natural about that representation, and the author successfully highlighted it in his art.

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Despite the common theme of leisure, the paintings have shown to have completely different intentions. One shows a natural scene in a pre-war setting before televisions started to replace books as a past-time activity. The other is a clear example of the commercialism of post-war America.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, March 5). Women’s Representations Before and After World War II. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/womens-representations-before-and-after-world-war-ii/

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"Women’s Representations Before and After World War II." StudyCorgi, 5 Mar. 2021, studycorgi.com/womens-representations-before-and-after-world-war-ii/.

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StudyCorgi. "Women’s Representations Before and After World War II." March 5, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/womens-representations-before-and-after-world-war-ii/.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Women’s Representations Before and After World War II." March 5, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/womens-representations-before-and-after-world-war-ii/.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Women’s Representations Before and After World War II'. 5 March.

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