The success of the Melancholy show demonstrated that existential issues are a productive source of inspiration for artists. Universal melancholy affects both painters and spectators. Hopper's Nighthawks and De Chirico's Mystery and Melancholy of a Street represent human metaphysical concern, human philosophical thoughts, and human existential anguish in two different ways. Whereas Hopper uses human beings and an urban landscape, De Chirico painted a worrying landscape without any human presence. Their treatment of colors and light have many points in common and both the works of art invite the spectator to make a story out of the painting, to create a scenario which aims at making us reflect on philosophical and existential issues. In order to study how the two painters manage to transpose philosophy in painting, it is worth comparing the use of colors, light and shadows, the composition, the role of human beings and especially the spectators, in the two works of arts.
[...] The arcades are very bright, illuminated by an undetermined source of light (maybe from the top right hand corner, the source of light that also creates the shadow of the tower), but inside the arcades and above (in the tiny windows), darkness prevails. We can notice a brighter horizon. Does that represent hope, God, a bright future ? I cannot be sure because what I felt when I saw that painting was that this brighter horizon was worrying, it is impossible to tell what it represents, it is not the Sea, nor the land. [...]
[...] In Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, De Chirico also plays with light and shadows to create an atmosphere of anguish. However, there is no direct source of light (except in the background), you can only see the shadows. The most worrying one is the shadow of the tower that seems to overwhelm the ground in the centre of the painting. This shadow is overwhelming, as if darkness was coming on to you, as if the tower was falling on you. [...]
[...] The background of De Chirico's painting is worrying because it is unknown but as it is the brightest part of the painting, it may represent hope and salvation. But you have to trust something you do not know. Thanks to this contrast between light and shadow, our regard is drawn to the back of the painting, also the point of convergence of perspective (arcades). If we accept that part of Unknown we may find the key to our existential anguish. [...]
[...] In Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, the spectator is invited to ask himself questions : his wants to know what the train means, what does the background represent, where does the scene take place . What I felt when I first saw these paintings was existential anguish, universal human philosophical melancholy. In nighthawks, you can almost touch alienation and loneliness as the characters are deeply melancholic and far from on another. Neither the frightening dark street nor the bright but still cold bar can provide them with a secure and pleasant environment. [...]
[...] Mystery and Melancholy of a Street is much stylized, almost computerized. De Chirico uses shapes with virtuosity, perfectly creating the effect he desires. Here for instance, the squared windows that repeat above the arcades look like geometrical eyes that observe us and the arcades shapes are not far away from wide open mouths that shout and cry. It is not difficult to anthropomorphize the shapes of the arcades and windows into worrying faces that suffer. If you mentally erase the windows you do not get the same effect at all ! [...]
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