Girl before a Mirror, an oil on canvas painting by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, shows two sides of a girl; one which is illustrated with a dark tone and one with a vibrant colorful tone. This painting is bright; colors are at full intensity and are arranged next to their complements, producing a visual relationship between shape and form. Forms are used to draw the viewer’s eye across the canvas where circular shapes, repeating throughout the work, are compensated by the pattern of diagonal lines of the background.
The viewer observes the girl’s profile and full frontal image, looking into a mirror and noticing a different image of herself. In order to achieve this effect, Picasso uses a range of formal elements that highlight the overall effects of her change to clearly establish a paradoxical relationship between the two subjects. In Girl Behind the Mirror, Picasso places a strong emphasis on the strength of line formations to outline and differentiate the organization between the girl from her reflection. He uses both thick and thin horizontal, vertical, curved, and parallel lines.
Most prominent though, is the use of thick, black line formations that keep the painting balanced and orderly. The frontal face and body sections rely heavily on the use of thick, black curvilinear lines which accent and alter her private and public feminine features and conform to the angles of the diamond- patterned wallpaper. He also uses the same curved thick, black vertical lines to twist her body to present her profile view and thick, black horizontal lines to show that one side is fully clothed. Contrary to this, he outlines the face on the profile side with thin vertical lines.
The lines on the frontal and profile figure are more clearly defined and balanced as compared to her reflection which shows short agitated line segments that do not maintain order. The thick vertical lines on this face are shortened making her chin retrusive and her nose long. The lines on the body of the reflection do not portray the same orderly directional line movements as the figure on the left, making it difficult to form a complete shape of her figure, and, therefore creating a figure that looks distorted.
Lastly, there are two well-defined thick vertical lines that surround the oval shaped mirror which the reflection is embodied in and gives the reflection a sense of stability. Overall, the many different formations of lines play a critical part in defining the two figures and are further complemented by the many different geometric shapes. In addition to the painting using a variety of lines, this two-dimensional space also uses a range of geometric shapes structured in different forms to establish a visual change seen in the reflection.
The use of patterned squares in the background sharply contrast the rounded shapes used to define the girl and her reflection, which highlights and draws attention to the subject matter. The shapes are deliberate in the painting with the girl having perfectly formed circles and a triangle throughout her body, and her reflection, having the same type of shapes but not as orderly. This is exhibited in the girl’s stomach area where she is shown with a well-rounded circular shape and the stomach of the reflection is sagging.
Additionally, the use of an upright triangle on the left figure connects the head to the body in an orderly fashion whereas the neck of the reflection shows curved edges displaying a fallen triangle and not showing a continuous connection to the stomach. The circular shapes in the reflection are generally droopy, and contrast dramatically to those in the frontal and profile section where they are upright and robust. The use of geometric shapes in this painting allows the subject to be viewed in both a recognizable and unrecognizable state at the same time.
Overall, geometric shapes and patterns play an essential role in what the viewer sees, which is further supported by a powerful color palate. Picasso uses texture and an array of complementary and analogous colors characterized by a range of hues, values, and light to create a dramatic difference between the two subjects. The dominant and repetitive colors in the painting are green, yellow, lavender, red, and blue. The use of color, especially when used with the different geometric shapes, creates both a range of values as well as contrasts to adjacent areas.
The profile and frontal head have lighter values such as yellow and lavender, whereas the reflection, painted with a rough charcoal texture has a dominance of blue, especially around the face, reflecting darker values. The use of complementary colors such as red and green create a brighter canvas, while the use of analogous combinations such as green and yellow, and green and blue blend well together. Overall, the reds and greens are bright throughout, giving intensity to the painting while the use of soft blue in the reflection, is not as intense and warm.
Picasso also uses complementary colors of red and green against lavender in the figure to make the figure prominent. In the reflection, analogous colors are used throughout, but predominately on the top with purple being next to blue, and, green being next to blue. Comparing this to the foreground colors, the majority of the patterned background is painted yellow which is not nearly applied as much in the two figures besides the frontal part of her face. The use of this color combination enables you to focus on the foreground rather than the background.
Overall, Picasso uses warm colors to depict the girl and is in contrast to her reflection which is painted with cool colors. This effect gives definition within the painting and creates a division between the subjects. The abundance of both complementary and analogous colors as well as a range of values and hues creates a captivating, vibrant painting. The composition of the painting is an array of geometric shapes and forms culminating in a structured image of two subjects, a mirror, and a patterned background.
The girl and her reflection are divided by a sharp, vertical line panel in the center of the canvas to create a separation between the two subjects. Separately, the oval shaped mirror captures her reflection. The composition of the background is a completely different pattern from the foreground, allowing a focus on the two-dimensional subjects. The use of shapes, colors and lines organizes the painting in a manner where you can have an appreciation for the meaning of the piece whether you are viewing it from the center, the left or the right.
Understanding a painting from a visual sense of lines, shapes, colors, and composition allows the viewer to freely interpret the piece of art. Something about seeing a painting through formal elements and not a historical or social context allows the audience to see the influence that the elements make in a painting. The change in color, or a thickness rather than a thin line can change a viewer’s feeling and meaning of a whole painting. The use of elements in Girl before a Mirror enables the two subjects to be separated within the piece to establish their own meaning.