Teachers Lesson Plans

Canadian Painting in the Thirties

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How do both these works comment on the society of their time?

Both these artists are sensitive to the troubled world in which they lived. They both present an expressive document of the years during the Great Depression.

In Petroushka, Clark reinterprets a Russian folk story of suffering humanity to comment on a contemporary American event. To emphasize the allegorical aspect of the painting, Clark accentuates the unusual point of view, diminishes the figures to puppet like figures and distorts the angles of the buildings. The exaggerated proportions and the strong colours give the composition a deliberate strangeness that conveys the part memory, part allegory of the scene as Clark recollects the courtyard of the St Petersburg apartment building where she lived as a child and where puppeteers and musicians used to perform for the resident families.

Brittain also depicts the political environment of the 30's, but in Canada. In Longshoremen he presents us with the plight of six workers from the docks of St John.

Brittain accentuates the tension by placing the figures in a confined space and links them together through the use of hand gestures and glances. The central and largest figure in profile, the brightest and youngest figure, dominates the scene. He has an air of determination and brings hope to the difficult moment. On either side of him, Brittain presents us with the different emotional reactions to a grave situation. To the left, the two smokers show anxiety but at the same time are resigned to their fate while the two men to the right are questioning the situation.

Like Clark's figures in Petroushka, Brittain's figures have a tendency to verge on caricature. In this work, he personifies the worker and turns the ordinary man into a hero.