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Pictures at an Exhibition: A Portland Thorns art history lecture

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Thorns Celebrating a Win, Caravaggio, 1601
Nikita Taparia

Good morning, class, and welcome to Art History 233: Historical Portrayals of the Portland Thorns. Based on your wide-awake faces, I trust last night’s festivities haven’t taken too great a toll! ;) In today’s lecture, we begin a semester-long overview of the ways artists have visualized and engaged with the Portland Thorns over the course of history. It’s quite remarkable, really, how many artists have found the Thorns a worthy subject—although perhaps not when one considers their excellent competitive record and superb support! Now, if you’d be so kind as to dim the lights, we can begin...

Foord Challenging Addo Artimesia Gentileschi*, ca. 1615

Nikita Taparia

In many respects—the bold primary color palate, the dramatic lighting, the emotion on the subjects’ faces—this is a typical example of the Italian Baroque style. Most of all, however, what sets this image apart from the Renaissance works that preceded it is the moment the artist chose to capture; where earlier artists would have selected a scene showing the players in a moment of poise or tranquility, Gentileschi has chosen to portray Elizabeth Addo and Caitlin Foord at the moment of greatest drama. The tension is palpable, from the expressions on the players’ faces, to the dynamic movement implied by their clothing and hair, to the off-kilter axis of the image—note the diagonal line implied by the players’ arms lining up with the shirt sponsor on Foord’s jersey.

The Riveters’ Guild, Frans Hals, ca 1630

Nikita Taparia

As the Dutch Republic became the most powerful and prosperous European nation beginning around the turn of the 17th Century, so too did Dutch painting rise to prominence. In a Protestant nation flush with new wealth thanks to a rise in global trade, subjects of interest for Dutch artists naturally hewed away from religious and monarchic topics favored by their Italian contemporaries. One genre typical of this time period is the group portrait, often commissioned by civic associations, mercantile guilds, or even militias. Here we see such a portrait of the famous Rose City Riveters supporters group.

As is typical of such group portraits, the subjects are shown in a setting suggestive of their chosen vocation, apparently gazing approvingly at their team after a great victory. Details like the subtle floral pattern seen on the dress at the bottom left and the scarves several members wear add realism. Although the figure in the gray Batman shirt occupies a position of prominence, likely indicating a leadership position within the group, the composition of this image naturally draws the eye to the brilliant red rose on wrist of the woman on the left: the rose, of course, is the most important symbol of the guild.

Sonnett Upending Kerr, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1646

Nikita Taparia

Of course, no discussion of Dutch Golden Age art would be complete without mention of Rembrandt van Rijn, the greatest of the Dutch masters. Although Rembrandt did not originate the dramatic chiaroscuro lighting for which he is known, he adapted and perfected it for his own purposes. This image, depicting the battle between Emily Sonnett and the legendary striker Sam Kerr, makes remarkably effective use of this lightning technique: the players’ faces are turned towards the light, heightening the emotion in their expressions. Also noteworthy is the naturalism of the subjects’ movement, which Rembrandt was a master at capturing. All in all, the tension, motion, and drama in this image make it one of the artist’s most remarkable historic scenes.

The Concession of Horan, Jacques-Louis David, 1787

Nikita Taparia

By the late 18th century, the ideals of the Enlightenment had thoroughly permeated the public discourse; and in France, a revolution was brewing. The soft, intricate Rococo aesthetic was increasingly seen as frivolous and associated with the Ancien Régime; a new style for a new era was needed. Neoclassicism, with which no artist is more associated than Jacques-Louis David, looked back to the classical world for inspiration, favoring clean composition, simple color, and heroic subjects.

This image depicts a dramatic moment in the life of the epic hero Lindsey Horan, just before Francisca Ordega stabs the ball out from under her for a Washington goal and a humiliating Thorns draw. The composition, for the most part, is typical of the period, with a horizontal horizon and dark background serving to highlight the simply-lit figures in the foreground, almost giving the impression of a frieze. Each subject is focused on the fateful ball, which draws the viewer’s eye. Ordega and Britt Eckerstrom’s nearly parallel poses recall the overlapping ranks of figures common in ancient Greco-Roman art. The only unusual feature of this image is the figure of Horan’s fabled captain, Christine Sinclair, who throws off the symmetry of the scene. Historians are divided as to the allegorical meaning of this figure, but in purely visual terms, her positioning serves to invite the viewer into the drama taking place behind the net.

Horan Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix, 1832

Nikita Taparia

The deeds of Horan have been portrayed in many ways by many artists, and here we see an image of the hero’s life whose style sharply contrasts with David’s portrayal. This Romantic-era scene shows Horan in a moment of triumph, having just vanquished several foes. The lighting is vivid, with the fully illuminated background giving a sense of scale to the battlefield. If Delacroix’s use of light and color look almost impressionistic here, that’s no accident, as the artist was a powerful influence on painters like Renoir and Degas.

Less important than the literal event it depicts—Portland lost this match against their hated rivals—is the idealized image of Horan, the MVP, leading her city onward. Thus, Delacroix uses Horan almost allegorically here, using her to convey the strength, grace, and will of the team as a whole. Even Sinclair, the fabled leader, looks on in awe—and behind her, we see dismay on the subtly-worked face of Allie Long.

Sonnett Descending to the Turf, Marcel Duchamp, 1913

Nikita Taparia

Our final image takes us into the modern era. Controversy plagued this work when it was first exhibited, as Duchamp’s colleagues in the French Cubist school considered it too Futurist in style (compare, for instance, to the later work of Umberto Boccioni). The artist was fascinated by stop-motion photographs he had seen of fencers and galloping horses, and he applies the same visual concept here: in superimposing multiple still images of his subjects on top of each other, Duchamp succeeds in portraying their dynamic motion in a single frame. Emily Sonnett, among the most animated and expressive players of the era, was the perfect subject.

*All photos actually by Nikita Taparia