SIDNEY PETRUNICH of Brownsburg, Indiana received honorable mention in the Art History/Museum Studies category of the Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation Scholarship Program. She is a student majoring in Art History at Herron School of Art & Design in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Applicants wrote essays in response to the following statement: During their extensive travels in Mexico, Frederic and Eileen Whitaker often painted similar subject matter. Compare their approaches using the two paintings – “The Fruit Market” by Frederic Whitaker and “Se Venden Naranjas” by Eileen Monaghan Whitaker.
Sidney Petrunich’s essay
Looking at these two artworks, the strong connection between Frederic and Eileen Whitaker is heavily apparent in their depictions of Mexican life and culture. While their approaches to the two individual paintings may look different, they show a similar goal of capturing human energy and form.
When looking at Frederic Whitaker’s “The Fruit Market”, it is easy to assume that he was depicting his subject matter in a more active style than Eileen. The slight sketchiness in the outlining of those visiting the market, the extreme detail in some facial features and the lack of in others, as well as the loose brush marks seen in the sky and fabric make this painting easily interpretable as perhaps an echo of Post-Impressionism, reminiscent of the lively brush strokes and textural markings seen in the late nineteenth century.
It should be noted; however, that while this painting may look as though Mr. Whitaker had instantly captured the activities of the buzzing fruit market, much of this painting was probably pre-planned as there seems to be a lack of underdrawings beneath the water color. Further, the division of the painting shows a large amount of preparation. The background, middleground, and foreground are well-portrayed. Frederic uses the sky and fabric to depict the background, the a bustling crowd viewing and picking fruit for the middleground, and the foreground consists of a triangular formation of pineapples and a lone fruit seller. In contrast, Eileen Whitaker’s “Se Venden Naranjas”, which roughly translates to “orange sellers”, lacks the planar division seen in Mr. Whitakers work and shows underdrawings present beneath the figures and in the background. Markings showing vase placements and figure outlines never fully painted are seen behind the women figures within the painting. It should be stated that one of Eileen’s orange sellers, the one which is seated with a blanket over her lap, is like Frederic’s fruit seller in the foreground of his piece. This may indicate that while they portrayed differing depictions of the fruit market, they may have been viewing the same scene when painting. This may be why Eileen’s painting shows faded figure outline behind the women figures present in “Se Venden Naranjas”.
Unlike Frederic’s “The Fruit Market”, Eileen’s watercolor depiction of the fruit seller’s focuses on capturing the intimacy of the women, who seem to be closely related to each other and are more than likely from the same family. Mrs. Whitaker intends to capture the quietness and solemnity of the outer edges of the fruit market. While Eileen’s painting uses similar loose brushstrokes and outlining techniques as her husband, she illustrates much more detail in the physical features of her subjects and the quality of fabric and baskets seen on and around the women. Her naturalistic portrayal of the women allows her to capture the gravitas of the human form and energy between the women, and the subtle sobriety present in the moment.
In conclusion, while their artworks focus on separate subjects within the crowded markets of Mexico, their approach to capturing their subject matter and energy show not only their individual take on watercolor depictions. Frederic and Eileen Whitaker’s portrayal of their subject matter contain similar drawing tactics, shading practices, and textural markers. Their use of loose brush strokes when capturing energy, their interest in emotion and feeling in their art, and the similar presentation of the fruit seller seen in the lower portion of Frederic’s painting in comparison with Eileen’s orange sellers all portray their communication and sharing of ideas while working. Their individual approaches to painting render their relationship with one another, and their sharing of ideas and practices within their art.