Judging from their body language, the casually dressed women and men in Roland Petersen's American Picnic (cover) aren't having a pleasant afternoon. With the exception of two couples in conversation to pass the time, the picnickers don't seem to know one another or be making an effort to get acquainted. The ambience is obligatory, like a corporate function; if this scene had been painted from life, it would hardly seem worth commemorating. The painting is probably not based on a real event, but is rather a composite of views from the Sacramento Valley of California assembled by the painter to create a sense of rhythm and spatial recession. In this painting, the human figures are intentionally deanimated. Petersen said that he admired the rigidity and silence of Egyptian art and the stiff postures of the bourgeoisie in the pointillist paintings of Georges Seurat. Picnic scenes were particularly well suited to Petersen's artistic goal, which was to create a plausible composition of human figures and landscape features in a large, open-air still life. The figures and objects function as pictorial elements that mark intervals of color and geometric shapes.
Cole TB. American Picnic. JAMA. 2013;309(20):2078. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.1598
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