Top 8 Weirdest Families of Art History

Added May 15, 2021 - 6 minutes read

To celebrate the International Day of Families, we decided to make you discover 8 particularly curious family portraits. Through centuries and emotions, browse with us these different cocoons that will make you, for some, relativize your situation.

1. Edvard Munch, Four Girls in Åsgårdstrand, 1903.

Edvard Munch, Four Girls in Åsgårdstrand, 1903. Munch Museum, Oslo (Norway). 

Can you see happiness in the eyes of these four Norwegian girls? No ?
That's normal, there isn't any. According to the legend that surrounds this artwork, these melancholic sisters are from a peasant family in Åsgårdstrand, a small Norwegian village and holiday resort of the expressionist painter Edvard Munch. In the purest vein of his emblematic style, he delivers here much more than a pretty composition: we see above all the state of mind of the girls, with pale complexions and dressed in dark and dirty clothes.

Are they in mourning? Are they frightened by the curious habits of a strange painter who asks them to pose for hours? These questions will remain unanswered, because this painting cruelly brings more enigmas than explanations

2. Otto Dix, The Artist's Family, 1927. 


Otto Dix, The Artist's Family, 1927. Städel Museum, Frankfurt (Germany).

Welcome to hell. Although this artwork is entitled "The artist's family", it's not Otto Dix that we find under the features of this monstrous baby, but his own son: Ursul. In the manner of a typical religious Madonna, his mother (Otto's wife), Martha Dix, holds the divine deformed child on her lap and watches over him. The faces are ungainly, the gazes are creepy and the smiles are sinister. Despite this optimal family setting, the artwork reminds us of the tragic mindset of its author, Otto Dix, whose best-known masterpieces relate to the carnage and devastation of the two world wars that shook the 20th century. The artist was deeply traumatized by these violent times, and his style will forever be influenced by the horror of life and death, the broken faces and the insecurity of building a home in such a particular context. 

3. Van Gogh, First Steps (after Millet), 1890. 

Van Gogh, First Steps (after Millet), 1890. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

Would you like a little sweetness after these strange families?
Here is a relatively unknown artwork by the superstar of modern art: Vincent Van Gogh. Entitled The First Steps, it was inspired by an engraving of Jean-François Millet, of which a copy on paper was offered to him by his brother Theo. Vincent was a true admirer of this painter dedicated to the hardworking peasant life, who knew how to see beauty far from the pomp and glamour of bourgeois portraits. We discover two young peasant parents, taking advantage of a break in their work to train their child to walk: it's sweet, it's beautiful, it's delicate, it's symbolic. We love it.

4. Lucian Freud, Large Interior, London W11, 1981-1983. 

Lucian Freud, Large Interior, London W11, 1981-1983.  Private collection. 

This composition by Lucian Freud, grandson of the famous psychoanalyst but above all a great English expressionist painter, is openly inspired by another iconic artwork: Pierrot Content by the French artist Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), famous for his stagings of characters from the commedia dell'arte and his representations of "gallant parties". In this 20th century reinterpretation, we discover Lucian Freud's "recomposed" family: his daughter Bella Freud (playing the mandolin), his son Kai Boyt (in the center), Kai's mother and former partner of Lucian (on the right), Lucian's current partner, Celia Paul (on the left), and their common child (lying on the floor). A particularly complex family tangle that diffuses in the viewer's mind a (very) particular feeling of embarrassment.
With their mute and unconvincing gestures, their grimaces and their glances lost in the void, the discomfort of the scene is palpable. One can easily feel the models' boredom and the divergent emotions that emanate from their close meeting.

5. Jean Fautrier, Sunday Walk in Tyrol, 1922. 

Jean Fautrier, Sunday Walk in Tyrol, 1922. Museum of Modern Art, Paris. 

It seems that the whole family has digested the turkey badly, or found poisonous berries in the forest. Jean Fautrier is an artist known for his multiform production, since in the course of his career he progressively moved from figurative art (expressionism then impressionism) to a form of abstract art, becoming quasi-conceptual at the end of his life. Great traveler, he fell in love with the Tyrol region, where he spent a lot of time with his first wife (and first muse), Andrée Pierson. Although there's little information about this artwork, which is presented in the permanent collection of the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris, it seems that the family that served as models for this painting is composed of complete strangers that Jean Fautrier would have met during one of his convalescence trips to the Austrian region. An artwork as successful as disturbing, which doesn't really emphasize the aesthetic qualities of this strange group, with its grey complexion and bruised dimples


6. David Hockney, My Parents and Myself, 1976. 

David Hockney, My Parents and Myself, 1976.

This artwork doesn't describe the deep boredom of an afternoon at a couple's house in their seventies, but it's a family portrait, since a careful eye can easily discover the self-portrait of the English artist David Hockney in the reflection of the mirror placed in the center of the canvas. 

This portrait of the artist surrounded by his parents had a rather tumultuous fate, since after many modifications and hesitations, it had to wait more than four decades before being unveiled to the world. These dithering were moreover the fruit of intense family quarrels between the various protagonists: the parents, who had to pose during several days were very disappointed that the final result didn't suit their son. Despite their impatience and repeated pleas, it wasn't until their death that David Hockney decided to take the artwork out of his studio, 45 years after its creation, in 2020, for a retrospective exhibition. 

7. Frederick George Cotman, One of the family, 1880.


F.G. Cotman, One of the family, 1880. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. 

If you think your family composition is unusual, then you should be disappointed. In 1880, when English artist Frederick George Cotman created this artwork, interior paintings were plentiful, but what is far less common, as you might expect, is the presence of a horse sharing a meal with the whole little family. This is the only known artwork by the artist, who did a lot of bourgeois portraits and landscapes that unfortunately didn't really mark the history of Art. 

8. William Bouguereau, Idyll: Ancient Family, circa 1860. 


William Bouguereau, Idyll: Ancient Family, circa 1860. Private collection. 

A bit of sweetness to conclude this classification, with a new animal intrusion in a family. This time, it's the French painter William Bouguereau that we owe this strange entanglement. At the height of his fame between the 1850s and 1880s, William Bouguereau was shunned by his contemporaries, especially the Impressionists, who criticized the "pompous", idealized and cheesy character of his neo-classical works. Some of the critics and spectators were also very acerbic against this last representative of academicism in the face of an art world in full impressionist and expressionist turmoil. At that time, there was obviously no more room for traditional art soaked in mythological and religious references. This explains why William Bouguereau was forgotten by art history for several decades, before being rediscovered in the 1980s. 

In this artwork, we discover his (very) romanticized reading of an ancient family: at the time, obviously, kids preferred the company of wild deer to that of dogs or cats. Why not. 

Well, we hope you enjoyed this compilation of (more or less) strange relationships. Never forget: we only have one family, so let's cherish it.

Artmajeur

Receive our newsletter for art lovers and collectors