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A boy and a skull

Yancy's picture

I seldom came to somewhere to see pictures by foreign painters because I believed if I could not know those painters’ background, I would not understand the deep meaning of their works. So, I just treated those works respectfully in my heart and refused to see them. However, my experience today changes in some degree my mind. And I think although the background is un-known for me, it won’t influence my enjoyment.

There are thousands of art works in front of me. Some are made by very famous painters such as Van Gogh or Monet, and others are made by unfamiliar names. I walk from one room to another, those works on the wall look at me silently, and I try to choose one work that shocks me or causes my interest. Some works are very beautiful because of their harmonious colors that are used to depict natural views. However, I cannot find the story that the painter wants to tell in such works. For me, it is important to tell the story in the work and in such works, the painter seems to just record the beautiful view in their eyes. Time is passing and I feel tired. When I enter in a new room, I decide to sit for a break. Then, when I notice the picture on the wall, I know, the one I need is here.

The picture is larger than other works around it. And its colors are darker. It is like a silent person who stays with some vivacious partners. I lookat it, and it looks at me. It depicts a young man sitting on a chair and putting his right elbow on a desk in front of him. On the desk, there are four books. On two of the books, there is a skull. Between the skull and the two books, there are some papers and on one corner of the desk, there is also a paper there. The background of this picture is interesting and mysterious. It looks like a purdah but there are some leaves and a branch on it. Maybe the leaves and branch are decorations of the purdah. Ten minutes pass. I want to know the painter’s name. The painter, Paul Cezanne, who I know from an introduction page of the works, used may dark colors to construct the sad, hopeless and oppressive atmosphere of this picture. The skull for me is always used to represent death. Painter profiled the young man, and he also profiled the skull. The man and the skull seem to face each other, which I think the young man is depicted to face his death. Another ten minutes pass. I stare at the left hand of the young man. He puts it on the leg and made a fist. Is he deciding something about death? Why he wants to do so? Different from other figure painting, in this painting, the young man’s eyes are not looking at his audience. He looks at some place, or just aimlessly because he is thinking. More and more doubts appear while I stay more time with the painting. Why the young man is so sad? Because of the paper in front him or other reasons? Maybe the papers are letters which bring some bad news which made him so sad and hopeless? And the books, I don’t think a man with books will think over something about death. He has books, which means he is still interested in the world and wanted to know more about the world in books. So, the news should be sudden. Also, the skull comes from where, from who? Is it common in that time that a young man puts a skull on his desk? I keep thinking over those problems but I could not find answers. At this moment, I really want to ask the painter face to face.

This experience in the foundation is fresh for me because I never think I would have some links with such a painting. Without the background knowledge of are works, I cannot find the answers of my problems but the experience of finding problems and guessing is interesting and maybe with more time, I can find my own special answers. I know I will remember the peculiar beauty of this painting and its story I formed. If I have chance to explore it in the future, it will also be fun.

Paul Cezanne. Young Man and Skull. The Barnes Foundation. Web. Nov. 24 2013.