Diego Velázquez, 1656
Oil on canvas, 318 cm × 276 cm (125.2 in × 108.7 in)
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Like Velasquez in Las Meninas, Félix uses a mirror to show the faces of people facing each other. There are some important differences, including the fact that Felix depicts himself in a mirror whereas Velazquez uses a mirror on the back wall to depict a third party, the King and Queen of Spain. The royal couple is sitting for the painter, Velazquez, who is standing to the right of the central figure, the Princess Margarita Teresa, and her Maids of Honor ( Las Meninas). The princess is watching her parents who are sitting for the painter. This complex visual and perhaps social triangle is further complicated by the the fact that we, the viewer, appear to be standing in the place where the King and Queen as sitters should be. It’s easy to see why Las Meninas has inspired many critics to spill ink, including the art historian, Kenneth Clark, and psychoanalysts Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault.
In the Velazquez, we are invited to imagine ourselves in the place of King Philip and Queen Mariana, who we see reflected in the mirror in the background, whereas in Felix’s painting, we must choose between the point of reference of a mirror which must necessarily exist, in order that the artist might execute the portrait as it is represented – or that of the artist using the mirror to create the perspective.
In this sense, the structure of the work more closely resembles that of Goya’s portrait of Charles IV of Spain and His Family.
The Velazquez challenges and surprises the viewer by placing them (once they decipher the structure of the image) in the role of the sovereign rulers of Spain. Goya challenges and startles us in a different way by presenting us with a disconcerting choice between the personal perspective of the artist, any one of several of the subjects whose gaze engages us, or the objective perspective of the unseen, but structurally implicit mirror…
In Felix’s work, the ineluctable gaze of the subject renders the perspectival ambiguity all the more more starkly arresting. What we see in Felix’s portrait might equally well be the point of view of the artist, that of his subject Charles Young, or of the mirror in which the two are reflected. We are invited to speculate to what extent there is a difference between them.
Ultimately, it is the common ground between those three points of view that makes the project of painting possible. And it is the difference between them that makes the project of painting human.
An Independent Portrait. Portrait of Robert M. Young
43 × 35 cms.