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Home » Challenge #11: The Art of Appropriation and Parody I

Challenge #11: The Art of Appropriation and Parody I

The principle of appropriation and parody is to use known art works to give them another meaning, a personal, humorous or conceptual touch.

The more explicit the links to the reference work and the more original the personal intervention, the more effective will be the result. These links are expressed through composition, color, style, etc. The intervention will take on even more varied forms: modification, deletion or addition of elements, cropping, transformation of style, etc.

These processes are based on the work of another artist; above all, through images that are part of our common heritage, they allow us to draw on and enrich our cultures; they revitalize movements and establish new filiations.

In this series of challenges, our focus is on color; keeping the palette of the reference work, adapting it to its own register or deliberately modifying it is in itself an act that can have special significance.

As for the previous challenge, the subject is so rich that two articles will be devoted to it; we will limit ourselves to the GOC items of our method (Get inspired, Observe, Create) since the R (Reproduce) is already an integral part of the process.

And, before our artistic walk, a little bit about appropriation.

Result of the current challenge: “Lock down 3: no more luncheon on the grass” (V. Lacroix)


In the American landscape, this term, accompanied by the adjective “cultural”, has a negative connotation. It is seen as spoliation, a form of oppression of a dominant culture over a minority culture.

If for certain communities the loss of depth and meaning of their symbols following an appropriation may offend them, to go so far as to prohibit it seems excessive to me.

Cultural appropriation goes beyond the artistic field for which the public is generally more tolerant. But until when? Shouldn’t it be seen as a mutual enrichment? Isn’t the most important thing that the original cultural source remains visible? And what if the light provided by cultural appropriation makes it more visible?

Who can blame the Impressionists, and in particular Van Gogh (1853-1890), for having drawn their inspiration from ukiyo-e, the art of Japanese prints?

What exactly would art be without appropriation? Artists have always been inspired by other artists, whether or not they are from the same culture. Picasso (1881-1973), who propelled art into new dimensions, was an expert on the matter. Consider how he has literally taken his sources of inspiration in ethnic art starting from the creation of the Girls from Avignon (1907). Judge this rather by observing the kinship of these two faces with African masks.

Pablo Picasso, two faces from “The girls from Avignon” (1907) and a Mbangu Mask (source)

This emblematic work of the 20th century was itself a source of inspiration for many artists. The latter in turn have been able to make it their own by adapting it to their own culture. See for example Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas (1985) by the African-American artist Robert Colescott.

Inspire and Observe

If Picasso is a master of appropriation, he is certainly not the first to make use of this process.

The Luncheon on the Grass

The Luncheon on the Grass ( Déjeuner sur l’herbe) by Edouard Manet (1832-1883) is one of the most diverted paintings. Picasso himself made 26 versions of it, not counting the drawings and engravings!

His subversive side — at the time he was painted — manifests itself both in the nudity of the woman and in the way Manet paints her. The model, leaving the studio, sitting next to well-dressed men, is looking at the viewer. Many earlier painters, however, already allow themselves to depict naked women next to dressed men. Naked in a country setting, they had their place as long as they were idealized, when the scene was allegorical or derived from mythology.

But here all the rules are broken. No glorified woman, the public recognizes her; no polished painting as the academics want; little modelling in the nude, no perspective respected. This painting is a manifesto, the painter affirms: “I paint what I want as I want”.

But, according to Zola, the crowd was careful not to judge Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe as a real work of art; “[…] they only saw people eating on the grass after getting out of the bath and they thought that the artist had put an obscene and boisterous intention […]”.

Inspiration or appropriation?

Three sources of inspiration are usually cited for this painting: Titian’s Pastoral Concert (c. 1509) probably, Raphael’s Judgement of Paris (see below) and the Tempest by Giorgione( 1506-1508).

But when one compares the engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi after Raphael’s painting, which has now disappeared, one can speak of appropriation. Note indeed the similarity between the scene to the right of the tree in the engraving and that in Manet’s painting.

Edouard Manet, “The Luncheon on the Grass ” (1863).
Engraving by Raimondi after Raphael’s “Judgement of Paris” (around 1515)

Appropriation by artists

In 1960, Picasso reinterpreted the painting in his own style, as did the contemporary Chinese painter Yue Minjun (born 1962) in 1995. Transforming the original work in his style contributes to the strength of appropriation. In this case, the artists take more freedom with respect to the color palette of the original work.

Picasso, “The Luncheon on the Grass” after Manet (1960)
Yue MinJun, “The Luncheon on the Grass” after Manet (1995) (courtesy of the artist)

The Australian visual artist Julie Rrap erases all the characters and retains the tones of the original painting. This work is in fact presented with a series of other reproductions of iconic 19th century paintings from which she has also removed certain elements. The visitor easily connects these missing figures with bronze molds, so many hollowed-out shapes that would allow them to be reconstructed.

Julie Rrap, “Untitled, after Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass”, part of the work “Flesh Out” (2002) (courtesy of the artist)

Diversion through advertising

Martin Hargreaves is a master at transforming famous paintings for advertising purpose.

In 2017, the E.LECLERC hypermarkets will entrust him with a campaign to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the CLEAN NATURE operation. To this end, Martin Hargreaves transformed a series of well-known paintings that would be exhibited in the metro. Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass is of course one of them.

Here, the palette is preserved, as are the figures, but rubbish littered on the ground is added to the painting; it is a call to action and a strong message supporting the campaign. This message is all the more striking because the process is reproduced in all the other campaign paintings.

Martin Hargreaves, Campaign for the 20th anniversary of “Clean nature” for E.Leclerc Hypermarkets (2017)

The Wolkoff & Arnodin agency is also carrying out a campaign based on a series of paintings for Yves St Laurent’s “Rive Gauche” autumn/winter 1998/1999 collection.

In the photo below, the designers take over the composition of the Luncheon on the Grass and reverse the roles by dressing the women and undressing the men. At the same time they have modified the scene, which, instead of taking place during the day, seems to take place at night.

Mario Sorrenti, photography for Yves Saint-Laurent’s Rive Gauche collection (1998-1999)
Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. Secret Garden 2 advertising campaign for Dior (2013)

The appropriation of Lunch on the grass is also evident in DIOR’s 2013 Secret Garden 2 advertising campaign. In Manet’s painting, the crowd would only see the woman because she was naked; in this picture, too, you only see her…because she is dressed in red. Notice how this color as well as orange and pink attract our attention; these are the only intense colors in the scene. Smart! They highlight DIOR’s clothes and accessories. They act as a tonic in the picture (read this article to learn more about the tonic).

And others still

The Luncheon on the Grass has inspired many artists and creators, as can be seen in numerous articles on the web. See for example this one in French, which makes a rather exhaustive list. That one in English provides seven examples. In the latter article, Newlin Tillotson, the author, considers Lichtenstein’s painting The White Tree as a reference to this painting. Lichtenstein indeed transformed many known art works in his own style. However, he usually remains closer to the subject (see here for example), so my guess is that the inspiration might rather be a painting of Cézanne or Picasso. What is your guess?

The creation of Adam

Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam is a highly coveted painting for humorous diversion.

Michelangelo “The Creation of Adam” (1508-1512) “The creation of the computer”.
Nastya Ptichek, from her series of emoji.

The Ukrainian artist Nastya Ptichek has also transformed The creation of Adam in her marvelous emoji series. By simply adding messages that are familiar to us, she gives new meaning to the original work.


The Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte (1898-1967) is also a specialist in appropriation and parody.
Below, the palette of his transformation of the Portrait of Madame Récamier by the painter Jacques-Louis David (1745-1825) departs from the original while referring to neo-classical colors. Magritte takes up the irreverent idea of coffins, this time transforming Manet’s The balcony. Note the trick of Magritte: by putting some color to the hydrangea on the left side of the balcony he seems to tell us that the plant is more alive than the characters. On the other hand indeed, in the reference painting, the flower, of a faded color whose hue harmonizes with that of the shutter, goes relatively unnoticed.

Left: David, “Portrait of Madame Récamier” (1800); right: Magritte, “Perspective : Madame Récamier de David”, (1951)
Right: Magritte, “Perspective II. Manet’s balcony”, (1950); left: Manet, “Le Balcon” (1868-1869)


To begin with, you have to start with a known painting that has potential. The two paintings above and Magritte’s work is a good starting point.

Special circumstances such as the lock down due to Covid-19 can be a source of inspiration for interventions.

Lock down 1: European Values after Magritte, “Personal Values(V. Lacroix CC-by-SA)
Lock down 2: American values, after Magritte, “Personal Values” (V. Lacroix CC-by-SA)
Lock down 3: no more luncheon on the grass. Translation of the panel: Information: Public space restriction measures, for your safety the parks are closed until further notice (V. Lacroix CC-BY-SA)

You will understand better the transformation of Magritte’s painting Personal Values if you know that Magritte painted the objects not according to their relative size but base on the importance they had in his life.

Magritte, “Personal Values” (source–Note for the copyright: this is considered as fair use)

Go ahead!

Take these or other paintings and transform them. Allow yourself parody, invention, black or kind humor. Making fun of ourselves helps to de-dramatize the situation.

Don’t hesitate to share your creations, some will also see it as a way to dispel their anxiety.

Show paintings to your children and let them immerse themselves in the style of an artist, you will see how easily they will be able to digest it and bring their own vision of the world, with their own freshness.

See you in the second part of this challenge where I will share with you other appropriations, diversions and parodies.

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