10 Most Iconic Artworks of People Sleeping

Of late now, I’ve been wondering why sleeping inspires most artists. In my research, I discovered that artists like Matisse and Picasso used the sleeping posture as their central theme. They used it often while painting women, nymphs in repose and peasants. For other artists like Dali, the idea of what happens once you’re asleep, or as you dream inspired his creativity.

Recently, I had the chance of talking to one of the sleep experts at Try Mattress, and together, we took a trip across history. In our journey, we collected some of the most captivating sleep portraits. Just take a look at them!

1.     Lucien Freud’s Ib and Her Husband, 1992

While most people look at Lucien Freud’s paintings as grim or dysfunctional, he’s ‘risen to the occasion’ in this painting. He depicts his daughter Isobel asleep while in her husband’s arms. I like this painting because of the way in which it creates a sense of serenity and intimacy.

2.     Diane Arbus’ Anderson Hays Cooper, 1968

Back in 1968, Diane Arbus faced criticisms for only photographing what people termed as ‘freaks’ or dark characters. So, Arbus decided to photograph Gloria Vanderbilt’s baby, Anderson Cooper, for Harper’s Bazaar. Shockingly, the image opened Diane’s retrospective in 1972 at MOMA.

3.     Henri Matisse’s Portrait of a Sleeping Marguerite, 1920

Another person who has painted his daughter is Matisse, and it’s one of his favorite models. This painting is just one of the most serene portraits of her sleeping as a young adult.

4.     Ferdinand Hodler’s The Night, 1890

I fell in love with this painting because of the creativity around it. Here, Holder pictures himself as being suddenly woken up by the image of death. This scary incident happens with weird men and women sleeping around him.

5.     Antonio Canova’s Sleeping Nymph 1820-1824

At the top of the famous marble sculptures, I found Canova’s Sleeping Nymph. Although it was unfinished, he kept it in his studio until he drew his final breath.

6.     Philippe-Laurent Roland’s Sleeping Boy, Circa 1774

This fantastic painting was inspired by the classical antiquity’s sleeping erotes. It’s merely a cute sculpture of a young lad sleeping. I even discovered that later, it was used in various bronze sculptures.

7.     Sleeping Ariadne, 2nd Century BCE

Here is a famous sculpture of the legendary mythical figure called Ariadne. You’ll find this impressive piece of art in seated in Rome’s Vatican Museums. It portrays King Minos’ daughter asleep after Theseus, her lover, abandons her.

In the 1890s, there were a lot of peasant farmers working in Millet fields. So, Jean-Francois used this as the source of inspiration behind his paintings. I love the way he handles this particular one to show how they slept in the fields during their breaks.

9.     Man Ray’s Sleeping Woman, 1929

Here’s one of the most amazing photographs from the works of Man Ray. I like the way he manipulated it using heat to melt the medium. I think it gives the image a more surreal and subdued feel.

Rousseau once described this painting as ‘A Wandering Negress.’ Like all his works, Rousseau didn’t spare any drop of creativity as shown in this art. It depicts a mandolin player in a deep sleep with a jar of water beside her.

In her slumber, a lion decides to pass by and notices her scent. However, it spares her life by not devouring her from limb to limb. Here, I think he was only trying to show the importance of sleep in that not even a lion can dare ‘disturb’ someone sleeping. Besides, the painting has a moonlight effect which is quite poetic.

Historians and artists from across time knew the essence of getting enough rest. Therefore, they used the above pieces of art to show us just how much they admired the act of sleeping. So, from these paintings, portraits and pictures, which one captivates you the most?

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