Art History in “The Big Lebowski”

You probably think that I am going to write about Maude Lebowski’s work, but I wanted to write about something else.  Watching the film multiple times, I noticed that Jeffrey Lebowski (the rich one) has a lot of Neo-Classical and Rococo style art decorating his house.  The sculptures and paintings in the mansion consisted mostly of frolicking beings and people out on a pastoral jaunt in a bucolic environment. Another viewing led me to seeing a painting that I think originated from the Northern Baroque era, what with its group portrait of people situated in a shadowy environment. Appearing in the scene where a distraught Lebowski informs the Dude of his missing Bunny, the painting cleverly parallels the group of men posing in a room mostly engulfed in shadow. All in all, Lebowski’s taste acts as a big contrast to Maude’s contemporary leanings and Biennale connections. Furthermore, I found a video that had a narrator comparing Maude to Niki de Saint Phalle.

Oh dear, I veered off track from the point I originally intended to make.

Let me go back to it.

I wanted to talk about a painting that appears two times in the film. After Jeffrey tells the Dude of Bunny’s kidnapping, we see in the background The Swing by Jean-Honore Fragonard. The same painting of the woman swinging over the two men shows up again as the Dude and Walter confront Jeffrey over the kidnapping plot. This happens after we see Lebowski’s wife frolicking outside. The painting acts as a framing device for the beginning and closing of the main story that drove the whole movie. Furthermore, the painted woman and Bunny have a lot in common: both have this uninhibited side and act as the focal point to a cast of men. Also, does this painting remind you of the trampoline scene at Jackie Treehorn’s house?

Fitting that this painting would show up in the background of a well-furnished mansion, given how it stands as an icon of the Rococo era, and that era has connotations with the naughty behavior of the wealthy.  If you click on the link, you’ll find the good people at Khan Academy discuss the painting’s intertwining subtexts of manipulation and sex. Since other people have already analysed the film’s explorations of sex and class divisions, I have nothing new to offer in that area of thinking.   

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