Nicholas Brigante
Oil on canvas, 1933
48 x 38 inches
Gift of Francisca Virginia Brigante Memorial

In Cynical a woman dressed in a vibrant green dress is scrutinizing a Los Angeles newspaper. In keeping with the spirit of the Depression era in which it was created, the painting reflects social concerns but with Brigante’s wry sense of humor. He casts the woman in the role of social critic reading such headlines as “Tells Court She Packed Bodies in Trunks.” As the title of the painting suggests, and perhaps her facial expression, she reads the stories with disdain for the seedier aspects of modern life and popular culture.

There are other clues to the personality of the subject arranged like a still life in front of her—spools of brightly colored thread, a thimble, an open pair of scissors—and we know the model was the artist’s wife Francisca. Behind her is an Orientalized landscape, reflecting Brigante’s life-long interest in Far Eastern thought and aesthetics, particularly Chinese painting of the Sung dynasty with its Taoist philosophy.

Brigante was also a pioneer Los Angeles modernist and an organizer of the important 1923 Group of Independents exhibition, the first large-scale show of modern art held in Los Angeles. In Cynical he trades on color theories popular in modernist art circles at the time. The vivid, contrasting greens and reds he uses in Cynical echo and deepen the contrast he depicts in the painting between untrammeled nature and developing modern culture.