Three Violinists

David Park
Three Violinists
Oil on canvas, 1939
52 x 40 inches
1983.017

Musicians are a recurring subject matter in David Park’s oeuvre over the course of his career. Park was an avid musician, who played the piano and sometimes performed with his colleagues at the San Francisco Art Institute. Three Violinists is characteristic of the artist’s work from the mid to late 1930s, during the WPA era of the Depression, when artists focused on genre paintings in a realist manner and were looking to the Renaissance painters for inspiration. For example, Piero della Francesca was a source for Park.

Three Violinists is tightly choreographed, the figures visually entwined, with the heads and bows of the violins forming multiple angles and views. The trio is likely playing the work of a classical composer that Park found intriguing or inspirational. At first glance, the painting seems to be cubist-derived, showing a single violinist from different angles.

Upon closer examination, the musicians can be recognized as individuals, although they are obscured into generalities by Park’s mask-like rendering of their faces. Reduced to type, the figures become vessels for carrying out the intent of the composition.

Park has frozen a moment in time when the trio of musicians is in the act of making music come alive, with the facets of each musicians’ face and instrument tilted and angled to the composition in a unified whole.

Park would go on from here, experimenting with various forms of modernism, including Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s, before he returned to the figure with his seminal Bay Area Figurative style for which he is well known today.