Compare and Contrast Art: Paintings of 3 Musicians by Pablo Picasso and Gary Erbe

Pablo Picasso's painting below left is titled "Three Musicians," and dates from 1921. Gary Erbe's painting below right is titled "Take Five," and dates from 1982. If you are a teacher or a home schooler, you can use these two paintings as an art lesson of comparing and contrasting art works that deal with a similar theme: in this case, depictions of a trio of musicians. Even if you're not using this in the classrooom, it can be fun to observe these two paintings and really look closely to see how the two artists have treated this subject matter.

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Three Musicians, 1921, by Pablo Picasso, a cubist masterpiece

Pablo Picasso, Three Musicians, 1921. Oil on canvas measuring 6' 7" x 7' 3 3/4"

Take Five, a painting depicting three musicians, by Gary Erbe

Gary Erbe, Take Five, 1982. Oil on canvas measuring 64" x 54"

Some starting points for discussion might include the following:

  • What do you see that is similar in these two paintings?
  • What do you notice that is different?
  • What artistic techniques are the painters using?
  • If you didn't know the dates of the paintings, is there anything about the paintings that would give you a clue that one was painted 61 years before the other?
  • Do you think Gary Erbe is making a direct reference to Picasso's well-known painting?

We have a list of our own observations which you can scroll down and see below. These observations are by no means comprehensive, and you may find more on your own, but we are including them here for your own discussion about these art works.

Our observations about these paintings of three musicians by Pablo Picasso and Gary Erbe:

  1. Both trios of musicians are depicted facing straight forward towards the viewer.
  2. The pointy/triangular-shaped head of Picasso's musician on the right is duplicated in two of the three musicians in Erbe's painting.
  3. There are really only two musical instruments in Picasso's painting: a clarinet and a guitar. The third musician is suggested to be a singer holding sheet music. In Erbe's painting, the three musicians are surrounded by five instruments: a trombone, drum, accordian, tambourine, and a clarinet.
  4. There is a clarinet in each of the paintings.
  5. Picasso's musicians and their instruments are all painted in the same style, but Erbe paints his musicians somewhat flat and abstract, but the instruments are painted realistically and with the suggestion of three dimensions.
  6. There is the suggestion of an animal - a dog? - behind the clarinet player in Picasso's painting, as evidenced by the furry legs and claws and a shadow on the wall. There are no animals in Erbe's painting.
  7. The colors brown, blue and orange figure prominently in both paintings.
  8. Picasso's musicians have what appear to be masks covering their eyes; Erbe's musicians also have their eyes covered with the suggestion of sunglasses or visors.

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