We live in a crowded world where it gets hard to be by yourself. The constant bombing of information and the excessive use of social media make us think we’re never alone, and yet sometimes we feel really lonely.
Psychologists argue that solitude refers to the idea of being completely alone –let’s say in a physical way–, but it doesn’t imply a feeling of loneliness. Actually, it’s a state where the mind, far from constant stimuli, becomes self-aware. It’s the moment when creativity –well known by artists– flourishes.
Here are the 10 paintings that prove solitude is a desirable state we all should experience constantly.
Solitude by Frederic Leighton (1890)
As the artist explained to his sister, the woman in the picture –who appears to be lost in her thoughts– depicts the emotions he felt when visiting Linn of Dee near Braemar, in Scotland. Leighton expresses that the place had “no sound, no faintest gurgle even reaches your ear; the silent mystery of it all absolutely invades and possesses you.” This painting has become the embodiment of absolute self-consciousness.
Solitude by Daler Usmonov (2015)
This piece belongs to the Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan: Worlds collection organized by the Luciano Benetton collection. In this painting, Usmonov shows a young man sitting on the floor of a dark room, watching the light percolating through the window. In this painting, solitude can be interpreted as the enlightenment we need to understand ourselves by brightening our shadowed minds.
Bedroom at Arles by Vincent Van Gogh (1890)
As it is well known, Van Gogh led a very tragic life. His life perfectly exemplifies the thin lines that separates loneliness from solitude. This famous painting, which apparently only shows the artist’s personal belongings, has a lot to say about his life. The emptiness of the room and the chairs pointing towards his bed can be signs of his self-awareness. The empty chairs speak of all the phantoms in his life and the portraits on the wall look on, as silent spectators to this smothering loneliness. To have a room of one's own is to have a room where creativity can be unleashed in the privacy of its four walls, but what happens when solitude becomes tainted by loneliness?
Solitude by Giorgio de Chirico (1917)
As one of the main founders of the Metaphysical Art Movement, Chirico is known for his surreal images and he’s actually credited as an important influencer of the movement. In his work i he tries to mix the modern world with the iconography of craftsmanship. This illustration shows one of his typical hybrid characters lying on a scaffold. The creature appears to be in a melancholy state of mind. It could be interpreted as modernity or technology binding us to a single state of mind. But it may also depicts the idea of solitude as a means to wander within our inner thoughts.
The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso (1903)
This painting belongs to Picasso’s famous "blue period," in which he used blue shades to depict poverty, suffering, and human misery. In this painting, the character is apparently playing the guitar on the streets of Barcelona, the city where Picasso lived for a long time. The piece can lead to a particular reading on solitude: the man is asking for money on the street; he might be on a crowded place, yet he seems to be immersed in his own world. After all, as the master said: “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich (1818)
This is one of the most used paintings to represent the famously nineteenth-century concept of the sublime. Again, we can see a man alone in his thoughts, and who is overwhelmed by the vast expanse that lies before him. He’s looking at the horizon, as if reflecting on his own life, and the indescribable powers of nature.
Melancholy by Constance Marie Charpentier (1801)
Constance-Marie Charpentier was a regular exhibitor at the Paris Salons. Most of her pieces were signed under the name of her professor; however, in 1801, she presented and received an award for her work, Melancholy. Melancholy can sometimes permeate those moments of solitude, because it is when you are on your own that you look back and reflect on all the things you've done. Every mistake and embarrassment is keenly felt as if it were happening at that moment. Here we see a young woman draped in a chiton, looking fixedly at the ground, her shoulders are hunched, as if she were weighed down by her gloomy thoughts that echo the darkness of the forest.
Automat by Edward Hopper (1927)
Hopper’s work is probably one of the most recognizable, and yet only a few know its creator. In this piece, the artist depicts a solitary woman having a beverage at an automat. The woman is meditative and as she swirls her drink around she is hypnotized by her thoughts.
Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1874)
The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of poets and artists who thought the art movements that came after the Renaissance artist Raphael had no artistic value. For this same reason, the brotherhood centered on classical figures to portray the beauty of that time. Proserpine, Roman goddess of agriculture, is held captive by the god of the Underworld, Pluto. In despair, her mother Ceres tries to convince Pluto to let her daughter go and after some negotiations, they agree she will marry the god and spend six months in the Underworld with her husband and the rest with her mother. The Pre-Raphaelites put a lot of emphasis on women’s emotions and reactions, and in this painting we can see the inner turmoil Proserpine goes through as she finds herself in the middle of a tug of war between her lover and her mother.
Saint Jerome in the Wilderness - Leonardo Da Vinci (1480)
Finally, we couldn’t leave out one of the most important artists in the history of mankind, Leonardo Da Vinci. In this unfinished oil painting, the maestro represents Saint Jerome, one of the four doctors of the Church, during his penitent retirement in the Syrian desert. In his countenance we can see the deep meditative process he lived through when he was a hermit.
We tend to think of solitude in sad and negative terms, as something we should avoid, when in reality it is one of the most desirable states every mature person should live. It’s the only moment in which we can really reflect on ourselves and reach inner peace.