Three Graces: Les Trois Femmes Noires (work of art)
Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This painting is a fragmented image of three Black women wearing rhinestone-embellished 1970s-style clothing and high-heeled shoes. The women are posed in the classic style of the Three Graces (also called Charities) from Greek mythology.
- The Three Graces are goddesses who represent charm, beauty, and creativity.
- The painting’s fragmented style incorporates collage and cubist techniques of early 20th-century artists. It also has similarities to the Greco-Roman tradition of fresco painting.
- Mickalene Thomas’s work celebrates Black beauty, sexuality, and power by representing African-American women as goddesses from Greek mythology.
Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas is known for her elaborate, tactile paintings adorned with rhinestones, enamel and colorful acrylics. Her glamorized representations of African American women highlight stereotypes and ideals of celebrity and identity while simultaneously romanticizing ideas of femininity and power. The women in Thomas’s paintings are confident and are often arranged in provocative poses. Thomas frequently references traditional art historical mores in her paintings and photography and she recasts them with contemporary African American women.
In this piece she reimagines The Three Graces from Greek mythology in a large mixed-media painting. Throughout art history, the Three Graces have been depicted as white European women who represent the conventional values of charm, beauty, and creativity. Thomas portrays these three goddesses as modern Black women dressed in bold colors and patterns that emphasize their femininity and strength. At the same time, the artist has created a scene that seems fractured (literally). Throughout the painting there are geometric, neon lines that break the image into irregular shapes similar to broken glass. The effect is fresco-like, a popular Greco-Roman painting technique of applying pigment to wet plaster, which pairs well with the Grecian subject.
In addition to her remix of The Three Graces (which was inspired by Botticelli’s Primavera), Thomas has recreated Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Édouard Manet’s Olympia, and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.
tags: allusion, narrative, fashion
Resources for Teachers:
- Read the artist’s biography.
- Explore a discussion strategy that encourages students to interpret this work of art.
- Review another discussion activity for students.
Resources for Students:
- Watch a video tour of this painting.
- Write a poem inspired by this painting.
- Listen to Mickalene Thomas talk about her artwork and influences.