Natalie Frank – The Frog Prince

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Natalie Frank
The Frog King, Or Iron Heinrich I, 2011-14
Gouache and chalk pastel on Arches paper

Immediately after choosing my piece, I read the Grimm’s tale, “The Frog Prince,” which told of a beautiful young princess who bartered with a frog to retrieve her golden ball that fell into a well. Though she detests the slimy frog, the princess keeps her end of the promise (i.e. keeping the frog as a companion) primarily due to her father’s insistence. In the end, the princess angrily throws the frog against a wall, the frog turns into a prince, and the two get married. Reasonable, right?

Even after reading the story, it took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust and recognize the illustrated components of the tale in Frank’s artwork. But soon, I identified the girl on the left as the princess, and the golden spheres in the air and in the water as her ball. The image in the middle, of course, is the frog/prince.

When I first approached Frank’s painting, it was this two-faced image of a man’s face with a long tongue next to a round-eyed creature that caught my attention. The frog prince is not only the heart of the story but also of Frank’s work. The expression within the man’s deep blue eyes and the softer rounded eye of the frog speaks volumes. In a podcast available at the museum, Frank said, “For me, eyes are a way for the reader, the viewer, to enter the stories and the picture very concretely – and because the world of the Grimm’s is so chaotic and fantastic, it’s a way to keep normality … eyes are this portal that calms the picture down.”

I fully agree with her commentary. Even if the bright blue of the water or the multi-colored sky initially consumed a viewer’s attention, his or her gaze would eventually find the central, calming eyes of the frog prince. The eyes do serve as a portal into the story of the painting. Even though the fairytale has no mention of the frog or prince crying, Frank distinctly depicts tears falling from their eyes. After being cursed by a witch and abused by a child, their sadness is justified. We can enter the image from their point of view – from the bank, the frog watches a blond girl toss her golden ball into the air, and when it falls into the water, the naked prince, trapped in his animal from, dives into the water to retrieve it.

Just as in Alice, animals play a significant role in Frank’s painting and the Grimm’s tale. However, I’m immensely happy to say that unlike the blonde princess, our Alice does not verbally degrade animals with vicious words or trick them for her own benefit. Even though she kicks poor Bill, I don’t think someone could mimic Frank’s work by replacing the frog prince with Bill the lizard and the young princess with Alice – at least, not with the same effect. Alice’s treatment of animals doesn’t hold the same malice as the young princess’s. Frank’s portrayal of the princess’s face even appears slightly grotesque (with her pointed teeth), subtly hinting at her true nature.

Overall, I thought Frank created a mysterious world of color and magic that provides deeper insight into the written story with its unique presentation of the frog prince and princess.

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