Art That Was Never Finished | Summary and Q&A

June 25, 2020
The Art Assignment
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Art That Was Never Finished


Unfinished art holds historical context, can serve as a memorial, provide insights into artistic techniques, and challenge traditional ideas of completion.

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Key Insights

  • 🥰 Unfinished art can be a source of wonder and beauty, with figures emerging from the canvas or marble.
  • 🥹 Unfinished paintings can hold historical significance, representing important moments or lives.
  • 🧑‍🎨 Unfinished art provides valuable insights for art historians, conservators, and curators, offering glimpses into an artist's techniques and process.


A few years ago, I saw an exhibition at the Met Breuer Museum in New York about unfinished art. The show included work from the Renaissance through the 21st century, and it really moved me--like, so much that I bought the hulking book that accompanied the show. I mean you could do bicep curls with this thing and get reasonably fit. But when I look ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: Why do artists sometimes leave their work unfinished?

Artists may leave their work unfinished for various reasons, including patrons backing out, boredom, inability to solve problems, or personal circumstances such as illness or caring for loved ones.

Q: How can unfinished paintings serve as memorials?

Unfinished paintings can become memorials to unfinished lives, like Ford Maddox Brown's painting "Take Your Son, Sir," which he abandoned when his infant son died at ten months old.

Q: How do unfinished paintings provide insights into art history?

Unfinished paintings offer glimpses into an artist's techniques and process, such as Perino del Vaga's painting revealing underdrawings and architectural elements.

Q: What is the significance of intentionally unfinished art?

The tradition of intentionally not finishing artwork, known as "non finito," can be found throughout art history, challenging traditional notions of completion and questioning whether something must look finished to be considered complete.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Unfinished art serves as a reminder that art is created by people living in time and space, and unfinishedness can add beauty and wonder to the work.

  • Historical significance can be found in unfinished art, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's unfinished watercolor portrait, painted shortly before his death.

  • Unfinished art can also be a memorial, representing unfinished lives like Laura Knight's unfinished portrait of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.

  • Unfinished paintings provide valuable insights for curators and conservators, offering glimpses into an artist's techniques and underlying architecture.

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