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Famous Painters: Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun

Posted by Susan Benford

Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun (1755-1842) was born of humble parentage to Jeanne Massin and the portraitist Louis Vigee.  Like Angelica Kaufmann, Vigee-Le Brun was a precocious artist whose talent was discovered Elisabeth-Vigee-Le-Brun-self-portrait.jpgand encouraged at a young age.  Together, these female artists stood out among their 18th century peers of both genders. 

Vigee-Le Brun lost her father when she was twelve, forcing her mother to remarry for economic neccesity.  By the time she was 15, Vigee-Le Brun had not only established her own studio, but also was attracting prestigious sitters -- and a reputation as a brilliant portraitist.

Self-Portrait, 1790.  Oil on canvas, approximately 39" by 32". Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

In 1776, she married the leading art dealer in Paris, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun.  Two years later - at 23 years old - she was summoned to Versailles to paint the portrait of Queen Marie Antoinette.  Her portrait so delighted the Queen that Vigee-Le Brun became a court artist who was well compensated and promoted by the Queen.  Although Mssr. Le Brun's profession technically disqualified Elisabeth from membership in the prestigious Academie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture, Marie Antoinette's intervention secured the young painter's admission, making Elizabeth one of four female artists so honored.

In 1787, she showed at the Paris Salon, where her gender caused a commotion.

Marie Antoinette and Her Children

Over the next decade, Elisabeth painted 30 or so portraits of the Queen, of which the most famous is Marie Antoinette and Her Children (1787).  


One of the last portraits created by Vigee-Le Brun before the Queen was imprisoned and executed during the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette is shown as unidealized and human, more mother than matriarch.  The portrait was intended to belie public perception that the Queen was extravagant, out of touch with her subjects, and immoral.

The pyramidal composition centers Marie Antoinette as its focus, lovingly surrounded by her children:

  • Maria Therese Charlotte is nestled into her mother's arm on the left;
  • Louis Joseph, the dauphin, or oldest son of the King of France, is on the right and points to the empty cradle of a recently deceased sibling; and
  • Louis Charles, the Duke of Normandy and the second dauphin

Typical of Vigee-Le Brun portraits, this work shows the painter's technical prowess and sympathy with her sitters. 

Above: Marie Antoinette and Her Children, 1787. Oil on canvas, approximately 41" by 32".  Chateau de Versailles, Verailles. 

Self Portrait with Julie

In the years preceding the French Revolution, Vigee-Le Brun was heavily criticized in the anti-establishment press. Retrospectively, this vitriol was incited by a host of factors: her extensive success in a male-Elisabeth_Vige-Le_Brun-Self-Portrait-Julie.jpgdominated profession; her frequent commissions from the courts of Europe; and her comport with upper stratums of society. Due to her closeness with the French monarchy, Vigee-Le Brun was also accused of being a bourgeois and a social climber. 

In 1789 after the Revolution, Vigee-Le Brun fled Paris with her daughter, Julie, and moved to Italy where she painted Self Portrait with Julie.

A touching tribute to mother-daughter love, Self Portrait with Julie is at once unidealized and dignified.  The artist herself recalls allegorical or mythological figures, while nine year old Julie radiates tenderness and a desire for maternal protection.  

In 1794, she returned to Paris to learn that she was no longer a citizen and to divorce her husband. She was subsequently welcomed in other countires including Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, England and Russia, where she became a patron of Czarina Catherine II.  

Self-Portrait with Julie, 1789.  Oil on canvas, approximately 48" by 75".  Musee du Louvre, Paris.

Remarkably, she received five honorary memberships in these countries' art academies. Even more remarkably, her complete oeuvre of 800 paintings (of which 600 were portraits) permitted her to amass a considerable fortune, making her a rarity among female artists... then and today.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition, Vigee-Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France, will be open until May 15, 2016.

 Like reading about the remarkable feats of women artists?

Explore this survey of ten female artists who rocked the art history world from the 16th to 20th centures.





Famous Paintings: Oedipus and the Sphinx

Posted by Susan Benford

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the star pupil of Neoclassical painter Jacqeus-Louis David, was the last avid proponent of the French Classical style championed initially by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665).  

Fascinated by Italian Renaissance paintings, especially those by Raphael, Ingres' early history paintings received Ingres-Vow-Louis_XIII.jpgmixed reviews even after he won the Prix de Rome in 1801. Ironically, he was forced to paint portraits to earn income...
and it is these Ingres paintings that are now most esteemed. It was not until his Vow of Louis XIII that he solidified his reputation: its favorable review in the Salon of November 1824 cemented his role as the defender of French Classicism.  

One of his most famous paintings, Oedipus and the Sphinx, is grounded in the myth of Oedipus outlined in Sophocles' play, Oidipos Tyrannos (Oedipus the King).

After King Laios, Oedipus' father, is told by an oracle that his son would one day kill him, the King drives a stake through his son's foot and abandons him on a mountaintop.  The young boy, saved and raised by a shepherd family, is forewarned by the oracle that his fate is to kill his father and marry his mother.  

Determined to outrun destiny, Oedipus leaves home for Thebes.  On his way there, he kills a man who wouldn't let him pass on the road, and later encounters the Sphinx, a frightening monster with the head, face and shoulders of a woman, the body of a lion, and wings of a bird.

HermesSandals1.jpgShe permits passage only to those who can solve her riddle: "What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?".  Oedipus correctly answered "Man" in his various ambulatory phases as a baby, adult and old man.  In gratitude for his victory over the Sphinx, Thebans offered their widowed queen, Jacosta, as a wife to Oedipus.

Hermes with the Sandal.  Roman copy after an original by Lysippos, created cca 320 BC.  Louvre, Paris.

Years later when an extensive plague ravages Thebes, the Oracle decries that it will end only when the murder of King Laios is solved.  The sole witness testifies that the man Oedipus killed when fleeing home was indeed his father the King; Oedipus' wife, Jacosta, is biologically his mother so that he has committed both patricide and incest.

The painter had his model assume the identical pose as in the classical statue of Hermes with the Sandal. The pose intentionally accentuates musculature. His torso deviates from any classical ideal, while his profiled head looks like a Greek statue.


To explain such incongruities, the painter stated,

"To express character one can allow a certain degree of exaggeration, which is even necessary on occasions when it is a question of capturing and emphasizing an element of the beautiful."

Indeed, Ingres is defining (and granting himself) artistic license.

The conspicuous, ghoulish foot in the lower left reminds us:

1. of those who were unsuccessful in resolving the riddle and perished;

2. of the riddle's reliance on walking;

3. of the meaning of the word "Oedipus" which means "swollen foot" in Greek.

Want to read more? Explore more famous paintings by Ingres, including his Grande Odalisque.

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Vincent van Gogh Paintings: Three Pairs of Shoes

Posted by Susan Benford

Despite the modern popularity of Vincent van Gogh paintings, the early years of van Gogh (1853-1890) offered nary a hint of his future fame.


Shoes, 1886.  Oil on canvas, approximately 15" by 18".  Vincent van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Born in Groot-Zundert, Holland, to a Calvinist pastor, Vincent van Gogh dropped out of school in 1869 to work for an art dealer; he was fired seven years later. He then spent two years as a lay preacher working with impoverished miners; he was denied ordination because he was considered "overly passionate" by Calvinist authorities. 

In 1880 at the age of 27, Vincent van Gogh resolved to become an artist.  In his brief career spanning only one decade, he created 1,000 paintings, including 70 in the last 70 days of his life.

Art historians know that in 1886, Vincent purchased a pair of well-worn shoes from a Parisian flea market. Earlier in the year, he had focused on floral still life paintings, but for autumn and winter, he needed a new motif.

Introducing the most famous pair of shoes in modern art.

The Cologne's Wallraf Richartz Museum mounted a 2009 exhibition entitled, Vincent van Gogh: Shoes, and explored the impact of this painting (see above) on art history and modern philosophy about art (for the curious, don't miss detailed sniping and polysyllabic putdowns among art historians and philosophers, including Martin Heidegger, Meyer Schapiro, and Jacques Derrida).

There are five van Gogh paintings of shoes (two of these van Gogh artworks are in Amsterdam's van Vincent-van-Gogh-Paintings-Three-Pairs.jpegThree Pairs of Shoes, 1886-1887.  Oil on canvas, 19 5/8" by 29 9/16".  Bequest from the Colelction of Maurice Wertheim, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.

Gogh Museum; one is in the Baltimore Museum of Art; one is at the Met).  None has been more extensively researched than Three Pairs of Shoes owned by the Harvard Art Museums (formerly known at the Fogg Museum).  It is one of the famous paintings donated to Harvard in 1950 by Maurice Wertheim.

Three Pairs of Shoes has elements of still life paintings - the six boots are arranged intentionally on a white display cloth often seen in that genre - and also elements of portraiture.  Each shoe, which would have been immediately recognizable to Parisians as a laborer's workboot, exudes its own personality.  For any doubting that an inanimate object can convey personality, look no further than Three Pairs of Shoes. As in so much of van Gogh's artwork, the heavy paint application, or impasto, enhances details like the nail heads.

Art historians noticed that textural ridges in the painting, or its topography, didn't precisely relate to the contours of the shoes.  When examining the work under raking light, or light that casts shadows, they observed groups of circular brushstrokes that suggested a painting underneath.  

Indeed, even with the naked eye one can see occasional patches of color seeping through in areas that are worn or cracked.  Using x-radiography, conservators have created images of the underlying still-life (read more about the process and see the x-radiographs in van Gogh's Three Pairs of Shoes.)  

Recent technical research suggests that there are 40 paintings by van Gogh that have been painted over.  May the research begin! 

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Monet Paintings at the Marmottan Monet Museum

Posted by Susan Benford

Art museums often deliver surprises, some of which are statistics like this one: the world's most extensive collection of Monet paintings is in the Marmottan Monet Museum of Paris.


Nympheas, 1903.  Oil on canvas, approximately 29" by 36".  Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

The museum inherited its Monet artwork from Michel Monet, Claude's son.  Its collection spans the painter's lifetime: in addition to such landmark Impressionist paintings as Impression, Sunrise, the Musee Marmottan Monet has numerous landscapes from the 1880s and 1890s, and many paintings from his beloved garden at Giverny. 

The Monet water lilies steal the show.

Monet-water-lilies-Nympheas-1915Nympheas, 1915.  Oil on canvas, 4'3" by 5'.  Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

Students of Monet paintings know that he often painted the same scene or object in different light at different times of day. His wonder at the effect of light lasted his lifetime.  Some of the recurring motifs explored in different lighting conditions included the Rouen cathedral; poplars; haystacks; Paris' train station, the Gare Saint-Lazare; and his garden.  


Le Pont de l'Europe, Gare Sainte-Lazare, 1877. Oil on canvas, 25" by 32". Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

In Le Pont de l'Europe, the steam from the trains captures light and melds seamlessly into the sky.  For the 1877 Impressionist exhibition alone, Monet exhibited seven variations of this train depot. This work has a traditional foreground and vanishing point between the two buildings, and while broaching abstraction, still retains elements of traditional painting.

Most vestiges of academic painting disappeared in the last thirty years of his life, when Monet focused almost exclusively on the motif of water lilies (Les Nympheas in French); there are 250 Monet paintings of Monet-water-lilies

Nympheas.  Oil on canvas, 41" by 29".  Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

water lilies alone.  In discussing them, he declared:

"The subject is not important to me; what I want to reproduce is what exists between the subject and me."

Claude Monet repeatedly ignored prevailing, popular artistic trends (think of the Nabis, Pointillists, Fauvists and Cubists).  Toward the end of his life, he completely eliminated the subject from his work, paving the way for the birth of abstract art.  Nowhere is this better seen than in one of his last Nympheas, above: inarguably, Monet's later impressionist paintings were the foundation of abstraction.




Monet Paintings: Impression, Sunrise

Posted by Susan Benford

It's easy to forget that technology drastically affected prior generations, too.

An ideal example is the introduction of portable easels and oil paints in tubes, an innovation of the 1870s that facilitated creation of impressionist paintings.

Liberated from painting solely in studios, artists - particularly those in France - began working outdoors, where their subject matter turned to the urban world of cafes, boulevards, visions of cities themselves, racetracks, cabarets, and pursuits of the upper classes.

Emile-Auguste-Carolus-Duran-Portrait-Claude-Monet-1867-245x300The pioneer of what we now call "impressionist painters" was Claude Monet (1840-1926).

Although he was trained in a Realist style during the 1860s, he was less influenced by the Old Masters than by his contemporaries.  Monet often claimed that it was Eugene Boudin who taught him the wonder of nature and the possibilities inherent in landscape painting.  He was also heavily influenced by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), Edouard Manet (1832-1883), and Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851).

Charles Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran.  Portrait of Claude Monet.  Oil on canvas, 1867.  Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

Like his contemporaries, Monet struggled financially, even after two Monet paintings were accepted to the Salon of 1865.  He was nearly destitute until the brother of Vincent van Gogh, art dealer Theo, sold a painting for 10,350 francs, an astonishing amount for a contemporary work of art.

At this time, taste in art was largely adjudicated by the French Salon, the Royal Academy of Art in France established in 1648 (England's version was founded in 1768).  Its annual or semi-annual art exhibition offered artists the opportunity to have their paintings vetted by a jury, exhibited, and subjected to critical review, with the implicit goal of obtaining patronage and commissions. 

The Salon system worked satisfactorily until artists began veering away from traditional academic art.  For the Salon of 1863, for instance, the jury rejected nearly 3,000 works.  After strong public protest, Napoleon III arranged an exhibition of these works in the Salon des Refuses, or the Salon of the Rejected Ones.


Claude Monet. Impression, Sunrise, ca. 1872-1873. Oil on canvas, approx. 19" by 25". Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris.

But these painters were not so easily mollified, and formed an alternative exhibition in April 1874.  

Organizing as the Societe Anonyme des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, etc. (Corporation of Artists painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc.), the exhibitors included Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Monet, Berthe Morisot (who exhibited an amazing nine paintings, including The Cradle, below), Pierre-August Renoir (1841-1919), Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Alfred Sisley (1839-99) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917).  

Retrospectively, it was a veritable "Who's Who" of impressionist painters. 

All participants agreed not to submit to the Salon that year, intending to introduce the public to a new, non-juried version of art in contrast to France's official, traditional version.

Critics were unkind to this new mode of outdoor, or en plein air, painting that shattered historical artistic conventions.  Louis Leroy, a critic for the magazine, Le Charivari, used the title of one of the Monet paintings, Impression, Sunrise, to label the entire show "The Exhibition of the Impressionists".  

Morisot-CradleImpression, Sunrise uses a high vantage point that eliminates the foreground and most of the horizon.  Traditional content or subject matter is missing here - the subjects of Impression, Sunrise are the atmosphere and light, a sketch-like recording of a fleeting sunrise.  

Berthe Morisot. The Cradle (Le berceau), 1873. Oil on canvas, 22 1/2" by 18 1/2". Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Claude Monet painted it at dawn from a window overlooking the harbor of Le Havre.  The ephemeral nature of a sunrise necessitated quick, broken loose brushstrokes, leading critics to contend that the work was "unfinished."

The newly minted Impressionist painters were pleased with their name, as it aptly described their intent to capture the constantly changing panorama of light and shadow at a moment in time.  Indeed, many impressionist painters would go on to paint the same scene at different times, portraying a different reality in each.

This first show by the French Impressionists is usually considered to be the starting point for modern art. That's another reason Impression, Sunrise is the crown jewel of impressionist paintings. 

Your Thoughts, Please...

What impressionist paintings define the style for you? Which Impressionist painters do you think were hugely influential? Your thoughts are appreciated!


Claude Monet. Sunrise (Marine), 1873.  Oil on canvas, 19 3/4" by 24".  J. Paul Gerry Museum, CA.

There's no doubt where this work  above was painted. 

Famous Painters: Gustave Caillebotte

Posted by Susan Benford

The least known of all Impressionist painters, Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) was only 27 when he joined the "independents", the group of painters soon to be labeled the "impressionists".

These fellow painters, who included Degas, Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Pissarro, and Cezanne,  rejected the religious, historical and mythological subject matter championed by traditionalists.  Not surprisingly, their submissions were rejected by the 1875 Paris Salon, the annual exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts.  After Caillebotte's painting, The Floor Scrapers, was not accepted, Renoir and Degas encouraged the young painter to exhibit the following year in the second show of impressionist paintings.

Caillebotte-Floor-ScrapersThe Floor Scrapers, 1875.  Oil on canvas, 40 3/16" x 57 7/8".  Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Now one of the most famous paintings by Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers represents a fairly common undertaking in mid-19th century Paris: men preparing floors in one of the newly-designed buildings by Baron Haussmann (1809-1892), the architect retained by Napoleon III in 1853 to "modernize" Paris (and to make its avenues so wide as to be barricade-proof, a deterrent to further revolutionary acts). 

While Floor Scrapers nods to the academic tradition of painting the male nude, the work was attacked for depicting lean, shirtless, unidealized men engaged in the mundane activity of planing a floor.  The workers (actually all the same model) grab our attention with their muscled arms, while the unusual perspective projects the men into the viewer's space.


The House Painters, 1877.  Oil on canvas, 34 1/4" x 45 11/16".  Private Collection.

Floor Scrapers was well received at the second exhibition of Impressionist paintings in 1876, the first public showing of any Caillebotte paintings. 

Not only was Caillebotte nearly a decade younger than his fellow Impressionists, but he was also the only artist who was independently wealthy; his family operated a thriving textile business which enabled Caillebotte to underwrite much of the Impressionism movement.  He became the driving force behind the third impressionist exhibition held in 1877, even orchestrating installation.  

Caillebotte-Pont-EuropePont de l'Europe, 1876.  Oil on canvas, 49 1/8" x 71 1/8".  Association des Amis du Petit Palais, Geneva.

Concurrently, he was also amassing a sizable collection of Impressionist paintings created by his less affluent peers.

Three Caillebotte paintings were included in the 1877 exhibition, all tracking Haussmann's transformation of Paris:

1. The House Painters.  19th century viewers of this work would have immediately recognized the newly erected Haussmann-designed buildings.  The strong vanishing point nearly overwhelms the work, almost making the painters themselves secondary.  

Many impressionist paintings had such loose brushwork that critics deemed them "unfinished" or considered them mere preparatory paintings for later more finished works.  Gustave Caillebotte, however, had a tighter handling of paint and a more muted palette than many of his contemporaries.

2. The Pont de l'Europe.  Parisians viewers would have immediately recognized this cast iron bridge spanning the Gare Saint-Lazare train yards, the busiest in Paris.  This marvel of engineering accommodated six converging avenues and had an open air plaza over the tracks.  Its presence is hinted by the white, billowing clouds in the upper left.

The preliminary sketch for Pont de l'Europe depicted the man and woman walking side by side, but in the final painting, he has walked ahead to stare at the younger workman on the right.  Careful inspection shows that this youth's face is deep red and flushed, with his hand awkwardly held at his cheek.  

Caillebotte-Paris-Street-Rainy-DayParis Street, Rainy Day, 1877.  Oil on canvas, 83 9/16" x 108 3/4".  Art Institute of Chicago.

This unusual triangle of characters fostered speculation about the unfolding narrative and the roles of the young man and woman.  Haussmann's sweeping wide boulevards had proven ideal for walking - and as venues for solicitation of prostitution.

This seeming tribute to the marvels of modern Paris is awash in ambiguity.

3. Paris Street, Rainy Day.  Like the other two Caillebotte paintings in the 1877 show, Paris Street, Rainy Day depicted the very neighborhood in which the exhibition was being held.  Rainy Day was deemed the masterpiece of the entire show.

Its nearly monochromatic palette captures the atmosphere of a rainy city day - and the uniform male attire of top hat, black redingote, and modern steel-framed English umbrella.  The vantage point places the viewer on the street, about to nearly collide with the couple or the cropped man on the right.  

The dramatic vanishing point pulls the viewer in, and draws attention to the lack of interaction: the couple isn't conversing; the other strollers are blank-faced and alone.

Is the artist hinting that Haussmann's vast renovations have not been uniformly beneficial?

While Caillebotte continued to paint, his wealth made him indifferent to the marketability of his work - and perhaps more willing to experiment.

His Fruit Displayed on a Stand was an original interpretation of the still life genre: the traditional subjects of fruits and vegetables become sumptuous and sensuous objects.  The figs, plums, apples and pears are swaddled and cradled in white paper, rendering them luxurious and perfect.

Caillebotte-Fruit-Displayed-on-StandFruit Displayed on a Stand, c. 1881-1882. Oil on canvas, 30 1/8" x 39 5/8". Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Caillebotte showed with the Impressionists until 1882, when he stopped painting regularly and intensely pursued interest in stamp collecting, in gardening, and in sailboat design and racing.  

After he died from a stroke in 1894, his impact on Impressionism was generally unrecognized for three reasons:

1. his entire oeuvre consists of 500 paintings, a paltry number compared with other impressionist painters;

manet-the-balcony2. there is no single art museum or institution with a collection of Caillebotte paintings (no U.S. museum holds more than two); and

3. upon his death, he bequeathed his extensive collection of Impressionist paintings to the Louvre, elevating his renown as a patron rather than as a painter.  Caillebotte's bequest was of such high quality that it formed the foundation of the Louvre's Impressionism collection.  

Among these famous paintings are Manet's The Balcony (right): Renoir's Ball at the Moullin de la Galette; Monet's Gare Saint-Lazare; and Cezanne's The Bay of Marseille Seen from L'Estaque.  

An exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter's Eye, examines this painter's career through an exhibition of 50 Caillebotte paintings.  This insightful show, on view until October 4, 2015, elevates Caillebotte to the realm of famous painters in Impressionism.

And let there be no doubt that Gustave Caillebotte had an impact on his peers: is there any doubt who was influenced by A Game of Bezique?


 A Game of Bezique, 1881.  Oil on canvas, 47 5/8" x 63 3/8".  Private Collection.

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James Abbott McNeill Whistler: Whistler's Mother

Posted by Susan Benford

At the age of 21, James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) left his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts for Paris, where he studied painting with Charles Gleyre (1806-1874), and befriended famous painters including Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet.  

james-abbott-mcneill-whistler-man-with-pipeThe influence of Courbet is readily apparent by 1859, when Whistler painted Man with a Pipe - its dense, coarse brushstrokes and harsh realism evoke this French painter.

Man with a Pipe, ca. 1859.  Oil on canvas, 16 1/4" x 13".  Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Whistler moved to London in 1859, where he befriended members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  He was to spend the remainder of his life shuttling between London and Paris, never to again live in the U.S.

By 1863, Whistler had jettisoned French Realism for Aestheticism, joining fellow painters rebelling against "bourgeois" conventions about painting.  This is seen in his Symphony in White No. 1: The White Girl, which was accepted into the infamous Salon des Refuses of 1863, an exhibition of works rejected by the traditional Salon.  

In it, the model Joanna Hiffernan is attired in a full length white dress and placed against a nearly all-white curtain.  Although Symphony in White No. 1 hung not far from Manet's Luncheon on the Grass, it was Whistler's painting that garnered more attention at the exhibition.

Whistler was not a textbook Impressionist: his prime concern was not with the effects of color James-Abbott-McNeill-Whistler-Symphony-White-1and light but with composition of patterns.  To him, what mattered in painting was not the subject per se but the way it was portrayed in form and color.

Nowhere is that more pronounced than in Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Artist's Mother, nicknamed Whistler's Mother

Symphony in White No. 1: The White Girl, 1861-61.  Oil on canvas, 84 1/2" by 42 1/2".  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

As the title insists, Portrait is first and foremost about pattern and shape and tone.  

The pallete is reminiscent of black and white photography, with only a touch of blush on the cheek of the sitter, Anna Mathilda Whistler.  The Japanese-designed curtain nods to Whistler's fascination with Japonisme; the geometry of the composition hints at Mondrian.

Although the most recognized of all Whistler paintings, Whistler's Mother only became famous in America in the 1930s.  Alfred Barr, then the director of the Museum of American Art, was lent this now iconic work for a New York exhibition that was ultimately seen by 50,000 people.  Barr secured a loan extension so that the beloved work could tour the U. S. for 18 months.  

During such economically challenging times, Portrait of the Artist's Mother became a symbol of Protestant fortitude, resilience and reserve.  Indeed, the postal service featured the painting in a commemorative Mother's Day stamp "in memory and in honor of the mothers of America".

But recent research from the Musee d'Orsay suggests that Anna Mathilda Whistler was far from an ideal mother: she maintained a fierce, autocratic control over James (or Jemie, as she called him), dominating both his private and personal life.  In addition to reigning over his household in the 1870s, she ended his long-term relationship with Joanna Hiffernan, star of his White Girl paintings.


Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Artist's Mother, 1871.  Oil on canvas, approximately 57" x 64".  Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Considering her meddling, overbearing personality, Portrait of the Artist's Mother has hints of psychological revenge: Anna Whistler is timelessly portrayed as a lifeless, stoic woman.  Although Whistler stated that form and color trumped narrative, that's not necessarily the case in Arrangement in Grey and Back: Portrait of the Artist's Mother.

This work, as well as other Whistler paintings, prints and lithographs, are on view at Whistler's Mother: Grey, Black and White at the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, until September 27, 2015.

Also on the East Coast, don't miss seeing MoMA's exhibition of all 60 Jacob Lawrence paintings called, "The Great Migration", and the newly-reopened Whitney with our 10 famous paintings at the new Whitney.

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Explore Masterpiece Cards, a set of 250 art history flashcards that provide a survey of the history of painting.  box_cards_checklist_6Covering nearly six centuries - from Renaissance paintings through Pop art paintings - these are works that shaped Western art history.  

Each Card has a faithful reproduction.  On the back are key facts, and an art historian's essay introducing the meaning and significance of each masterpiece.  Check out a sample!

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10 Famous Paintings at the Whitney Museum

Posted by Susan Benford

The Whitney Museum of American Art, re-opened this month in a new building, now holds its own in the U. S. art scene: the famous paintings at the Whitney Museum have never looked so spectacular due to its breath-taking, Renzo Piano buildingOf his 24 art museums - 13 of which are in the United States - none surpasses the Whitney.


Edward Hopper.  Early Sunday Morning.  Oil on canvas, 1930.  35 1/4" by 60".

With six floors of light-filled, expansive galleries in its 200,000 square feet, the museum can now exhibit more of its impressive collection of 22,000 items, including 17,000 works on paper.  The building alone merits a long visit.  As ArtNews notes,

The view across the gallery floor at the Whitney, above the spacious entrance lobby, evokes infinity: visitors can see from one end to the other, and glimpse the city beyond.  Rather than distracting from the art - in this case, the Whitney's top-notch and until-now underserved permanent collection - this openness brings a greater clarity to the experience of it by drawing the visitor more slowly through the space.

De-Kooning-door-to-riverIn this space is its inaugural show,"America is Hard to See", which features 650 artworks from these vast holdings. 

Here are ten must-see, famous paintings at the Whitney Museum: 

1. Early Sunday Morning 

One of the best known Edward Hopper paintings, Early Sunday Morning (above, center) formed part of the museum's founding collection.  Although the artist described this scene as "almost a literal translation of Seventh Avenue", he took great liberties with his rendition:

  • the doorways are compressed;
  • the windows are spaced irregularly; and
  • the long, early morning shadows are impossible on 7th Avenue, a street running north - south. 

Willem de Kooning.  Door to the River.  Oil on linen, 1960. 70 1/8" by 80 1/8".

Nonetheless, Edward Hopper has created a scene of eery, uncanny silence and solitude in this masterpiece of ambiguity.

The Whitney owns 3,157 Hopper artworks, the most comprehensive of anyone, anywhere.  Explore his Nighthawks (and note how the building in Early Sunday Morning looms in its background).  

joan-mitchell-hemlock2. Door to the River

This massive, nearly abstract work by Willem de Kooning (above, left) is overwhelming in its beauty and painterly confidence - it lacks the frequent reworking and repainting typical of so many de Kooning paintings. The sheer force and speed of his painting is undeniable when inspecting this work up close.

Right: Joan Mitchell. Hemlock. Oil on canvas, 1956. 91" by 80".

The wide brushstrokes were made with housepainting brushes. Knowing the work's title, it is easy to see the view of a brilliant blue river through the thick, broad, vertical brushstrokes forming a door.  

Explore other famous paintings by de Kooning, including Woman I and Excavation.

3. Hemlock 

Like many Joan Mitchell paintings, Hemlock (above, right) confounds notions of foreground and background: the white here is both behind and layered on top of the predominant blues and greens. Together with Helen Frankenthaler and Lee Krasner, Mitchell was one of the first female painters who were successful in Abstract Expressionism.

helen-frankenthaler-floodAlthough one can imagine the arching horizontal arms of a hemlock tree here, Mitchell titled the work after its creation, referencing a 1916 poem by Wallace Stevens, "Domination of Black", which contains several references to hemlocks, including:

“Out of the window, / I saw how the planets gathered / Like the leaves themselves / Turning in the wind. / I saw how the night came, / Came striding like the color of the / heavy hemlocks. . .”

4. Flood  

Helen Frankenthaler, the pioneer of color field painting, thinned her paint to the consistency of watercolor and poured it directly on to unprimed canvas.  When she tilted the canvas, the paint was absorbed in different concentrations, creating areas of varying density of color.

Helen Frankenthaler.  Flood.  Acrylic on canvas, 1967.  124 1/4" by 140 1/2".

But Helen Frankenthaler never completely abandoned representation: in Flood (above, left), she has created an elemental landscape with water, trees, sky and clouds.  She said, “I think of my pictures as explosive landscapes, worlds and distances, held on a flat surface.”

Learn more about color field painting, and one of her most famous paintings, Mountains and Sea -- created when she was 23 years old. 


5. Dial  

Friend and one-time art school classmate of Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston moved into and out of figuration during his career, with Dial representing his time as a commited abstract painter.  Guston commented:

"This picture has a special importance for me as it is a culminating point of a certain period of my painting."

As with many Guston paintings, the brushwork is both gestural and calculated; here, the widest brushstrokes are at the center of the canvas.  According to Guston, Dial was inspired by the grid paintings of Piet Mondrian. 

Philip Guston.  Dial.  Oil on linen, 1956.  72" by 76 3/8".

Roughly ten years after Dial, Philip Guston returned to a self-defined figuration with cartoon-like figures dominating his works.  

6. Three Flags

Like Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns incorporated recognized, commonplace imagery into his works.  jasper-johns-three-flags

In one of the most famous paintings at the Whitney, Johns painted in an old master technique called encaustic, a mixture of pigment suspended in hot wax.  Because encaustic hardens shortly after each stroke is laid down, it creates a sculptural "footprint" of each mark while making a pronounced three dimensional, textured surface. This grouping of flags projects out nearly five inches from the wall.

Jasper Johns.  Three Flags.  Encaustic on canvas, 1958.  30 5/8" by 45 1/2" by 4 5/8".

Jasper Johns paintings often include recognizable objects such as flags, numbers and targets.  According to Johns, these are "things the mind already knows"... granting him "room to work on other levels".  

7. The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti

Ben Shahn created a series of 23 paintings about the controversial trial and execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian-American immigrants.  In 1927, the two were sentenced to death for an armed robbery and murder of two employees of a Massachusetts company; after a jury convicted them based upon circumstantial evidence, the Lowell Shahn-Sacco-VanzettiCommittee was established to investigate charges of bias but upheld the jury's verdict.

After Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced to death by Judge Webster Thayer in 1927, international riots and protests ensued.

The title The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti is an overt reference to the Passion of Christ, and the lilies held by two members of the Lowell Committee are an attibute of the crucifixion of Christ.  Presiding Judge Thayer lurks in the window with his hand upright, as if taking an oath.  

Ben Shahn.  The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti.  Tempera and gouache on canvas, 1931-32.  84" by 48".

Ben Shahn was a leading proponent of Social Realism, a style born of the political, social and economic conditions of the Great Depression.  His graphic, flat style of painting brings a poignancy and immediacy to a dark chapter in U. S. history - and a story all should know.

8. Music, Pink and Blue No. 2

Like many modern artists, Georgia O'Keeffe was enthralled with how music could be expressive without words or reference to specific imagery.  Pink and blue aren't the sole colors here, but overall, this work plays cool and warm colors against each other as she explores the relationship of music and okeeffe-music-pink-and-blue-2abstraction as nonverbal forms of emotional expression.

Georgia O'Keeffe.  Music, Pink and Blue No. 2.  Oil on canvas, 1918.  35" by 30".

9. Four Darks in Red

Yet again, Mark Rothko paintings have to be seen to be fully appreciated.  

Starting in the late 1940s, Mark Rothko painted horizontal bands and rectangles of varying size, a format he explored for the rest of his career.  He felt he was capturing the "basic human emotions - tragedy, ecstasy, doom" in these works.

Here, the bands of color simultaneously emerge from and recede into the red ground.  Close inspection reveals that these rectangles consist of layer upon layer of paint of varying consistency, creating a luminosity and incandesence not captured in reproductions.

The scale of Rothko paintings is key, too.  He stated,

"The reason I paint them [large works]... is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human.  To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stero-opticon view or with a reducing glass.  Rothko-Four-Darks-in-RedHowever you paint the larger picture, you are in it.  It isn't something you command."

A viewer lives color standing in front of Four Darks in Red

Mark Rothko.  Four Darks in Red.  Oil on canvas, 1958.  101 7/8" by 116 3/8".

10. Girl Looking at Landcape

Taught by Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn was a member of the Bay Area Figurative group of painters who flourished in the San Francisco area in the mid 1950s.  This group of painters, who included Nathan Oliveira, Paul Wonner, David Park, and Theophilus Brown, veered away from the prevailing style of Abstract Expressionism and adopted figurative subject matter.

Girl Looking at Landscape is one of a series of Diebenkorn paintings in which figures are placed in architectural settings overlooking expansive landscapes; all convey a sense of detachment, contemplation, and the influence of Matisse and Pierre Bonnard.  Here, the geometric shapes and blocks of color foreshadow his later Ocean Park series, the best known Diebenkorn paintings

Diebenkorn-Girl-Looking-LandscapeRead the New Yorker's Peter Schjeldahl's review of the Whitney, and by all means, buy timed tickets to the Whitney ahead of any visit: the lines will do nothing but grow as word of its rebirth spreads.

Richard Diebenkorn.  Girl Looking at Landscape.  Oil on canvas, 1957.  59" by 60 1/2".

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Jacob Lawrence Paintings: The Migration Series

Posted by Susan Benford

One of the most famous painters during the first half of the 20th century, Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) had two notable first-time achievements: 


1. he was the first African-American artist to exhibit in a New York gallery (1941); and

2. he is the sole 20th century artist whose seminal work - a group of 60 paintings known as The Migration Series- is owned by and divided between two museums, the Phillips Collection and the Museum of Modern Art.

Panel 1. During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans.  Casein tempera on gessoed hardboard.

It is no wonder, then, that the MoMA show exhibiting all these Jacob Lawrence paintings is such a magnificent success.

Born in 1917, Lawrence moved to Harlem at age ten and dropped out of high school when he was 16. While working odd jobs, he began studying at the Harlem Art Workshop and subsequently was awarded a


Panel 10. They were very poor. Casein tempera on gessoed hardboard.

scholarship to New York's American Artists School.  It was there that he honed his distinctive style of flat, overlapping forms he labelled "dynamic Cubism".  

In 1938, Lawrence went to work for the Works Progress Administration as an easel painter.  Deemed too young at 21 to be a WPA muralist, Lawrence chafed at the size limitations of easel paintings; his solution was to paint in narrative series. 

With this format, Jacob Lawrence became a master storyteller of black history.  Like his fellow Harlem Renaissance artists, Lawrence addressed social struggles and injustices head-on and strove to highlight the historic accomplishments of outstanding blacks. 


Panel 15.  There were lynchings. Casein tempera on gessoed hardboard.

His five such groups of paintings are:

  • a series of 31 works about Harriet Tubman, the noted abolitionist, social reformer and conductor of the Underground Railroad (1938-1940);
  • a group of 32 paintings about her fellow abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, that were completed in 1938-1940;
  • a group of 41 works about the Haitian revolution and its leader, Toussaint L'Ouverture;
  • the John Brown works depicting the life of the controversial abolitionist; and
  • the Migration of the Negro - renamed in 1993 to The Migration Series- a group of 60 paintings depicting the massive exodus of African Americans from the rural South to the industrialized North and Midwest between World War I and World War II.

None is more powerful than The Migration Series.


Panel 52. One of the most violent race riots occurred in east St. Louis.. Casein tempera on gessoed hardboard.

Arguably, it depicts the most massive demographic upheaval in U. S. history as African-Americans exited the Jim Crow South: in 1910, for example, New York City and Chicago had 92,000 and 42,000 blacks, respectively.  By 1940, these populations had quintupled in each city, while in Detroit, the population increased 24-fold in three decades.  As noted by Isabel Wilkerson in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, migrants settled in those cities that were the terminus of a railroad line.

Both the North and South roiled from this shift and during this era.  Northern labor agents, or recruiters, were arrested, as were migrants waiting for their trains out of the South.  Tensions erupted in the so-called Red Summer of 1919, a series of nation-wide riots and massacres of African-Americans by whites in northern and southern towns. 


Panel 58.  In the North the African American had more educational opportunities. Casein tempera on gessoed hardboard.

Discrimination and mistreatment were not solely a Southern affair.  

Some established African-Americans, for instance, shunned and disdained their lesser educated, impoverished brethren.  Veterans returning from the war found their jobs taken and their neighborhoods integrated.  Migrants were often hired as strike breakers, a set-up for guaranteed hostility.

The Migration Series captures this all.

Lawrence devoted months to researching the history of the Great Migration at the Schomberg Collection of the Public Library of New York. His fellow artist and future wife, Gwendolyn Knight, helped select key events, write their captions, and gesso the 60 panels.  Lawrence then lined all up, and painted one color at a time across the series to ensure color continuity.  

These Jacob Lawrence paintings were made together -- and belong together.  May the critical acclaim earned by this show spur MoMA and the Phillips Collection to devise a means to exhibit them as this great artist intended.

One Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series will be at the Museum of Modern Art until September 7. 






Frans Hals: Portrait of a Preacher

Posted by Susan Benford

Frans Hals (1582/83 - 1666) was one of three famous painters who, along with Vermeer and Rembrandt, defined the Dutch Golden Age of painting in the 17th century.  

Hals was trained by the Mannerist painter, Karel van Mander, who instructed his students to paint either "neat" (precisely) or "rough" (without great detail).  His star pupil came to master this rough style, ultimately becoming one of the most famous Dutch painters in art history.

Frans_Hals_PreacherOf the nearly 300 Frans Hals paintings, nearly all are portraits - but few are as magnificent as his diminutive Portrait of a Preacher.  

The candor of the expression in the preacher's eyes hints at a complex personality.  His mustache is painted "wet in wet" (painting atop wet paint) while a single brushstroke defines his thumb. Nearly every brushstroke is vital in modeling this portrait; none is superflous.

Frans Hals. Portrait of a Preacher, ca. 1660. Oil on panel, 14 1/4" by 11 7/8". The Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection, currently on loan to Yale University Art Gallery.

While the preacher's identity isn't certain, it is certain that through this streamlined format, he intended to be remembered as a simple man.  Few attributes define him or offer clues to his identity:

  • his lace collar is as plain as they came;
  • his background and clothing lack ornamentation; and
  • his skullcap is not necessarily indicative of priesthood.

Notes John Walsh, Director Emeritus of the Getty and a specialist in Dutch paintings, this gentleman was a "man above vanity".  

The sitter wanted to be portrayed as representative of a certain class or type, making it all the more remarkable that despite those societal expectations, Frans Hals nonetheless conveys an individualized, distinctive personality. 

Interested in more?

  • Listen to John Walsh's exceptional lecture on Portrait of a Preacher.
  • Explore other Frans Hals paintings.  Learn about his Laughing Cavalier
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Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Beckmann, Blind Man's Buff

Beckmann, Departure; Self-Portrait in Tuxedo; Sinking of Titanic

Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair

Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights

Botticelli, Primavera

Caillebotte, Gustave, The Floor Scrapers; The House Painters; Pont de l'Europe; Paris Street, Rainy Day; Fruit Displayed on a Stand

Caravaggio, Fashion and Art History

CaravaggioConversion of St. Paul

Caravaggio, Young, Sick Bacchus and Basket of Fruit

Caravaggio, Cardsharps and Fortune Teller

Caravaggio, St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

Caravaggio, Taking of Christ (Kiss of Judas)

Caravaggio Paintings at the Villa Borghese

Cave Paintings

Cezanne, Bathers 

Cezanne, Card Players

Cezanne, Madame Cezanne Paintings

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings

Cezanne, Red Dress series

Copley, Paul Revere

David, Death of Marat 

David, Death of Socrates

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

de Kooning, Retrospective at MoMA (Part I)

de Kooning,Excavation and Painting, 1948 

de KooningWoman I

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People  

Diebenkorn, The Ocean Park Series

Duncanson, Robert Seldon.  Art History Welcomes Duncanson 

Durer, The Four Apostles

El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz

El Greco, View of Toledo

FontanaPortrait of a Noblewoman

Frankenthaler, Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Judith Beheading Holofernes

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting 

Ghent Altarpiece.  

GiorgioneThree Philosophers 

Goya, Duchess of Alba

Goya, Family of Charles IV

Goya, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

Goya, The Third of May 1808 

Goya, Duchess of Alba; Saturn Devouring his Son; Two Old Men; Half-Submerged Dog; Black Paintings

Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece

Hals, Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard

Hals, The Laughing Cavalier

Hals, Regents of St. Elizabeth's Hospital

Hopper, Nighthawks

Ingres, Grande Odalisque and Portrait of Madame Moissetier

Isenheim Altarpiece

Kahlo, Renowned Frida Kahlo Paintings.  

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting and David Garrick.  

Klimt, The Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Lawrence, Great Migration Series

Leonardo, Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery, London 

Leonardo, La Bella Principessa 

Leonardo, New Mona Lisa

Leonardo, Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta 

Leonardo, Savior of the World(Salvator Mundi) 

Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Leyster, Famous Female Painters

20 Louvre Paintings not to Miss 

ManetA Bar at the Folies-Bergere

Manet, Luncheon in the Studio

Manet, The Old Musician

Manet, Street Singer

MantegnaDead Christ

Matisse Paintings, In Search of True Painting

Matisse, The DanceThe Music

Matisse, The Cone Collection

Matisse, The Red Studio

Matisse, The Yellow Dress

Michelangelo, Crucifixion with the Madonna

Michelangelo, Famous Paintings

Michelangelo, La Pieta with Two Angels (latest attribution?)

Michelangelo, St. John the Baptist Bearing Witness

Modersohn-Becker, Famous Female Painters

Monet, Impression, Sunrise

Monet, Nymphaes, Le Pont de l'Europe

Monet, Waterlilies

Morisot, Famous Paintings

MorisotMore Famous Paintings

Munch, The Scream

O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit

Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror

Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Picasso, Las Meninas

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ

Pippin, Domino Players and Cabin in the Cotton

Poussin, Assumption of the Virgin

Raphael, Sistine Madonna

Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer 

Rembrandt, Night Watch

Rembrandt paintings at Frick Show

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait at an Early AgeJeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, The Jewish Bride

Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild

Rubens, Venus and Adonis

Sanchez Cotan, Spanish Still-life

Sargent, El Jaleo

Sargent, Madame X

Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris

Steen, The Christening Feast 

Steen paintings at Frick Show

Tanner, The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor

Titian, Assumption of the Virgin

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Man with a Glove

Titian, Nymph and Shepherd, Allegory of Prudence, Jacopa Strada, St. Jerome, Slaying of Marysas

Titian, Rape of Europa

Turner, J. M. W, The Fighting Temeraire

Uccello, Battle of San Romano

van der Weyden, St. Luke Drawing the Virgin

van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait

van Eyck, Adoration of the Lamb

van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece

van Gogh, The Potato Eaters

van GoghMemory of Garden at Etten; Tatched Cottages; White House

van Gogh,  Portrait of Madam Trabuc; Morning: Going Out

van Gogh, Starry Night

Vincent van Gogh paintings up to 1889

Vincent van Gogh paintings, 1888-1890

Velazquez, Juan de Pareja

Velazquez, Pope Innocent X

Velazquez, Overview of Famous Paintings

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Vermeer, Saint Praxedis

Vermeer, The Kitchen Maid

Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting

VermeerGirl with the Red Hat

Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans

Warhol, Marilyn Diptych and Gold Marilyn 

Warhol, Mao 

Whistler, Whistler's Mother

Anders Zorn

Famous Paintings by Art Museums

Learn about famous paintings to see in these art museums:

Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY). One of those intimate, small art museums with a stellar collectionFamous Paintings at Albright-Knox. 

Art Institute of Chicago: Plan to see these famous paintings at the Art Institute -- and download an ebook about them.

Louvre Museum, (Paris): one of the largest art museums in the world! Know which Louvre paintings not to miss in this sortable ebook. 

Mauritshuis Museum: explore works by renowned Dutch painters

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): download the ebook, Famous-Paintings-Metropolitan-Museum, to learn its must-see masterpieces. Or read the blog post, "Famous Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum". 

National Gallery (London): with 2300 famous paintings alone in its European painting section, discover highlights to see!  Art Paintings to See at the National Gallery.

Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam): 10 famous paintings not to miss

Washington, D.C. Art Museums: Explore forty famous paintings in Washington, DC in this article.

Whitney Museum of American Art.  Don't miss these 10 famous paintings at the Whitney.

Most Popular Posts

Michelangelo PaintingsThe Torment of Saint Anthony; The Manchester Madonna;Holy Family (Doni Tondo); and Entombment

Cave Paintings: explore this prehistoric art in Spain and France.

Picasso's Las Meninas: 58 Picasso paintings inspired by Velazquez's Las Meninas

Ghent Altarpiece: the van Eyck masterpiece, one of the most famous artworks ever made. 

Survey of Renaissance Paintings: want to know what Renaissance paintings were all about? Start with 20 of its most famous painters in this sweeping survey! 

Discover more of readers' favorite art history blog posts. 

Female Artists

While we long for the time when artists are artists and genderless, that time isn't yet here.

These are a few of the female artists who've left lasting legacies in the history of painting:

Sofonisba AnguissolaThree Sisters Playing ChessPhillip II of Spain

Rosa Bonheur.  Plowing in the Nivernais.  Horse Fair.

Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of a Noblewoman.

Helen Frankenthaler. Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea. 

Artemisia Gentileschi.  Judith Beheading Holofernes.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting.

Frida Kahlo.  Frida and Diego Rivera.  The Two Fridas.  The Love Embrace of the Universe. 

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting.  David Garrick.

Judith Leyster.  Self-Portrait.  The Proposition. 

Paula Modersohn-Becker. Self-Portrait with an Amber Necklace. Still Life with Goldfish. 

Berthe Morisot.  Refuge in Normandy.  The Cradle. 

Georgia O'Keeffe. Jack in the Pulpit Series. 

Survey of Female Artists

Art History Other

Art History Reading List: 50+ great reads in fiction and non-fiction

Art History Videos on YouTube

Cave Paintings

Most Controversial Paintings

Google Art ProjectArt Museums Up Close

Survey of Female Artists

Survey of Renaissance Paintings.

Art History Blogs

ArtDaily: daily breaking news about art museums and art history.

Art Blog by Bob: this brilliant art history blogger of Picture This on Big Think.

Art History Resources. Unwieldly but informative.

Marisol Roman.  A Spanish art history blog.

Mother of all Art & Art History Links: extensive list of online art history resources (including images, research resources, and art history depts.)

smARThistory. Think online art history textbook.  Brilliant. 

Art History Beyond Europe

A few forays into art outside Europe:

African Art and Bocio

African Mask of Idia


Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Great Wave

The Terracotta Warriors


Famous Paintings ebook

This free ebook has a wealth of facts and articles about the 250 influential paintings in Masterpiece Cards.

Did we mention it's free? d0e42560-d745-43b3-8b2d-9ee2d3273b82