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Famous Paintings Reviewed

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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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. 

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10 Famous Paintings in the Prado Museum

Posted by Susan Benford

The institution we now call the Prado Museum opened in 1819 and was called the Royal Museum of Paintings.  Because it was assembled from the royal collection, the Museo del Prado was never designed to be an encyclopaedic museum.  Rather than showcasing objects from all eras of art history, the Prado Museum reflects the tastes of Spanish royalty, and their keen eye for finding artwork by famous painters.


Juan Sanchez Cotan. Still Life with Game, Vegetables and Fruit, 1602.  Oil on canvas, approximately 27" by 35".  Prado, Madrid.

And what taste they had.

While leading Spanish painters - including El Greco, Velazquez and Goya - are well represented, the Prado Museum also has numerous art paintings by other European painters.

Ten Prado paintings not to miss include:

1. Juan Sanchez Cotan.  Still Life with Game, Vegetables and Fruit.

Believed to be the first surviving Spanish still life, or bodegon, Still Life with Game Vegetables and Fruit is one of six known Juan Sanchez Cotan paintings.

Not bad for a painter deemed the father of Spanish still life painting.  For the following century, the style of Juan Sanchez Cotan - a strong light source illuminating objects set against a nearly pitch black background -  would heavily influence Spanish painters, who in turn influenced other Europeans. 

Although Sanchez Cotan enjoyed some success as a painter - records show that he lent money to his friend, El Greco - he abandoned painting in 1602 to become a Carthusian monk. What a loss for art history.

Read more about Juan Sanchez Cotan, one of the most remarkable Spanish painters. 

2. Rogier van der Weyden.  The Escorial Deposition (or Descent from the Cross)

Originally a triptych, Descent from the Cross survived, tradition says, a horrific shipwreck on its way from Rogier-van-der-Weyden-Descent-from-CrossBelgium to Spain. Lucky for us.

It's hard to imagine a more compelling and gripping portrayal of grief not only in religious art but in any art. 

Rogier van der Weyden. Excorial Deposition (Descent from the Cross). Tempera and oil on wood, ca. 1435-1440. 7'3" by 8'7". Prado, Madrid.

Rogier van der Weyden has created a living theater with minutely executed details in clothing and in the tear-stained faces.  

The composition is exquisite - the curve of the body of the fainted Virgin is echoed by the body of Jesus.  The mourners are solidly volumetric and three dimensional, and seem to tilt into the viewer's space, as if in an invitation to share this grief.

3. Hieronymous Bosch.  Garden of Earthly Delights.

Over five centuries after Bosch created Garden of Earthly Delights, art historians remain perplexed at how he developed a style so different from the prominent Netherlandish painters of his time, Jan van Eyck (ca. 1370/90-1441) and Rogier van der Weyden (ca. 1400-1464).  Regardless, Garden of Earthly Delights is on any short list of the world's most famous paintings.


Forty Hieronymous Bosch paintings are known to exist; none is dated, and only seven, including Garden of Earthly Delights, are signed.

Although Hieronymous Bosch was a devout Catholic and chose the triptych format often used in altarpieces, Garden of Earthly Delights features imagery that would not have been accepted in a church. By a long shot.

Explore Garden of Earthly Delights and its enigmatic images. 

Hieronymous Bosch. Garden of Earthly Delights, ca. 1500-1505. Oil and grisaille on wooden panel. Center panel is 7'2 1/2" x 6'4 3/4". Each wing is 7'2 1/2" x 3'2".  Prado, Madrid.

4. Albrecht Durer.  Self Portrait 1498.

One of many Albrecht Durer self portraits, this 1498 version portrays him as a nobleman, not a painter, and Albrecht-Durer-self-portrait-1498in a pose typically reserved for those in high society.  Note the grey kidskin gloves, a luxury generally reserved for the wealthiest classes. 

Albrecht Durer.  Self Portrait, 1498.  Oil on panel, 20" by 16". Prado, Madrid.

The Renaissance transformed the status of painters from lowly craftsmen to a standing as intellectuals and courtiers.  By his pronounced signature below the window, Durer leaves no doubt that he embraced this elevated stature.

Read about more Albrecht Durer paintings.

5. El Greco.  Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest

According to the Prado museum, this is the best known of all El Greco paintings (I might argue for View of Toledo instead).  

El_Greco_paintings-nobleman-hand-chestThe nobleman, tentatively identified as Juan da Silva, notary major of Toledo, is identified as a gentleman by his lace collar and cuffs, pendant, and sword.  Light is focused on the sitters's face and hands, which are accentuated and framed by the brilliant ruff and cuffs.  

El Greco.  Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest, ca. 1580.  Oil on canvas, 32" by 26".  Prado, Madrid.

The focus on his illuminated hand and outstretched fingers has been variously interpreted as repentance, a vow, some rhetorical gesture, or simply as a compelling composition.  

I'm more taken with the naturalness of that hand and the sitter's piercing, confident gaze.

Explore other El Greco paintings.

6. Diego Velazquez.  Las Meninas (The Family of Charles IV).

One of the most famous painters in art history, according to any art historian, anytime. With fifty of the known 140 Diego Velazquez paintings, the Prado has the world's most extensive collection. 

Of all the famous paintings in the Prado, Las Meninas takes top honors in an exceptional collection. 

Thankfully, it is not beset by Mona-Lisa-like swarms. 

While Velazquez's skills as a painter are widely known (explore more Velazquez paintings here), his brilliant curatorial eye isn't.  Many of the Prado's Tintoretto, Veronese and Titian paintings were purchased at the suggestion of Velazquez (and with the deep pockets of Spanish king King Phillip IV).

See the homage paid by Pablo Picasso to Velazquez in his series of 58 Las Meninas paintings.

Diego Velazquez.  Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor), 1656.  Oil on canvas, 10'5" by 9'.  Prado, Madrid.

7. Diego Velazquez.  Surrender at Breda (The Lances)

In 1625, Spanish troops commanded by Ambrosio Spinola defeated Dutch troops in the port city of Breda.  In Surrender at Breda, Justin of Nassua, its governor, is stopped from bending his knee in a demonstration of Spinola's benevolence and generosity.

Behind them to the right and left are Dutch and Spanish soliders, the latter in front of an array of upright, intact lances.  This not-so-subtle reference to power spawned its popular nickname, The Lances.


Diego Velazquez.  The Surrender of Breda, 1634-35.  Oil on canvas, approximately 10' by 12'.  Prado, Madrid.

In the bottom right corner is a white sheet of paper, a device often used by painters as a prominent place to sign the work.  In Surrender at Breda, Velazquez opts to leave it blank - as if he alone is capable of such a masterpiece.

8. Titian.  Equestrian Portrait of Emperor Charles V at Muhlberg

The greatest portraitist of 16th century Europe, Titian was a reference point for generations of European painters.

In Equestrian Portrait of Emperor Charles V, Titian portrait commemorates the victory at Muhlberg of imperial (Catholic) forces against Protestant ones.  

Although this equestrian portrait initially seems straightforward, it instead houses a dual symbolism (and a good deal of creative license) : the victor Charles is portrayed as both a Christian knight and as heir to the imperial Roman tradition.

Titian-Charles_V-MuhlbergAround his neck, Charles wears the Order of the Golden Fleece, an order of 24 knights who pledged to join Charles in preserving Catholicism.  

When Titian made this painting, Charles, at age 57, had abdicated and was residing on his Spanish estate. 

Titian.  Equestrain Portrait of Charles V at Muhlberg, 1548.    Oil on canvas, 10' 11" by 9' 2".  Prado, Madrid.

He was riddled with gout, a result of poor habits like drinking ice-cold beer before breakfast, and, according to contemporaries, of his inordinate fondness for eel pie, olives, spicy Spanish sausages and oysters. 

This Titian portrait is pure fiction.

Explore more Titian paintings

9. Francisco Goya. The Third of May, 1808

On May 2, 1808, citizens of Madrid revolted against the occupying forces of Napoleon. The next day, his troops exacted revenge by killing hundreds of rebels and innocent bystanders.

While the shooters are faceless and indistinguishable from one another, the victims in The Third of May are depicted in fine detail. The white-shirted man is terrified, and holds his arms upward, recalling Christ's crucifixion; the victim in the left foreground, prone in pooled blood, similarly echoes this stance.


Francisco Goya. The Third of May, 1808. Oil on canvas, 1814. 8'9" by 11'4". Prado Museum, Madrid.

Read more about The Third of May, 1808.  See more Goya paintings, including his haunting series of 14 works called "The Black Paintings", the Duchess of Alba, and the poignant Self Portrait with Dr. Arrieta. 

10. Jose (Jusepe) de Ribera.  Bearded Woman.

Lesser known among Spanish painters, Jusepe de Ribera spent the bulk of his career in Italy.  His riveting triple portrait, Bearded Women, reflects the 17th century fashion of portraying people with physical or psychological abnormalities.

Ribera-Bearded_WomanBearded Woman was commissioned in 1631 by the Duke of Alcala, the Viceroy of Naples and a major patron of de Ribera.  Felix and Magdalena Ventura were a married couple with three sons when, at the age of 37, she developed a full beard. 

Jusepe de Ribera.  Bearded Woman, 1631.  Oil on canvas, 91" by 72".

In spite of her startling appearance, de Ribera has created a respectful portrait of the couple: Magdalena's forlorn face and her husband's fretting demeanor elicit sympathy, not derision. 

The inscription on the stone to the right of Bearded Woman documents her hypertrichosis and earlier life.  

Note the spool of thread and head of staff on top of the slab: these symbols of femininity and domesticity solidify Jusepe de Ribera's respectful portrayal.


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Paul Cezanne Paintings: The Red Dress Series

Posted by Susan Benford


The four Paul Cezanne paintings of his wife wearing a red, shawl-collared dress provide unusual insight into his painterly process: although Madame Cezanne is immediately recognizable by her mask-like face, almond-shaped eyes and slicked-back hair, none of the Red Dress paintings is intended as a portrait to capture her likeness.

Paul Cezanne.  Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair, ca. 1888-1890.  Oil on canvas, 31 7/8" by 25 5/8".  Fondation Beyeler, Basel.

Although art historians don't unanimously agree on the order in which Cezanne created the Red Dress paintings, most concur that the largest - the Met's version - was his final iteration.  

These works can be divided into two pairs according to how Hortense Fiquet is seated: in the Art Institute of Chicago and the Basel works, she is turned to the right; in the Met and Sao Paulo versions, she is seated more frontally.

Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair - Basel and Chicago versions

The Basel version (above, left) appears to be the most quickly painted of these four Paul Cezanne paintings. The Madame-Cezanne-Red-Dress-Chicagounderpainting and brush underdrawing are immediately visible, and white ground shows in her hands, dress, and face as well as in the yellow chair. 

Yet Dita Amory, the curator of the Madame Cezanne exhibition, notes that details were added after the initial paint had cured: these include the dark band atop the wainscot, which is sustantially wider on the left of the painting.

Paul Cezanne. Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair, ca. 1888-90.  Oil on canvas, 31 7/8" by 25 5/8".  Art Institute of Chicago.

In the Chicago work (right), Madame Cezanne is no longer gazing directly at the viewer, and isn't sitting as convincingly on the chair; she almost seems to be standing.  Her head, face and body are flatter and more stylized, making this version less natural than the Basel work.

Again, the wainscoting is heavier on the left than the right, as if to counterbalance the heft of Hortense's figure.

Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress - Sao Paolo version

The Sao Paolo version is a sketchy, candid portrait that lacks the yellow armchair and wainscot of the three other versions. Here, the sculptural aspects of Hortense Fiquet's dress are more imposing - and seemingly of more interest to Cezanne - than her face and head.  

Madame_Cezanne_red_Dress_Sao_pauloAs with the other subjects Cezanne painted repeatedly, Madame Cezanne serves as a springboard for exploration and experimentation with color and tone - these are not portraits as the art world had known them. 

Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress, ca. 1888-90.  Oil on canvas, 35" by 27 1/2".  Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo Assis Chateaubriand.

Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress - Met version

The largest and most spatially complex of the Red Dress paintings - and one of the most famous paintings by Cezanne - is the Met's monumental Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress.

It would be hard to view Cezanne's other three Red Dress paintings as anything but grand studies for this masterpiece.

Cezanne introduces here an elaborate background with ornate draperies, fireplace tongs, and a hint of a mirrored mantelpiece.

Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress roils with instability and motion, and is rife with contrasts:

  • areas of underpainting in her dress are juxtaposed with fine details of the floral curtain;

  • the right side of her face is calm and assured, while the shadowed left side is anxious and even unsettled, as her arched eyebrow suggests; and

  • the angles of the wainscot band, the mirror, and the yellow armchair was impossible to reconcile.


Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress, ca. 1888-90. Oil on canvas, 45 7/8" by 35 1/4". Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This is the first time these Paul Cezanne paintings have been together since they were in his studio, and it's pure wonder to see this reunion. Do you agree with the opinion that the Met version is the final and most compelling portrait? Do tell.

Explore more Madame Cezanne paintings.  Look at 20 Cezanne paintings that have revolutionized art history. 

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Madame Cezanne Paintings

Posted by Susan Benford

Fans of Cezanne paintings recognize various motifs that recur in his work - arrays of fruit, a plaster cast of Cupid, the view of Mont Sainte-Victoire (see some of these famous Cezanne paintings). One frequent theme, however, has not received its due: portraits of his wife. Cezanne-paintings-Young-Woman-Loosened-Hair

This changed with the Metropolitan Museum of Art's new exhibition, Madame Cezanne, the first show of drawings, watercolors and paintings of his wife, Hortense Fiquet (1850-1922). 

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) created 29 Madame Cezanne portraits, more portraits than of any other model (except himself) during his prolific and lengthy career.  

An astounding 24 of these Madame Cezanne paintings are exhibited in this gem (a somewhat sleeper) of a show.

Paul Cezanne.  Young Woman with Loosened Hair, ca. 1873-74.  Oil on canvas, 4 3/8" by 6".  Private collection, on loan to Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Museum Berggruen.

Why Has Madame Cezanne Been Unknown?

Cezanne met her in Paris in 1869, and three years later, she was modelling for him (see Young Woman with Loosened Hair, right). Fearing disapproval  and loss of financial support from his overbearing father, Cezanne closeted his relationship with Hortense and his out-of-wedlock son, Paul. It was 17 years later that they married.

madame-cezanne-leaning-on-a-tableHortense didn't fare well with her husband's friends or critics, either:

  • some referred to her as "La Boule" (the ball);
  • the art historian John Rewald contended that she neither influenced nor understood her husband's art; and
  • the English art historian Roger Fry dismissed "that sour bitch of a Madame" as the reason her husband's landscape paintings were unsuccessful.

(History doesn't record whether Fry gave Hortense credit for any of the successful paintings, but an educated guess suggests not). 

And then there were critics who cited her stiffness, impentrable gaze and unsmiling demeanor.

Paul Cezanne. Madame Cezanne  Leaning on a Table, ca. 1873-1874.  Oil on canvas, 18 1/8" by 15".  Private collection, care of Faggionato, London.

What the Exhibition Reveals

Because there are so few relics of Hortense Fiquet's life - for instance, only two letters she wrote have survived - there was ample room for conjecture.  

Even if Hortense did not comprehend her husband's aesthetics (and she was far from alone on that front), she deserves enormous credit for her commitment as a model, a sacrifice that was even acknowledged by John Rewald: 

Cezanne rarely painted any other woman, and it must have entailed considerable sacrifice on the part of his lively and talkative wife to lend herself to the endless sittings he inflicted on her. (1)

Further, we know through the French art dealer Ambroise Vollard that Cezanne would often pause 20 minutes between brushstokes.  

Who can hold a smile that long?

Madame Cezanne Paintings

Viewing these paintings, drawings and watercolors as a group reveals an inescapable tenderness in the attention taken in portraying her.  That he perceives form in terms of color relationships is clearly revealled in Madame Cezanne in a Red Armchair.  


Paul Cezanne.  Madame Cezanne in a Red Armchair, ca. 1877.  Oil on canvas, 28 1/2" by 22".  Museum of Fine Art, Boston.

Hues of blue, gray, green, violet and brown interrelate so freely in the canvas that Hortense's flesh tones hint of the same palette as her jacket bodice and the patterned wallpaper.  The loose, fluid quality of the brushstrokes are juxtaposed against her implacable, stoic gaze; with any other demeanor, she would compete with the other energy in the canvas.

Instead, she is secondary to the imposing red chair and her voluminous striped skirt. It feels more calculated than coincidental.


Which of these portraits do you find most complling - which reveals more of Hortense Fiquet's personality, if any do?


These three Madame Cezanne paintings alone are reason enough to visit this show, which runs through March 15, 2015.  (And if you're at the Met, use the ebook, Famous Paintings at the Met to explore other masterpieces there!)

Stay tuned for more reasons to see this show in the next post - the four "Red Dress" paintings, exhibited together for the first time since they left Cezanne's studio!

 (1) Madame Cezanne by Dita Amory, page 10.







Tags: Cezanne paintings

Famous Paintings: View Of Toledo

Posted by Susan Benford

Born in Crete, El Greco (1541-1614) was trained as a Byzantine icon painter before moving to Venice.  There he worked in Titian's shop and studied famous paintings of the Renaissance, especially those by Veronese and Tintoretto.


The dramatic lighting typical of Tintoretto and the bold colors of Titian were lasting influences from this time. 

Domenikos Theotokopoulos.  Portrait of an Old Man, 1595-60. Oil on canvas, 20 3/4" by 18 3/8".  Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now considered a self-portrait.

After moving in 1570 to Rome, El Greco secured lodging in the palace of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, one of the city's most influential art patrons.  Despite that prestigious connection, though, El Greco failed to receive even a single commission for an altarpiece during his six year tenure.


It seems it is ill-advised to assert that Michelangelo wasn't a skilled painter -- or to offer one's services in improving "The Last Judgement." 

Unfailingly confident, El Greco next tried Madrid, where his bid for patronage from Phillip II was turned down.  

Next up was Toledo. This ancient city was the capital of the Spanish empire until 1561, and remained its artistic, religious and intellectual center throughout the 16th century.  Toledo is memorialized in one of the most celebrated El Greco paintings, View of Toledo (most art history pros consider Burial of Count Orgaz to be his most famous painting). 


Domenikos Theotokopoulos.  View of Toledo, 1598-99.  Oil on canvas, 47 3/4" by 42 3/4".  Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In View of Toledo, El Greco takes extensive topographical liberties with the foreground meadow and the placement of the Tagus River and Alcantara bridge.  But he was not striving for precise representation. Instead, this swirling canvas of color captures El Greco's emotional response to his adopted homeland.  The meadow is eerily illuminated; there are microscopic washerwomen in the Tagus and walkers on the riverbanks - all of whom are microscopic dots - beneath a threatening sky.  

Keith Christiansen, Department of European Paintings at the Met, astutely reminds us that El Greco was a contemporary of Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci (the three died in 1614, 1610 and 1609, respectively). Christiansen notes, important respects El Greco's art belonged to the past, not the future: to the world of Mannerism, with its emphasis on the artist's imagination rather than the reproduction of nature... No other great Western artist moved mentally - as El Greco did - from the flat symbolic world of Byzantine icons to the world-embracing, humanistic vision of Renaissance paintings, and then on to a predominatly conceptual kind of art.

How ironic that El Greco,with one eye to the past, would become a forerunner of modern art.






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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

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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

Degas, The Bellilli Family, The Dance Class, In a Cafe (Absinthe Drinker)

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

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

Klimt, The Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Lawrence, Great Migration Series

Leonardo, Lady with an Ermine

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 

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Manet, The Old Musician

Manet, Street Singer

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Matisse, The Cone Collection

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Matisse, The Yellow Dress

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Michelangelo, Famous Paintings

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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

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Rembrandt, Night Watch

Rembrandt paintings at Frick Show

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Sanchez Cotan, Spanish Still-life

Sargent, El Jaleo

Sargent, Madame X

Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris

Steen, The Christening Feast 

Steen paintings at Frick Show

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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

van Gogh, Three Pairs of Shoes

Vincent van Gogh paintings up to 1889

Vincent van Gogh paintings, 1888-1890

Vigee-LeBrun, Marie Antoinette and Her Children, Self Portrait, Self-Portrait with Julie

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

Vigee-LeBrun, Marie Antoinette and Her ChildrenSelf PortraitSelf-Portrait with Julie

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 collectionExplore famous paintings at the 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. 

10 Famous Paintings at the Prado. Don't miss a one of these.

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.

Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun.  Self-Portrait; Marie Antoinette and Her Children; Self-Portrait with Julie

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 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