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Famous Art Museums: Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Posted by Susan Benford

frida kahlo self portrait monkeyThe Albright-Knox Art Gallery is one of those rare art museums with an art collection that belies its size and location.  It's one of those regional art museums, like the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Frick Collectionthat invariably delights. 

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Monkey. Oil on canvas, 1938.  16" by 12".

It turns out that this opinion is shared with esteemed company (which I discovered after my visit!). Thomas Hoving, past president of the Metropolitan Museum, said:

"The Albright-Knox Art Gallery should be on everyone’s list to see, for it’s an overwhelming art experience. Small, intimate, and seductive, the museum has one of the most thumping modern and contemporary collections in the world."

This art museum is especially strong in post-war American and European paintings. In no particular order, here are some of the works of art currently displayed:

Self-Portrait with a Monkey, Frida Kahlo

  • One of the most widely recognized Frida Kahlo paintings, Self-Portrait with a Monkey (above) is diminutive at 16" by 12".   Nonetheless, Kahlo conveys intense confidence and power while simultaneously applying paint in a dainty manner. The detail - in the veins of the various leaves behind her, in the monkey's fur, in the hair on her upper lip - is exacting and even somewhat shocking.  

Explore more Frida Kahlo paintings here.

The Liver is the Cock's Comb, Arshile Gorky
  • Gorky TheLiverIsTheCocksComb 260 1 resized 600One of the first American Abstract Expressionists, the Armenian-born Arshile Gorky (1904-1908) was, by 1944, painting in a style that synthesized Cubism, automatism, and Surrealism.  

The Liver is the Cock's Comb - arguably his best known painting - is a blend of biomorphic and sexually suggestive shapes painted frenetically but with exacting precision.  Gorky uses thin black lines to delineate form, as if carving and defining known shapes.

Arshile Gorky, The Liver is the Cock's Comb. Oil on canvas, 1944. 73 1/4" by 98".

  • soutine carcass of beefCarcass of Beef, Chaime Soutine

The Russian painter Chaim Soutine (1893-1943) flaunts his prowess as a master of color in Carcass of Beef (right). His brushstrokes, as in Little Pastry Cook, are explosive and lush with paint.

Chaim Soutine, Carcass of Beef.  Oil on canvas, ca. 1925.  

The carcass, which nearly overwhelms the picture plane, is an alive, pulsating and menacing personality.  

beckmann hotel lobby resized 600

  • Hotel Lobby, Max Beckmann

    Hotel Lobby is equally foreboding.  Knowing that Beckmann's art was informed by the cruelty and suffering of World War II, it's hard to read this Beckmann painting as just a crowded hotel lobby.

Max Beckmann, Hotel Lobby.  Oil on canvas, 1950.  56" by 35".  Albright-Knox Art Gallery, NY.

The man with his back to the viewer (center foreground) might be eating at the table glimpsed over his left ear, but he might also be blocking the crowd from exiting.  The ambiguity is unsettling (and pure Beckmann). 

Explore more Max Beckmann paintings. 

Read about more famous artwork at the Albright-Knox!


Tags: famous paintings, art museums, Albright-Knox

20 Louvre Paintings Not to Miss

Posted by Susan Benford

With 9.2 million visitors in 2013, the Louvre was the most frequently visited art museum in the world. Although the Louvre collection consists of some 38,000 objects from prehistory through the 19th century, visitors primarily come to see the renowned collection of Louvre paintings in this 100 acre (40 hectare) art museum.

Uccello Battle San Romano Louvre resized 600Paolo Uccello.  The Battle of San Romano, ca. 1435-1440.  Wood, 71 1/2" by 125".  Louvre.

Enough facts and figures.  

I'm thinking about your feet; the limited timeframe most art museum visitors have; and choosing which Louvre paintings are must-see.  

Here are 20 of the most famous paintings in the Louvre (according to Masterpiece Cards' research):

1. Paolo Uccello.  The Battle of San Romano, ca. 1435 - 1440. One of the most famous Renaissance paintings anywhere, The Battle of San Romano was long believed to have been commissioned by the de Medicis.  Recent research, though, suggests that it was actually  commissioned by Lionardo Bartolini Salimbeni, who helped instigate the battle portrayed here.  This panel is one of three about the Battle of San Romano, which commemorates the 1432 victory of Florence over Siena; the other panels are in the National Gallery, London and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. 

2. Enguerrand Quarton.  Pieta de Villeneuve d' Avignon, ca. 1450.  One of the most significant works in religious art, Quarton's Pieta is a standard Christian scene that seems to embody all human and spiritual grief.  This Pieta is not the typical idealized scene but instead features angular figures with abstracted faces highlighted against a luminous background.

3. Leonardo da Vinci.  The Virgin of the Rocks, ca. 1483-86. The largest painting Leonardo
da Vinci ever finished
, The Virgin is one of two versions of this theme; the other is in the National Gallery in London.  In this enigmatic Leonardo painting, the Virgin sits between the leonardo virgin child with saint anne resized 600 resized 600infants Christ and Saint John the Baptist in the care of an angel.

4. Leonardo da Vinci.  The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, ca. 1503-1506. Although underpainting shows in this unfinished work, Virgin and Child demonstrates three pictorial techniques either created or perfected by Leonardo.

Left: Leonard da Vinci.  The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, ca. 1503-06.  Oil on wood, 66" by 44".  Louvre.

Additionally, the enigmatic smile of Saint Anne is reminiscent of that of Mona Lisa. Explore two more famous paintings by Leonardo, the Benois Madonna and the Madonna Litta

5. Leonardo da Vinci.  The Mona Lisa, ca. 1505.  The calm, wistful countenance of Lisa di Antonio Maria Gherardini, a/k/a Mona Lisa, is the most famous and mocked portrait in the entirety of Western history of art.  Read about an alleged newly discovered Leonardo painting that might be Mona Lisa's sister!

6. Titian.  Le Conceret Champetre (Pastoral Concert), ca. 1509-1510. A group of four are gathered in a verdant landscape, and are stumbled upon by a shepherd and his flock. Despite extensive art history research, no literary reference has been found for Pastoral Concert. Centuries later, its meaning remains uncertain, as does any record of its early ownership: its existence was first documents in 1671 when it was purchased by Louix XIV.  

Explore other Titian paintings not in the Louvre, including Rape of Europa, Man with a Gloveand Bacchus and Ariadne

7. School of Fontainebleau.  Diana the Huntress, mid-16th century. The first School of Fontainebleau consisted of mainly unidentifiable artists.  Diana the Huntress was created around the same time that a Hellenistic scuipture of Diana, goddess of the hunt, arrived in School Fontainebleau Diana Huntress resized 600France as a gift from Pope Paul IV Carafa to Henri II.  Many art historians believe that this Diana is the king's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, known for supporting the arts -- and dominating Henri II. 

Right: School of Fontainebleau.  Diana the Huntress, mid-16th century.  Oil on wood, transferred to canvas, approximately 75" by 52".  Louvre.

8. Peter Paul Rubens.  The Disembarkation of Maria de' Medici at the Port of Marseilles on November 3, 1600.  One of a series of 21 Rubens paintings commissioned by and about the life of the Queen of France, wife of Henry IV.  Completed between 1621 and 1625, these Rubens paintings all hang in the Louvre. Learn about another Rubens paintings, Venus and Adonis

9. Jusepe de Ribera.  The Club-Footed Boy, 1642. A Spaniard who worked all his life in Naples, Ribera introduced social realism in painting and the influence of Caravaggio to France. 

10. Hyacinthe Rigaud. Portrait of Louis XIV.  1701. This larger-than-life-sized portrait (it's 9' 2" tall) draws attention to the king's legs -- of which he was quite proud - and makes no effort to camoflage the red built-up heels he work to compensate for his short stature.  

11. Jean-Baptiste Greuze.  Betrothal in the Village, 1761.  From 1759 until the 1770s, Greuze's paintings of everyday life (genre scenes) were stars of the Paris Salons.  Betrothal in the Village, shown in the Salon of 1761, received rave reviews for its authenticity.

riguad portrait louis xiv resized 60012. Jacques-Louis David.  The Oath of the Horatii, ca. 1784.  David rejected the extravagance and opulence of the Baroque and Rococo eras, and with fellow 18th century painters, promoted Neoclassicism; now, painting was dominated by subject matter from ancient Greece and Rome, and by unadorned line and color. Later, David paintings became political propaganda about the French Revolution. Explore other Jacques-Louis David paintings not in the Louvre.

Hyacinthe Riguad.  Portrait of Louis XIV, 1701.  Oil on canvas, 9'2" by 7'10 3/4".  Louvre.

13. Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun.  Self Portrait with Daughter, 1789. After her talent was discovered at an early age, Vigee-Brun became a popular portraitist for members of the aristocracy. After she was summoned to Versailles to paint Queen Marie Antoinette, Vigee-Lebrun was commissioned to paint over 20 portraits of the Queen and her family.  

14. Marie Benoist.   Portrait of a Negress, 1800. A student of both Jacques-Louis David and Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun, Benoist sealed her reputation with this Portrait when it was shown in the Salon of 1800, six years after slavery had been abolished in France.  After earning commissions from Napoleon and a gold medal in 1804, Benoist had to stop exhibiting when her husband was appointed to a public, high position of state.

15. Antoine-Jean Gros.  Napoleon Bonaparte Visiting the Victims of the Plague at Jaffa, 1804. Twenty-three feet long, this painting is pure political propaganda, commissioned to showcase Napoleon's brave and humanitarian sides as he compassionately touches the sore of a plague victim.  What is ignored here is that Napoleon poisoned these same men in his earlier retreat from Jaffa. 

16. Pierre-Paul Prud'Hon.  Empress Josephine, 1805. This portrait, commissioned by Napoleon, shows his beautiful and melancholic wife shortly after their coronation.  It seems as if Empress Josephine is contemplating her bleak future: she has failed to produce any heirs after sixteen years of marriage. As a consequence, Napoleon declared their union null and void, and remarried. 

17. Ingres.  Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1808. At the age of 20, Ingres was the pupil of, and aide to, Jacques-Louis David.  While Ingres portrays here the Greek myth about Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx, he also introduces distinctly unclassical elements, like Oedipus' muscled torso. 

Gericault Raft Medusa18. Ingres.  Valpincon Bather, 1808.  Ingres has a reputation of painting a woman's back as he feels it ought to be, rather than anatomically correctly; this is demonstrated by the extra vertebrae of Valpincon Bather and in his controversial Grande Odalisque, also in the Louvre. 

Theodore Gericault.  Raft of the "Medusa", 1819.  Oil on canvas, 16' by 23'6".  Louvre.

19. Theodore Gericault.  Raft of the Medusa, 1819.  After the French frigate Medusa hit a reef, its captain, selected passengers and senior officers comandeered all available lifeboats for themselves.  The remaining 149 passengers and crew were crammed onto a wooden raft which the captain cut loose from a lifeboat.  Only 15 of the 149 survived.  Through Raft of the Medusa, Gericault become instrumental in publicizing this scandal

20. Eugene Delacroix.  Dante and Virgil, 1822. Delacroix captures the Romantic revival of interest in Dante's Inferno.  In this Delacroix masterpiece, Dante and his guide, Virgil, are in a listing bark near the internal city of Dis;its burning towers are visible in the background. The viewers sees the backside of Charon, Hades' boatman, and the writhing bodies of damned souls grasping onto and biting the bark. Explore another Delacroix work, Liberty Leading the People

Although these twenty Louvre paintings are an infintesimal part of the Louvre collection, they nonetheless survey over 400 years of art history, showing works by some of the most renowned painters, then and now.

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Tags: famous paintings, Louvre paintings, Louvre

Famous Paintings: The Fighting Temeraire

Posted by Susan Benford

Many of the most famous paintings by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) were created during the years Britain and Napoleonic France were battling. Turner paintings can be joseph mallord william turner self portraitbroadly divided into two groups:

  • realistic, topographical paintings designed to convey information, and
  • paintings in which Turner altered details to convey his opinions of current events, history, politics and nature.

Joseph Mallord William Turner.  Self-Portrait, ca. 1799.  Oil on canvas, approximately 29" by 23".  Tate, London.  

Born in Covent Gardens, London, where his father was a wigmaker and barber, Turner became a student at the Royal Academy Schools when he was just 14 years old.  There, he studied works by established painters like Claude Lorrain and emulated his style, becoming a master of Romantic landscape paintings.  By the age of 27, Turner was a full academician.

And perhaps a bit quirky.  Turner painted in secrecy in his studio, using an assumed name and refusing to teach any pupils. (1)

Joseph Mallord William Turner, known as JMW Turner, was a painter of diverse subjects and moods who often depicted current events; deemed "the painter of light", Turner was the first painter to jettison light brown priming in favor of pure white (2)which accentuated the brilliance of his colors.  

His skill in handling light is shown in one of Turner's most famous paintings, The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to be Broken Up, 1838. 

All Britons knew the HMS Temeraire because she was instrumental in the Battle of Trafalgar Joseph Mallord William Turner Fighting Temerairebetween British and French fleets: on 21 October 1805, Admiral Nelson, the British commander, trounced the invading French fleet despite its six ship advantage.

Joseph Mallord William Turner.  The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to be Broken Up, 1838.  Oil on canvas, 35 1/4" by 48".  National Gallery, London. 

Tragically, this national hero died from a gunshot wound aboard the Victory, the Temeraire's sister ship.

The Temeraire thus insured Britain's naval dominance for another century. According to contemporary records, the Temeraire not only decoyed French fire away from Admiral Nelson and Victory but also captured two French ships -- with the death of Nelson, the Temeraire was the hero of Trafalgar.

Painted thirty-three years after this victory, The Fighting Temeraire doesn't only commemorate a pivotal battle.  It also records repercussions of the Industrial Revolution which, by 1838, had rendered such sailing ships irrelevant. Pulled by a steam-driven paddle boat from the British town of Sheerness to Rotherhithe, the Temeraire is headed to a scrap yard. 

Curiously, though, the Temeraire is travelling east and away from the sunset, although Rotherhithe is actually west of Sheerness.  

Turner has shifted from creating a historically accurate painting to one in which he paints his opinion: the parallel between the setting sun and the demise of the Temeraire is inescapable. Perhaps, too, Turner presages the end of Britain's global dominance that was historically secured by its naval prowess.

Why do you suppose Turner chose not to show the Temeraire sailing toward the sunset, as was historically true? 




1. Frederick Hartt. A History of Painting: Art. Sculpture. Architecture. (Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 1993).  4th Edition, 897.

2. Hartt 897.


Tags: famous paintings, JMW Turner, Joseph Mallord William Turner

Famous Paintings at Art Institute of Chicago

Posted by Susan Benford

The Art Institute of Chicago houses some of the most famous paintings in all of Western art history.  Period.

With some 300,000 famous works of art spread out over nearly a million square mary cassatt childs bath resized 600feet, it also has all the trappings of an overwhelming experience!

Take along this curated list of famous paintings at the Art Institute as a starting itinerary. Click the links to read the history behind each work and to discover more about its painter: 

  • Bacon, Francis.  Head Surrounded by Sides of Beef 

  • Bonheur, Rosa.  Going to Market. Read about another of her best paintings, Plowing in the Nivernais.

  • Caillebotte, Gustave.  Paris Street: Rainy Day.  Now one of the most famous painters in Impressionism, he was better known in his time as a collector. 

  • Cassatt, Mary.  The Child’s Bath, left. 

  • Cezanne, Paul.  The Basket of Apples.  Explore more famous paintings by Cezanne like Bathers and Card Players Read about the astonishing Paul Cezanne paintings of his wife, shown in a 2015 Met show. 

  • Cezanne, Paul.  Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair, right. How many of these major 20 Cezanne paintings from U.S. and European art museums have you seen? 

  • Cole, Thomas.  Distant View of Niagra Falls

  • madame cezanne yellow chair resized 600Constable, John.  Stoke-by-Nayland

  • Corot, Jean-Baptiste-Camille.  Interrupted Reading. This compelling work will make you wish Corot exhibited his portraiture, not just his landscape paintings and history paintings. 

  • Courbet, Gustave.  Mere Gregoire

    Right: Cezanne, Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair

  • Dali, Salvador.  Mae West’s Face Which May be Used as a Surrealist Apartment

  • David, Jacques Louis.  Madame de Pastoret and Her Son.  Learn about other David paintings, like Napoleon Crossing the Alps (done by donkey, and not by the glorious steed David painted), Death of Marat and Death of Socrates 

  • De Kooning, Willem.  Excavation.  Read an analysis of Excavation (at left) and discover how de Kooning paintings shaped and helped define modern art. 

  • dekooning excavation resized 600Degas, Hillaire-Germain-Edgar.  The Millinery Shop

  • Delacroix, Eugene. The Combat of the Giaour and Hassan.  Read an analysis of Liberty Leading the People, one of the best paintings by Delacroix, and learn why hats matter.  Yes, hats.

    Left: Willem de Kooning, Excavation 

  • El Greco.  Assumption of the Virgin. One of Greece's most famous painters, El Greco is well known for his Burial of Count Orgaz. Explore his View of Toledo, too!

  • Gauguin, Paul.  Mahana no atua (Day of the God)

  • Gonzales, Eva.  Girl with Cherries. Taught by one of the most famous painters of art history, Edouard Manet, Gonzales was his sole known student.  Her stunning Girl with Cherries is evocative of one of the lesser known Manet paintings, Street Singers.  Think cherries! 

  • Gorky, Arshile.  The Plow and the Song (II)

    Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Bedroom

  • Goya.  Friar Pedro Shoots El Maragato as His Horse Runs Off. One of a charming series of small, intimate works. Explore some influential Goya paintings, including his heart-wrenching The Third of May 1808.  And don't miss Duchess of Alba, and one of the most poignant self-portraits in art history, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

  • Hartley, Marsden.  Movements

  • david hockney american collectors resized 600Hockney, David.  American Collectors, right. 

  • Homer, Winslow.  Croquet Game 

  • Hopper, Edward.  Nighthawks. Read the art history behind and an analysis of Nighthawks

    Right: David Hockney, American Collectors

  • Ingres.  Amedee-David, Comte de Pastoret.  Investigate two masterpieces by Ingres, Grande Odalisque and his two portraits of Madame Moitessier.

  • Kandinsky, Vasily.  Improvisation No. 30 (Cannons)

  • Lawrence, Jacob.  The Wedding.  Learn about the extraordinary series of Jacob Lawrence paintings called The Migration Series.  

  • Magritte, Rene.  Time Transfixed (La Duree poignardee)

  • Manet, Edouard.  Beggar with Oysters (Philosopher) and Beggar with a Duffle Coat (Philosopher). Discover these works by Edouard Manet: Luncheon in the Studio, The Street Singer, Olympia, and The Old Musician

  • Matisse, Henri.  Bathers by a River (below) and Interior at Nice.  See the works in the Metropolitan museum's blockbuster show of Matisse paintings.   Discover two of hismatisse bathers by river best paintings which are in the Hermitage, The Dance and The Music.  

    Read about The Yellow Dress.  Learn about one of his most renowned paintings anywhere, Red Studio.  

  • Miro, Joan.  The Policeman.   

  • Mitchell, Joan.  City Landscape.  Explore in this historical survey of female artists some of the overwhelming obstacles they faced and overcame.   

  • Modersohn-Becker, Paula.  Still Life with Green Vase.  One of the most influential female painters of the 19th century, Modersohn-Becker influenced art history in her brief 31 year life. 

  • Mondrian, Piet.  Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red and Gray

  • Monet, Claude.  Stacks of Wheat (End of Day, Autumn), right.

  • Morisot, Berthe.  Woman at Her Toilette.  Discover some of the best-known paintings of Berthe Morisot.  Learn about The Cradle

  • monet stacks of wheat resized 600Munch, Edvard.  Girl Looking out the Window.  Learn about his iconic painting, The Scream - and why the sky is so wildly colored. 

  • O’Keeffe, Georgia.  Cow's Skull with Calico Roses.  Explore the series of O'Keeffe paintings titled Jack in the Pulpit. 

    Right. Claude Monet, Stacks of Wheat (End of Day, Autumn)

  • Picasso. Mother and Child and Old Guitarist.  Explore Girl Before a Mirror; Portrait of Gertrude Stein; and his astonishing series of 58 paintings titled Las Meninas

  • Pippin, Horace.  The Wedding. Learn about the life and works of Horace Pippin

  • Pollock, Jackson.  Greyed Rainbow and The Key

  • Poussin, Nicolas.  Landscape with Saint John on Patmos. Compare it with Assumption of the Virgin. 

  • Puvis de Chavannes.  The Sacred Grove

  • Rembrandt.  Old Man with a Gold Chain, left.  Explore some of the leading Rembrandt rembrandt old man gold chain resized 600paintings in the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam, including the newly conserved Night Watch.

  • Reynolds, Sir Joshua.  Lady Sarah Bunbury Sacrificing to the Graces

  • Rivera, Diego.  The Weaver.  Learn about one of the most astonishing female artists, Frida Kahlo, the wife of Rivera. 

  • Rosetti, Dante Gabriel.  Beata Beatrix

  • Rubens.  The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth & John the Baptist.  Read an analysis of Rubens' Venus and Adonis.  

  • Sanchez-Cotan, Juan.  Still Life with Game Fowl.  One of Spain's most famous painters, Juan Sanchez-Cotan is Spain's first still life painter with existing works. 

  • Sargent, John Singer. The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy.  Explore Sargent's Madame X.  Looking at it now, you wouldn't know it ranks as one of the most controversial paintings in art history!   Don't miss his mysterious Smoke of Ambergris and El Jaleo. 

  • Seurat, Georges.  A Sunday on La Grande Jatte

  • grant wood american gothic resized 600Simpson, John Philip.  Captured Slave.  Although a comparatively unknown painter, Simpson painted this wrenching portrait in 1827, a time when slavery was highly contentious.

  • Tanner, Henry Ossawa.  The Two Disciples at the Tomb.  Now recognized as one of the 19th century's famous painters, Henry Ossawa Tanner had a remarkable background.

    Right, Grant Wood, American Gothic

  • Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de.  At the Moulin Rouge

  • Turner, Joseph Mallord William.  Fishing Boats with Hucksters Bargaining for Fish.  Learn about one of Turner's best paintings, The Fighting Temeraire

  • Warhol, Andy.  Mao, below.  At nearly 15' tall, you can't (and don't want to) miss this. Explore his Gold Marilyn and the Marilyn Diptych. 

  • andy warhol mao resized 600Whistler, James McNeil.  Nocturne: Blue and Gold--Southampton Water, 1872.  

  • Read about the painting by which he is best known, Whistler's Mother. 

  • Wood, Grant.  American Gothic, right.

  • Zurbaran, Francisco de.  The Crucifixion

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Tags: famous paintings, Art Institute of Chicago, famous paintings analysis

Famous Paintings: The Blue Boy

Posted by Susan Benford

Thomas Gainsborough (c. 1727-1788), the youngest son of a maker of woolen goods, convinced his father to allow him to study painting in London - a remarkable feat (and undertaking) for a 13 year old. He apprenticed with the French illustrator and draftsman, thomas gainsborough blue boyHubert Gravelot, whose involvement with Rococo art and design would influence his young apprentice.

By 1770, Thomas Gainsborough resided in Bath, England, where he had forged a reputation as one of the foremost portrait painters.  His portraits were 

Thomas Gainsborough.  The Blue Boy, ca. 1770.  Oil on canvas, 5' 10" by 4'.  Huntington Library, San Marino, California. 

in demand by wealthy patrons who came to the Bath spa (and soaked, fully clothed, in its allegedly healing waters).

Problematically, though, Thomas Gainsborough disliked portraiture, preferring landscapes.  

He allegedly commented: 

"I paint portraits to live, landscapes because I love them, and music because I cannot leave it alone".

His solution, as evidenced in one of his most famous paintings, The Blue Boy, was the creation of a "landscape portrait".

When The Blue Boy was first exhibited in 1770, Gainsborough was striving to cement his reputation in London.  He showed The Blue Boy at the Royal Academy, a celebrated venue that had opened the prior year.  The portrait was quite well received, and remains one of the most famous paintings Gainsborough created.

Because it's a show-stopper.

donatello davidGainsborough handles paint so brilliantly that The Blue Boy has the volume of a Renaissance sculpture. The delicate, feathery brushstrokes of the glistening blue costume are echoed at his feet and in the storm clouds and sunset.  Thomas Gainsborough shows his hand as a Rococco painter while eschewing contemporary taste for a smooth, flat finish.   

The Blue Boy exudes complete confidence and poise, and dons an outfit similar 

Donatello's first version of David, 1408-1409. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.

to those in van Dyck paintings.  Given that Gainsborough copied and restored Flemish paintings during the onset of his career, it's not surprising that Thomas Gainsborough borrowed stylistic elements from van Dyck.  

Although the identity of The Blue Boy was unknown for nearly two centuries, art historians now know him as Jonathan Buttall, the son of a hardware merchant and friend of the artist. It's unlikely this work was commissioned -- The Blue Boy was painted on a used canvas and covers another portrait -- but it solidified Thomas Gainsborough's reputation in London. And in art history.

I don't know of evidence that Thomas Gainsborough saw Donatello's David, but does anyone else see hints of it in The Blue Boy? Let me know, please.

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Tags: famous paintings, Thomas Gainsborough, The Blue Boy

Famous Paintings: El Jaleo

Posted by Susan Benford

Boston's love affair with John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) stems in part from one of Sargent's most famous paintings, El Jaleo, housed in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston.

Sargent was born in Florence, Italy, and received little traditional schooling.  After his artistic skills became apparent, John Singer Sargent joined the atelier, or teaching studio, of Emile Auguste Carolus-Duran sargent el jaleo resized 600

John Singer Sargent.  El Jaleo, 1882.  Oil on canvas, 7' 7" by 11' 5".  Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.

(1837–1917). Although little known presently, Carolus-Duran was one of the most highly regarded portrait painters and teachers in the latter half of the 19th century.  The fame of his atelier, where he trained 81 American painters as well as European ones, owed its fame to Carolus-Duran's unorthodox teaching methodology:

  • he encouraged students to paint immediately without making preliminary drawings, defying academic traditionalists; and

  • he required students to familiarize themselves with the famous paintings and painterly traditions of Venetian and Spanish artwork, especially Diego Velazquez paintings.

Sargent travelled to Spain in 1879, just four years after Paris was scandalized by Bizet's opera, Carmen.  In it, the sensous, exotic Gypsy, Carmen, seduces a young soldier, Don isabella stewart gardner sargentJose, but then falls in love with a toreador instead; mad with jealously and rage, Don Jose murders Carmen.  

This depiction of lower class life and the death of the opera's 

John Singer Sargent.  Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1888.  Oil on canvas, 6' 3" by 2' 7".  Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.

protagonist were new, controversial and memorable themes.  The "loose morals" of Carmen reinforced public sentiment about Gypsies, who were widely shunned in the 19th century.

Enter Sargent.  

Like many artists, Sargent admired the spontaneity and freedom of nomadic Gypsies, despite the public perception that they were amoral.  Think Carmen and the two-timing woman. Nonetheless, Sargent wanted to memorialize his fondness for Gypsy music and dance, and began work on an enormous canvas.

El Jaleo was born.

Sargent named the painting after a dance called jaleo de jerez, well aware that jaleo also meant "hubbub" or "to-do".  When it was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1882 with the title Sargent El Jaleo: Danse des gitanes (or Dance of the Gypies), it was purchased by the Bostonian T. Jefferson Coolidge. 

Six years later in 1888, El Jaleo was exhibited alongside Sargent's newly finished Portrait of isabella stewart gardner sargent resized 600Isabella Stewart Gardner (left). When we look at this portrait, Mrs. Gardner seems starched, and nearly haloed by the wallpaper. Sargent's brushwork is tight and controlled, lacking spontaneity (Isabella Stewart Gardner reported he repainted her face 8 times).

What Mr. Jack Gardner saw, though, was scandalous decolletage, too much exposed skin, and a reminder of the jaleo four years earlier with Sargent's Portrait of 

John Singer Sargent. Madame X.  Oil on canvas, 1883-84.  82 1/8" x 43 1/4".  Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53).  Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Madame X (right). This portrait scandalized the Paris Salon and the family of Madame X, prompting Sargent's sudden departure from Paris. 

Remarkably, Isabella Stewart Gardner, a wildly independent woman, ceded to her husband's wish - Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner was never publicly exhibited again during Mr. Gardner's lifetime.

But the pairing of the two Sargent paintings led Isabella Gardner to ask T. Jefferson Coolidge to bequeath El Jaleo to her.  In 1914 she expanded her collection of Spanish art into several new rooms, and built a Spanish cloister, complete with Moorish arch, in which to display El Jaleo.  According to the Gardner museum, Coolidge was so impressed with the installation that he donated El Jaleo to the museum immediately. 

El Jaleo is a beguiling work, exploding with energy, sensuality and drama.  In the dim light, the gypsy commands the painting, her blindingly white dress crackling with energy as her feet stomp and carve the beat.  The musicians are frenetically playing while other Gypsies John singer sargent el jaleo detail resized 600pound the beat behind the center dancer.  

How odd that Jack Gardner wasn't offended by El Jaleo - given the public opinion of Gypsies and the inarguable

Detail.  El Jaleo. 

endorsement of them by John Singer Sargent - but was horrified by the exposed flesh in Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner.  

Yet another reminder that one needs to understand the social context in which famous paintings were made!




Tags: famous paintings, John Singer Sargent, El Jaleo

Famous Paintings: Isenheim Altarpiece

Posted by Susan Benford

How remarkable that one of the most famous paintings in Renaissance art was created by an artist who had limited output, never had a school of followers, and left only a few personal details. Such is the history of Matthias Grunewald, born Mathias Neithardt, and his renowned Isenheim Altarpiece.

Matthias Grunewald (c. 1455-1528), with his contemporary Albrecht Durer (1471-1528), were the two leading German painters of the 16th century.  That is their sole similarity.  Durer was heavily influenced by classical sources from Italian Renaissance art, while his peer was heavility influenced by Gothic religious art.  

african-mask-leprosyTo understand the historical and social context in which the Altarpiece was made, we must explore the history of ... leprosy.

The earliest description of this disease appears in an Egyptian papyrus document from approximately 1550 BC. In the ensuing centuries until the 1870s - when a Norwegian doctor determined that the disease is caused by a germ - leprosy was deemed a punishment from God, a branding by "hellfire", or a hereditary disease.  

Photo credit, left: Charles Davis. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Those afflicted were shunned and outcast.  During the Middle Ages in Europe, for instance, leprosy sufferers were forced to wear bells signalling their presence, don special clothes, travel on a specified side of the road depending on wind conditions, and live in isolation as they awaited death. 

The French town of Isenheim was home to a hospice run by the monastery of St. Anthony, the patron saint of lepers.  Those at the hospital suffered primarily leprosy but also included those afflicted with syphilis or "Saint Anthony's Fire", or ergotism, a disease caused by a fungus found in rye. isenheim altarpiece crucifixion detail 

The Abbot in charge of the Isenheim hospice, Guido Guersi, commissioned an altarpiece to portray Christ's suffering and redemption, believing his life could ease the misery of those in hospice care. The Altarpiece remained in the Isenheim monastery until it was disbanded after the French Revolution.

Right: Detail. 

The Altarpiece has one set of fixed wings and two sets of movable ones so that it could adapt to public or hospice audiences and seasons in the church (this quick video of a model Altarpiece demonstrates its structure).

In all positions, the Matthias Grunewald's Altarpiece is about terminal illness, salvation and Redemption.

Isenheim Altarpiece with wings closed

isenheim altarpieceOil on wood, 9' 9 1/2" by 10'9" (center panel); 8' 2 1/2" by 3' 1/2" (each wing), 2' 5 1/2" by 11' 2" (predella).  Musee d'Unterlinden, Colmar.

During the week, the altarpiece was closed and showed a powerful Crucifixion emphasizing the suffering and anguish of Christ and his mother's angst. With intense colors and dramatic lighting throughout, the artist included a Lamentation in the predella and Saints Sebastian and Anthony on the fixed wings.

The figure of Christ, which dominates the closed altarpiece, is striated with lacerations evoking the sores of the sick.  On the left, Mary swoons at the sight of her son and is kept upright by St. John, whose red robe magnifies her ashen face.  Mary Magdalen, identified by her jar of ointment, kneels at their feet in grief while John the Baptist, on the right, points toward Christ saying,

"He must increase and I must decrease".

The bleeding lamb, intended to invoke the Eucharist, is bleeding into a chalice (similar to the Ghent Altarpiece).  

In the predella, a tomb is prepared for Christ.  Note that the predella slides apart just below Christ's knees, giving the appearance of amputation that often afflicted those with ergotism. Similarly, the off-center placement of the cross makes it appears as if Christ's arm is amputated.

Isenheim Altarpiece with outer wings open

isenheim altarpiece openOn Sundays and feastdays, the outer sets of moveable wings were opened and the Altarpiece was transformed into a trio of joyous scenes.  

All three panels - the Annunciation, the Madonna and Child with Angels, and The Resurrection - remind viewers of the allure and promise of heaven and redemption. 

In the Annunciation on the far left, the archangel Gabriel informs Mary that she will give birth to the son of God. The modest Gothic chapel of the Annunciation becomes an ornate tabernacle in the Madonna and Child with Angels.  There, an angel plays the cello in front of an ornate baldachino, or canopy of fabric or stone over an altar, throne or shrine in a Christian church.  Curiously, on the far left is a feathered creature - perhaps the devil - who also sings to the Virgin and Child. 

The Resurrection panel shows a lily-white Christ engulfed by a brilliant halo and floating above blinded guards.  Although it appears that his lacerations have healed and his skin is disease-free, Christ exposes his palms to reveal their stigmata.  

Isenheim Altarpiece with inner wings open

isenheim altarpiece inner wings openOil on wood, 9' 9 1/2" by 10'9" (center panel); 8' 2 1/2" by 3' 1/2" (each wing), 2' 5 1/2" by 11' 2" (predella).  Shrine carved by Nikolaus Hagenauer in 1490.  Painted and gilt limewood, 9' 9 1/2" by 10' 9". Musee d'Unterlinden, Colmar.

In the third view of the Altarpiece, the inner wings are opened to reveal the wooden carvings of the original isenheim altarpiece detail temptation altarpiece made by Nicolas Hagenauer in 1490. In the center is St. Anthony at whose feet nestles a pig, a symbol of the Antonite order.

Detail, right: From Temptation of St. Anthony

Surrounding St. Anthony are Saints Jerome and Augustine.  The artist added two painted panels, The Hermit Saints Anthony and Paul in the Desert and The Temptation of St. Anthony (bottom left and bottom right, respectively).

isenheim altarpiece temptation detail The Temptation of St. Anthony is a fantastical, terrifying scene of St. Anthony being mauled by an array of imaginary but frightening creatures.  At the bottom left in the foreground is a contorted man whose disfigured, maimed body shows the signs of ergotism: active boils, a shriveled arm, and a distended stomach.

It's as if Grunewald is saying that Christian redemption is possible, regardless of the sins of the flesh.

Detail.  The Temptation of St. Anthony.

The patients, nuns and monks who prayed daily in front of the Altarpiece, were presented with two stark choices based on his iconography: accepting Christian salvation, miraculous healing and redemption, or enduring a life (and afterlife) of nothing but pain, misery and suffering. 

QUESTION: Although far less known than his peer, Albrecht Durer, Grunewald's influence emil nolde crucifixionmay have been more persuasive.  

Look at this Crucifixion by the 20th century German Expressionist painter, Emil Nolde, some 400 years later.  

Anyone else see a bit of similarity to the Altarpiece? Let me know!

Emil Nolde.  Crucifixion from the Life of Christ polyptych.  Stiftung, Seebull. 




 Addendum: An astute reader and art historian let me know that Jasper Johns' Perilous Night was also inspired by this Altarpiece.  

According to the National Gallery of Art, which owns Perilous Night, "Johns revealed the source for this half of Perilous Night because even the most astute art historian would have jasper johns perilous night detailbeen hard-pressed to discover it." That source is none other than the Isenheim Altarpiece's writhing soldier thrown to the ground by Christ's blinding light, as seen in the open right outer wing.

At the left is the section of Perilous Night showing this.

Jasper Johns, Perilous Night (detail of left side), 1982, encaustic on canvas with objects, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection 1995.79.1 

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Tags: famous paintings, Renaissance art, Isenheim altarpiece, Matthias Grunewald

Famous Paintings: Duccio's Maesta

Posted by Susan Benford

Although Italy imported Byzantine influences from port cities of Venice and Ravenna, that impact was hugely amplified in 1204 with the capture of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire and the center of the Eastern Christian Church.  The brief
duccio maesta virgin detail2 resized 600tenure in Constantinople of the so-called Latin Empire ushered in an influx of Byzantine art and artists into Italy, radically shaping the development of Italian Gothic art.  

Duccio Maesta.  Detail from front panel.

In the 14th century the two most influential city-states were Florence and Siena, which competed culturally, economically and militarily.  

Unsurprisingly, a school of Italian Gothic painting developed in each city; while Giotto di Bondone, known as Giotto (c. 1267-1337), dominated in Florence, in Siena the most famous painter was Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca. 1255 - before 1319), known as Duccio.

Concurrently, rural monasteries were being superseded by urban cathedrals to more readily served the burgeoning populations of bankers and merchants.   This "age of

duccio maesta virgin

cathedrals", from roughly 1150 to 1400, consisted of building cathedrals (and re-building those destroyed by fire).

What better way to flaunt newly acquired power, influence and wealth (and of course, to show one's piety) than to commission altarpieces? They were sought not only for the new

Duccio Maesta.  Detail from front panel.

cathedrals but also for private chapels and secondary altars.

An altarpiece is simply a devotional painting in tempera (powdered pigments typically mixed with egg yolk, water and glue) on wood panel.  From the 13th century onward, altarpieces became increasingly elaborate -- and none more so than Maesta (majesty) by Duccio.

The republic of Siena was ruled by elders called the Nine (Nova), who believed the Virgin Mary had favored their 1260 victory over the Florentines in the battle of Monteperti.  Siena chose the Virgin Mary as its patron saint and protectoress of its city, and the Nine choose her for the altarpiece theme in its new cathedral completed in 1260.

Duccio and his assistants began work on this pretigious commission for the high altar in 1308, painting it on both sides because the main altar was in the center of the sanctuary.

Maesta was finished in 1311 amidst city-wide processions and celebrations.  As originally created, Maesta had a seven foot high central panel (Virgin and Child in Majesty or Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints) surmounted by 7 pinnacles above and a predella of panels (smaller narrative scenes pertaining to the main one) at the base.  

Maesta remained on the main altar until 1506, when it was moved to the transept.  In 1771 the Duccio masterpiece was sawed into pieces to enhance its saleability. Several of the initial 50 panels in Maesta have been lost, while some are in art museums. The remaining altarpiece is now secure in a Sienese museum.

The main panel depicts the Virgin as the Queen of Heaven surrounded by angels and saints, including four other patron saints of Siena kneeling in the foreground. She dominates the panel, swathed in the deep blue reserved for her by artistic tradition, and sits in a duccio maesta

Duccio, Maesta.  Tempera and gold on panel, 1308-1311.  7' x 13' by 6 1/4".  From Siena Cathedral.  Museo dell'Opera del Duoma, Siena, Italy.

throne opened up as if to welcome viewers. The crowd surrounding her includes two apostles, John the Evangelist and Peter, while the ten other apostles are nestled into the arches above the Virgin.

The lower pinnacles (above the apostles) feature scenes of the Virgin's last earthly days, with Annunciation of the Death of the Virgin on the left and the Burial of the Virgin on the right.  The bottom predella panels depict Christ's earlier life, starting on the left with Annunciation and concluding with Christ among the Doctors on the far right.  

This main panel exemplifies how Duccio melded Gothic and Byzantine elements.  He combined Byzantine tradition - a formal and symmetrical composition; standardized figures and facial types of many of the angels and saints; flat shapes - with hints of Gothic influence.  
The four kneeling saints have individualized faces; figures are not all fully frontal; the typical hard body outlines are softened; and the saints seem to be conversing with eye contact.  Further, the drapery falls naturally, hinting at three dimensions underneath.

Maesta is the only signed Duccio artwork.  Note his signature wrapping around the base of the throne, which translates as,

Holy Mother of God, be the cause of peace to Siena, and of life to Duccio because he has painted you thus. 

Ducio-Maesto-reverseOn the back of the Maesta altarpiece, Duccio experimented with naturalism and humanization of religious subject matter. He depicted Christ's later life - his ministry (on the predella); his Passion on the main panel in 26 scenes; and his Resurrection and meeting with his apostles (on the pinnacles).

In the panel Betrayal of Jesus, Duccio collapses time and concurrently depicts three events within a traditional background:
  • Christ's betrayal by Judas' kiss;
  • the hasty exit by his disciples on the right; and
  • at the left, Peter removing the ear of a high priest's servant. 

Observe the graceful draping of the men's robes, and the convincing mass of the men in them.  Duccio allows the figures to react with discernible emotion - there is fear in the eyes of the fleeing disciples; anger on Peter's face and hatred on Judas'.  Of all Duccio's famous paintings, Maesta most strongly altered art history. 






Tags: famous paintings, Duccio, Maesta

Survey of Famous Painters

Posted by Susan Benford

This survey of famous painters is geared toward those without an art history degree. These posts are intended to make art history engaging by unearthing little known and fascinating facts about this famous artwork, which spans Renaissance paintings to early Pop art paintings

bonheur horse fair resized 600

For instance, the Renaissance painter Rosa Bonheur was forbidded in 1850s Paris to enter the horse markets where she wanted to study equine anatomy.  

Undeterred, she disguised herself as a man and snuck in. It was recently discovered that she painted her self-portrait into her masterpiece above, Horse Fair. Talk about having the last laugh!

Discover more art history about these famous painters

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair.

Botticelli Primavera.  Sandro Botticelli.  Above: Primavera, c. 1482.  Tempera on wood panel, 6'8" by 10'4". Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Caravaggio, Fashion and Art History

CaravaggioConversion of St. Paul

Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes

Caravaggio, Young, Sick Bacchus and Basket of Fruit

carvaggio card sharpsCaravaggio, The Cardsharps and The Fortune Teller.  Above: The Cardsharps, 1595-96.  Oil on canvas, 37 1/8" x 51 5/8".  Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas 

Caravaggio, Taking of Christ (Kiss of Judas)

Cave Paintings

Cezanne, Bathers

Cezanne, Card Players

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings 

Copley, Paul Revere.

David, Death of Marat

David, Death of Socrates

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

de Kooning, Retrospective at MoMA (Part I)

de KooningExcavation and Painting, 1948

de KooningWoman I. 

delacroix liberty leading people

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People. Above: Eugene Delacroix.  Liberty Leading the People, 1830.  Oil on canvas, approx. 8'6" by 10'8".  Louvre, Paris.

Duncanson, Robert Seldon.  Art History Welcomes Duncanson

Durer, The Four Apostles

FontanaPortrait of a Noblewoman. 

Frankenthaler, Mountains and Sea

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Judith Beheading Holofernes

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

Ghent Altarpiece.  Hubert van Eyck and Jan van Eyck. Below: Ghent Altarpiece (open).  Completed 1432. Tempera and oil on wood,  11'6" by 15'1".  Cathedral of St. Bavo, Ghent.  Explore Ghent Altarpiece via zoom

ghent altarpiece

GiorgioneThree Philosophers

Goya, Family of Charles IV

Goya, The Third of May 1808

Hals, The Laughing CavalierKahlo love embrace universe resized 600

Ingres, Grande Odalisque

Kahlo, Renowned Frida Kahlo Paintings. Right. Frida Kahlo, The Love-Embrace of the Universe, 1949. Oil on masonite,  approx. 28" x 24". The Modern and Contemporary Mexican Art Collection of Jacques and Natasha Gelman.

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

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

Leonardo, La Bella Principessa

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

ManetA Bar at the Folies-Bergere.  

Manet, Luncheon in the Studio

Manet, The Old Musician

Manet, Street Singer

MantegnaDead Christ

Matisse, The DanceThe Music

Matisse, The Cone Collection

matisse red studioMatisse, The Red Studio. Right. Henri Matisse. The Red Studio, 1911.  Oil on canvas, 5' 11 1/4" by 7' 2 1/4".  The Museum of Modern Art, New York.  Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund.

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, Waterlilies

Morisot, Famous Paintings

MorisotMore Famous Paintings

O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit

Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein. 

Picasso, Las Meninas series. 

Poussin, Assumption of the Virgin

Raphael, Sistine Madonna

Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer 

velazquez juan de parejaRembrandt, Night Watch

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

Sargent, Madame X. Right. John Singer Sargent. Madame X. Oil on canvas.  82 1/8" x 43 1/4".  Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53).  Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

Steen, The Christening Feast 

Tanner, The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor

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

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

Velazquez, Juan de Pareja.  Above.  Diego Velazquez.  Juan de Pareja, 1648.  Oil on canvas, 32" by 27 1/2".  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  Purchase, Fletcher Fund, Rogers Fund, and Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton deGroot.

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.


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Tags: famous paintings, famous painters, famous painters survey

Famous Painters: Ingres

Posted by Susan Benford

Ingres was one of the most famous painters in France during the first half of the 19th century.  His father, a musician, sculptor and painter, permitted 16 year old Ingres to move to Paris and apprentice with Jacques-Louis David, the founder of Neoclassicism

Jean-August-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) stood at a crossroads in the history of painting.  He ultimately became the last standard-bearer of French Classicism, as practiced by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) two centuries prior, in its rivalry with Romanticism, as defined by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and championed by Ingres' rival, Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863). Although Ingres ultimately failed in ousting Delacroix's vision (Ingres sniped that Delacroix was "the apostle of the ugly"), Ingres is still considered one of France's most famous painters, primarily due to his brilliant portraits. 

ingres grande odalisque resized 600Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres.  Grande Odalisque, 1814.  Oil on canvas, 35 7/8" by 63".  Louvre, Paris.

Grand Odalisque was commissioned in 1813 by Caroline Murat, Napoleon's sister and the queen of Naples. Although now considered one of Ingres' most famous paintings, Grande Odalisque was reviled for these reasons when it was first exhibited at the Salon of 1819:

  • its lack of anatomical reality;
  • Ingres' deviation from pure Neoclassicism;
  • the Odalisque's lack of mythological narrative; and
  • her impossibly long neck and elbowless right arm. 

Although its subject - the reclining female nude - harks back to ancient Greek, Ingres nods to contemporary themes in two ways:

  • the odalisque (oda is a room in a Turkish harem) reflects the Romantic interest in all things exotic or foreign.  According to Marilyn Stokstad, Grand Odalisque is one of the earliest examples of Orientalism in the history of painting, as the Western interest in the Muslims of North Africa and Near East was labelled. This "exoticism" is further conveyed with the concubine's fan and turban, and with the incense burner and hash pipe.

  • the concubine's features, though, are pure European, reflecting tastes of the Parisian public (and prevalent Eurocentric attitudes).

ingres vow louis xiiiIngres claimed that his painting muse was Raphael, whom Ingres felt embodied the essence of Classicism. This influence is readily apparent in comparing Ingres' Vow of Louis XIII (left) with Raphael's Sistine Madonna (right).

raphael sistine madonna

Although these two famous paintings have similar compositions, Raphael's Pope Julius II in the lower left corner has been replaced by Louis XIII. Instead of a religious painting depicting entry to 

Right: Raphael.  Sistine Madonna, 1513.  Oil on canvas, 8' 8 1/2" x 6' 5".  Gemäldegalerie, Dresden.

Paradise, Ingres refashioned Raphael's masterpiece into a contemporary political painting.  Napoleon had fallen in 1815; his court painter, David, was in exile in Brussels; and a new generation of Romantic painters surged.  When The Vow was exhibited at the Salon of 1824, critics claimed that Ingres was the savior of the Classical tradition.  

Jean-August-Dominque Ingres.  The Vow of Louis XIII, 1824.  Montauban Cathedral, Montauban

Although Ingres' history paintings established his early reputation, it is his portraits andingres madame moitessier their mastery of line that cemented his tenure in the history of painting.  Nowhere is this more apparent that in his masterful Portrait of Madame Ines Moitessier

Ingres initially refused the 1844 request of Sigisbert Moitessier to paint a portrait of his wife but recanted after meeting her.  Seven years later, though, Ingres hadn't finished this initial portrait and painted a standing portrait (right) instead.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.  Madame Moitessier, 1851.  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.  

Ingres completed the seated portrait in 1856 after numerous re-workings.  As in many of his portraits, he melded the actual with the ideal.  

Here (below left), Madame Moitessier is an earth-bound goddess, with flawlessly smooth skin, sensual arms and shoulders, and a Raphaelesque face.  The complexity of the composition - with the richly detailed fabric, the fan of peacock feathers, the dog-topped urn - is successful due to Ingres' precision with texture and shape.

Madame's pose with her hand touching her cheek is likely derived from an ancient Roman fresco in Herculaneum, while the profile (impossibly) reflected is Greek.  
ingres portrait madame ines moitessier resized 600Portrait of Madame Moitessier, though, is riveting because she nonchalantly meets the viewer's gaze, as if she, too, is assessing a painting.

In my mind, this portrait alone secures Ingres' status among the most famous painters.  At the least, Portrait of Madame Ines Moitessier was worth the wait!

Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres.  Portrait of Madame Ines Moitessier, 1856.  Oil on canvas, 47 1/4" by 36 2/4".  National Gallery, London

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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

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

Ingres, Oedipus and the Sphinx

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, 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 

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 Paintings at the Marmottan Monet Museum

Monet, Waterlilies

Morisot, Famous Paintings

MorisotMore Famous Paintings

Munch, The Scream

O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit

Peeters, Clara

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

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