All pictures were taken by the author during his visit to The Met Fifth Avenue, New York. Texts sourced from exhibit label scripts.
Although best known for his visionary and mystical works, Vedder developed a lifelong interest in painting the Italian countryside during the 1860s while living in Florence. He associated with a group of artists known as the Macchiaioli, who eschewed academic practice and drew inspiration directly from nature. Probably painted in Rome in the 1880s, Cypress and Poppies reflects the enduring influence of the Macchiaioli landscapes on Vedder, with its soft atmosphere and splashes of bright color.
Boboli Gardens in Florence were designed in the mid-sixteenth century for the Medici court. Sargent’s depiction of a sculpture by Giovanni Battisca Caccini of a figure playing a pipe, set against lush foliage, is a study of contrasting light and shadow. He employs layers of dark pigments of varying opacity to suggest depth and shadow in the background, and renders the sunlight filtering through the branches with pale-hued pigments. He depicts the pietra serena (a light-colored Tuscan limestone) of the statue with warm tones applied in transparent washes.
Lucca, a charming Renaissance walled city in Tuscany, where Sargent spent the autumn of 1910. Here, Sargent uses a low vantage point to set off the richly carved urn against a brilliant blue sky. He enlivens a static subject by placing the urn close to the top edge of the composition and depicting the vine of vivid pinkish blue blossoms as if it is cascading from the urn, using feathery brushstrokes.
Sargent’s interest in geometric of the scene, with its numerous horizontal and vertical divisions, is apparent in the carefully ruled underdrawing visible at the left. The proximity of the building’s facade to the picture plane is underscored by the precise rendering of the bright white, carved spiral stone column at the left in contrast to the recession of the dark corridor. By leaving the illuminated area at the rear of the sotto portego ambiguous, Sargent evokes the tangle of streets and passageways so characteristic of Venice.
A picturesque charm has long been associated with Giudecca, attracting artists for many centuries — both Francesco Guardi and Joseph Mallord William Turner painted view of it. However, their images almost always include recognizable landmarks. In his rendering, Sargent avoids identifiable Venetian monuments in recording the characteristics of a typical neighborhood. The inclusion of sailing vessels invoke the city’s historical importance as an Adriatic port.
For the focal point of this watercolor, Sargent chose the relatively obscure yet scenic eleventh-century tower of the Church of San Barnaba. He positioned himself close to the water to present the view looking down the Rio de San Barnaba toward the Grand Canal. Sargent’s watercolors are admired for their fluid spontaneity, evident here in his rendering of the rippling water of the canal as it reflects the nearby architecture and bright sunlight.
All pictures were taken by the author during his visit to The Met Fifth Avenue, New York. Texts sourced from exhibit label scripts.
The Parc Monceau in the elegant eighth arrondissement was among the older Parisian parks targeted for renovation and unveiled in 1861. Monet lived a few blocks away from this intimate park. At first he adopted a horizontal format, as in the views he painted of London’s Green Park (1870-71), but for the second group he used a more unusual vertical format, perhaps inspired by Japanese woodcut prints.
Monet takes in the park’s curving paths on a sunny afternoon. He skimmed lightly over the figures of park-goers, blending them in with enveloping vegetation, filling the canvas with little patches of color that approximate the texture of foliage and the flicker of light.
Like Monet, Caillebotte was drawn to the renovated Parc Monceau. He inserted a path the beckon viewers into the picture and a bench to invite them to linger. A solitary Parisian gentleman, achieved with just a few quick strokes, suggests the urbanity of the site.
Later in his career, Pissarro — the least cosmopolitan of the Impressionists — devoted successive painting campaigns to the landscape of modern Paris. In 1899 and 1900, he took leave of his home in rural Eragny to rent a large apartment high above the rue de Rivoli “opposite the Tuileries, with a superb view of the garden”. He painted two series of fourteen views each, including half a dozen from the same vantage point. Attentive to changes in the light and color of the grounds, the relative fullness of the trees, and the comings and goings of strollers at different times and seasons, he extracted the very nature of this site.
Renoir gravitated to more traditional motifs during his later career. In this autumnal view of the courtyard on the north side of the palace of Versailles, he paints the chestnut trees that line the allée in rich seasonal hues, while he accords sculpture a key role.
By the early nineteenth century, virtually every town, large or small, was graced with a promenade or public garden not unlike the one Pissarro painted in Pontoise. In this semi-rural, semi-suburban hamlet just northwest of Paris, a stroll in the park was a social event.
Monet studied the dramatic shapes and shadows formed by one of Fontainebleau’s most frequently painted and photographed trees, the Bodmer Oak, in preparation of his ambitious picture Luncheon on the Grass (1865-66). Using a palette of bright yellows, greens, and oranges to depict sunlight filtering through the trees, Monet painted this autumnal view just before he wrapped his visits to Fontainebleau in October 1865.
Floral Still Lifes
One of Cassatt’s rare still lifes, this painting was presumably made at the country house her family rented outside Paris. She placed her casually arranged bouquet on the windowsill of the greenhouse, close to the open air, in cool spring light.
Monet was praised for the “brio and daring” of his technique when the picture was shown at the 1882 Impressionist exhibition. Such qualities seem to have resonated with Paul Gauguin six years later, when he was even more dazzled by the suite of Sunflowers Van Gogh has painted as a decoration for his room in Arles.
By the summer of 1887, Van Gogh had updated his drab Dutch palette by painting flowers and come into his own as an original colorist. He made the dried blooms and stalks of the tall tournesols the focus of four works, magnifying their ragged heads, where flame-like sepals halo the seed destined to yield next year’s flowers.
Monet painted more than twenty floral still lifes between 1878 and 1883, fixing his sight on generous displays of a single type of flower at the height of bloom as opposed to mixed bouquets. A perennial favorite was the exotic chrysanthemum. In painting the small, pearly mums of late summer with petal-size dabs and dashes, Monet created a shimmering effect that is reflected on the polished tabletop, mirroring his concurrent infatuation with the watery surfaces of the Seine.
Caillebotte did not develop an interest in floral subjects until the 1880s, when he acquired property in the Parisian suburb of Petit-Gennevilliers. He found inspiration enough to shift his focus from urban scenes of bourgeois leisure to his own backyard. In redirecting his gaze to the plants he had nurtured from the ground up — such as this thicket of homegrown chrysanthemums, seen from an intimate and provocative vantage point — he continued to create what one critic hailed as “impromptu views that are the great delights in life.”
Although Degas once expressed his aversion to scented flowers, he nodded to current fashion by portraying a woman seated beside an enormous bouquet of asters, dahlias, and other late-summer blooms. The gardening gloves and water pitcher on the table suggest that the sitter had gathered and arranged flowers from the garden glimpsed through the window.
The extraordinary range of hues in which chrysanthemums could be cultivated caught the eye of Renoir. Probably gathered from the garden of his patron Paul Bérard at Wargemont, in Normandy, they must have emboldened the artist to test his overheated palette. “When I painted flowers,” he said, “I fell free to try out tones and values and worry less about destroying the canvas.”
Attentive to botanical accuracy, Delacroix brought a sense of realism to his works that was soon to become the province of photographers. And for younger painters, he set an influential precedent for how high-key color and freewheeling paint strokes could contribute robust vibrancy to a subject often too daintily treated.
Reportedly Manet’s favorite flower, peonies were introduced to France in the early nineteenth century. They grew in abundance in the artist’s garden in the Parisian suburb of Gennevilliers. Considered the epitome of luxury, the voluptuous flowers were a perfect vehicle for his sensuous brushwork and virtuosic handling of subtle color harmonies.
During the summers of 1881 to 1884, spent with her family in the village of Bougival, just west of Paris, she often painted the garden of their rental house with its wrought-iron gate, tall hollyhocks, and dense foliage. The figures emerging from the verdant surroundings may be Morisot’s five-year old daughter, Julie, and their maid, Pasie.
Cézanne’s affection for his family’s estate, Jas de Bouffan, near Aix-en-Provence, is reflected in the many views he painted of the property over a quarter century. He pictured this prospect along the road that led from an eighteenth-century house to its landscaped gardens, charting the symmetry of the massive chestnut trees and often including the stone washing trough and large square pool for collecting water. A sense of cool tranquility prevails in the artist’s depictions of the garden that afforded him refuge from the challenges of life in Paris.
Monet was in his twenties when he began to setting up his easel in sunlit gardens. While spending the summer of 1867 with his family on the Normandy coast, he painted his aunt’s garden in the seaside resort of Sainte-Adresse, near the port of Le Havre. The manicured oasis of standard roses and bedding geraniums at her villa made a stunning setting for the artist’s sidelong portrait of his father, Adolphe, a prosperous merchant.
After Monet established his own bourgeois household in rented properties in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil between 1871 and 1876, he began to garden in earnest, making his flower-filled backyards the subject of more than thirty canvases. The artist planted a central flower bed in a walled circular space: gladioli and hollyhocks soar above nasturtiums and geraniums to provide burst of colors at laddered levels, in accord with the current fashion for mounded combinations of annuals and perennials. The hollyhocks grew taller than Monet’s wife, Camille, whose painted from dissolves in shadows, submitting to the primacy of flowers and foliage.
With bemused sunlight, Bonnard pictures here a bucolic summer day at the family estate in Le Grand-Lemps, near Grenoble, adopting a high vantage point that offers a glimpse of five of his offspring and their pets cavorting amid the assorted greenery of vines, shrubs, and trees spread over luxuriant lawns.
Manet painted his wife in the sunlit greenery of their seasonal residence in Bellevue. Much of her face is hidden beneath the broad rim of hat, and her figure melds with the background realized in bravura strokes of ocher, blue, and emerald green.
One of Cassatt’s first and most dazzling plein-air pictures, this portrait of her sister Lydia debuted to praise at the 1881 Impressionist exhibition. Lydia is placed along a diagonally receding walkaway, bordered by plants, inviting comparison with Morisot’s somewhat later picture of a sitter absorbed in her knitting. Cassatt rendered her frail sister’s features with sensitivity, using freer brushwork to describe her stylish dress and still more vigorous handling for the foliage of gladioli, roses, and coleus leading to the greenhouse.
In this slice-of-life view, Morisot suspends descriptive detail to create a portrait of her time, making a bold fashion statement of sorts: her sitter sports the latest style of dress and is shown knitting in a garden typical of the period, with a gravel path and flowering roses. The elegant chairs suffice to define the private setting. Morisot probably painted the work in Bougival, where she spent the summers of 1881 to 1884, perhaps enlisting her daughter’s nanny as model.
At the time when artists were churning out sentimental images of women in gardens for the annual Salons, Morisot introduced invention where tired stereotypes left off. She magically transformed the interior into a place out of doors, opening it to her balcony and bringing roses and hydrangeas into the company of a flower-bedecked hat and the floral upholstery of a tufted settee. Her approach led one critic to comment in 1880: “She grinds flower petals onto her palette, in order to spread them later on her canvas with airy, witty touches.”
An echo of suitors in Garden of Love paintings from an earlier era. No less traditional is the presentation of the half-acre walled garden. Yet its bright red zonal geraniums are clustered in a corbeille, a basket-shaped flower bed that had recently become as much a fixture in French parks as the bench. Both the parklike setting and Camille’s smart ensemble ascribe to the latest fashion. Still, the sitter telegraphs sadness amid the sunlit blooms.
During the summer of 1874, Manet paid a visit to the Monet family. Finding them enjoying a leisurely afternoon in their garden, he set up his easel to paint in the open air. Renoir, who arrived just as Manet was starting to work, borrowed materials to paint the same scene from a closer spot. Looking to capture the moment, neither artist ignored the yard’s wandering chickens, Manet placing the rooster, hen, and chick as avian counterparts to Monet, his wife Camille, and son Jean. At some point of that day, Monet took a break from tending his flowers to make a picture of Manet painting in the garden.
All pictures sourced from external links as Neue Galerie New York does not allow visitors to take photos. Notes from the museum audio guide.
The first president of Czechoslovakia. Setting him against the backdrop of Prague and Vltava river. Extraordinary brushwork. Shortly after Kokoschka finished this painting, the Nazi called it ‘degenerate’ and he fled to London. Tomas Masaryk died in 1937 and this painting became an elegy for this loved president.
Here beckmann portraits real people: intellectuals, politicians, and businessmen. This is an elegant party – there is singer at the background but no one pays attention.The guests don’t seem to enjoy themselves; only the couple at lower left seems to be connected to each other. The main aspect of this painting is isolation.
The style and implication of this painting would have been unacceptable to the Nazis and clearly the artist painted it for himself. Has a scientific fiction in it. The barren room, the door that goes nowhere, and the empty frame on the wall. Perhaps this an artist studio but the productivity has been totally gone.
Oelze drew a variety of sources for this unsettling composition: the use of contemporary photography, combined with traditional European landscape painting – the genuine strategy of surrealism. MoMa bought this painting in 1940.
All pictures without external links were taken by the author during his visit to The Met Breuer, New York. Texts sourced from exhibit label scripts.
Though he was enjoying considerable professional success and increasing recognition in Germany by 1906, at this time his private life was plagued by anxiety, alcoholism, and despair, all of which led to his breakdown just two years later. Munch captures here his sense of acute loneliness and melancholy.
The seventy-seven-year-old artist, looking grim, stands next to a window at his house at Ekely on a winter day. Munch divided the canvas into the icy-cold, snow-covered landscape seen through the window and the rose-tinted warm interior on the left. He spent the final years of his life here at Ekely.
Trees from a dark mass along the coastline, and the diagonal fence creates space and depth. Heeding French symbolism, Munch presents landscape as an expression of mood.
Munch moved to Saint-Cloud, just outside Paris, in 1890. There he broke from naturalism and embraced French Symbolism, which favors emotional experience over objective observation. In this second version of the motif that he initially painted in Saint-Cloud three years earlier, a solitary figure sits near a window at night.
This work belongs to a group of winter views from Munch’s veranda at Ekely, his estate on the outskirts of Oslo. Light from the house creates shadows of the two figures who look out over the dark, snowy landscape. On the horizon shine lights from the city, while bright stars dance in the bluish sky.
Munch referred to the second half of his life as a “battle just to keep myself upright.” With hollow eyes and a somber expression, the stooped figure of the artist, in his house at Ekely at night, elicits feelings of restlessness and loneliness.
This work is a precursor to the first version of Munch’s famous painting The Scream (1893). In fact, the artist later referred to it as “the first Scream.” The dramatic diagonal perspective of the railing emphasizes the figure’s isolation and despair.
The third of six versions of The Sick Child, made between 1885 and 1927. Critics cared less for the motif than the artist’s embrace of an experimental, expressionistic technique, which involved the layering of short brushstrokes that seem to quiver with anxiety.
Munch used a radical technique of layering paint and then scraping away the color. He regarded The Sick Child as a breakthrough in his work, moving away from realism and Impressionism toward pure expression.
The most technically experimental example of the five paintings and two prints of this subject. Paint has been sprayed all over the surface, and only the body’s outline, face, hair, and halo have been treated with a brush. The delicate pale-blue and purple pigment form other halos around sensuous woman.
A revisit to his work in 1894 as part of his Frieze of Life series. A woeful man holds his head in his hands while a siren-like woman, dressed in red and white, exhibits her sensuous body. Behind them, a log has partly turned to ashes. Here, Munch depicts the flowering and passing of love.
The model Annie Fjeldbu bows her head while standing in front of a wicker chair in Munch’s studio. Unlike in other paintings, she has thrown off her gown and robe, displaying her naked body. The vertical format of the canvas accentuates her elongated pale nude body, which dominates the canvas.
This is the artist’s first full-length self-portrait and one of only three in which he shows himself with the tools of his trade. Wearing a dark painting smock, he looks confidently at the viewer.
Based on museum audio guide. All pictures linked from public sources (e.g. Wikipedia, artsy.net, oceansbridge.com). The number of each painting corresponds to the actual item number in the museum.
563 The Little Street – Vermeer’s hometown. So realistic almost like a photograph, various materials in precise but convincing manner. Window gives depth. No other artists paint simple city scene in such fondness and precision.
575 The Milkmaid – Vermeer is a perfectionist. Sparse surroundings diverted by the focal point – the milkmaid and her colorful dress. Window broken, bread scattered etc. light everywhere in the room.
541 Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul – Rembrandt at age of 55. Light from above – the story from Bible. Ability to capture the inner state of his figures. A typical late work of Rembrandt.
523 The Wardens of the Amsterdam’s Drapers’ Guild – Viewed from a lower standpoint. Have they just finished? Or just started their meeting? The man on the left is standing up or sitting down?
500 The Night Watch – Disorderly arrangement, makes this painting so unique. Dark background, putting main figures in spotlight. Dramatic, it’s a group in action. Gestures of the guards also capture our attention.
473 Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters – 17th century. Vibrant ice winter scene. Everyone in motion, falling and getting up again. To fit all, Avercamp raised the viewpoint and muted colors in the background. Nearly 200 figures. His winter scenes even at high demand in summer.
Interiors of a Protestant, Gothic Church – Emanuel de Witte is a master of perspectival church interiors. However he is not depicting reality, composing from parts of various existing churches.
Distant View of the Meadows – Back then not everyone was enthusiastic about such unadorned landscapes but now it is considered masterpiece of early 19th century painting, precisely because of its modern and original version.
The Canal at ‘s-Graveland – High vantage point possibly from the window of Herman Waller’s country house, the paintings’ commissioner.
Portrait of Lizzy Ansingh – Contrast between light and dark conveys intimacy. Swift vigorous brushstrokes. Schwartze enjoyed great success with her fashionable society portraits.
The Voorstraat Harbour in Dordrecht – Witsen is a master of tranquil city view. Real passion for detail, worn bricks. Suppressing any signs of life, emphasize everlasting stillness of the old city.
373 A Windmill on a Polder Waterway – Landscape without narrative, human and animals in secondary place. Put emphasis in depicting the clouds as well as its reflection in the water.
363 Girl in a Kimomo – Japanese was fashionable, artist couldn’t resist. At least twelve different version. No distinction between foreground and background, mimicking Japanese woodcut pattern which the artist admired.
349 The Singel Bridge at the Paleisstraat in Amsterdam – Use photo as source. The woman at the front seems out of focus, almost knock onto us. Just another ordinary day. The footsteps on the snow, in a few colorful rough brushstrokes. Woman lift her skirt, dog barking.
Based on museum audio guide. All pictures copied from Van Gogh Museum’s official website.
1883-1885: Van Gogh admired 19th century French peasant painters like Millet, Breton, etc very much. He made up his mind at the age of 27 (1880). From then to 1883 Van Gogh settled in Nuenen and started painting idealized peasant life. He prepared more than one year before ‘The Potato Eaters’ that later made him famous.
Here are a few examples, including works from other painters who also depicted and idealized peasants’ life.
The Cottage (1885): The huge overhanging roof captivated him – in Van Gogh’s view, roof is like nest, made of all kinds of materials, keep human safe. We also notice there are two doors, which indicates two families under one roof. The painting is set at dusk, the time when peasants return from the entire day of hard work. In addition, there are trees overarching the roof, protecting people inside.
Head of a Woman (1885): It’s all about brushstrokes. Expression is more important than a correct rendering.
Still Life with Bible (1885): On the side of the painting, beside Bible, it is Zola’s novel – Bible of modern life. Painted one year after his father’s death, Van Gogh used two books to symbolize different worlds of his and his father’s.
The Potato Eaters (1885): This painting is filled with dark colors, even on people’s faces; this is the color of the earth – dignity of farmers. Steam rises from the platter and you could almost smell it. Van Gogh has worked a long time on this painting. Over multiple drafts, figures have shifted but the center was always around their hands. However, the publication reaction to this painting was mixed. He even received a shocking response from his friend which treated this work as a caricature.
1885-1886: Practice and practice, due to the lukewarm reaction of The Potato Eaters. Van Gogh went to Antwerp to receive training and was further inspired by the 17th-century masters (portraits).
1886-1888: Van Gogh moved to Paris. He Learned from impressionists and then developed his own expressive styles.
Manet – The Jetty of Boulogne-sur-Mer: The seascape from the founder of Impressionim, Manet, was anything but traditional. The sailing boat is largely concealed. There are also bold division of picture plane and marked cropping. This could also be found in Van Gogh’s work.
In the Cafe: Agostina Segatori in Le Tambourin (1887): The figure is Van Gogh’s friend as well as lovers. Like the one in Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s work (above), the girl is likely a prostitute as we see cigarettes and beer on the table. Proper ladies did not drink or smoke in a cafe.
Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat (1887): The blue and orange pattern in the background is, don’t be surprised, science, which was based on the newest optic theories at the time. In adopting this method, Van Gogh tried to make his colors as intensive as possible.
Garden with Courting Couples (1887): Despite the lack of facial features, this painting expresses the poetic scene of young couples, with increased intensity by dash colors and the combination of foreground and background. Van Gogh here is experimenting colors – there are colors that complement each other just like man and wife. And looking from farther distance, the colors get blended together.
Boulevard de Clichy (1887): This is nearby where the brothers (Vincent and Theo) lived.
Trees and Undergrowth (1887): The painting has no center or focus – a very modern idea. The plane, from edge to edge and corner to corner, is covered by these dots. Van Gogh seemed very delighted being surrounded by it and all the colors he seized in this work.
1888-1889: Van Gogh left Paris and moved to Arles, a quieter place.
The Pink Orchard (1888): Van Gogh loved blossoms, representing new hope and new way for him to pursue art.
The Pink Peach Tree (1888): This is one of the three works painted and presented together. This format was inspired from Japanese graphic art.
The Langlois Bridge (1888): Van Gogh applied a simple composition in this painting to convey Provence’s essential beauty and its “the clearness of atmosphere.”
The Bedroom (1888): This colorful painting was mean to offer people comfort. Van Gogh was using colors to express emotions.
Field with Irises near Arles (1888): The painting is all about light and colors, with a meadow full of yellow buttercups, a ditch with iris plants, town in back ground and a strip of blue sky.
Fishing Boats on the Beach (1888): This painting reveals Van Gogh’s passion in Japanese art, indicated by the clear contrast of the boat’s outline and the clarity he wanted to achieve.
Sunflowers (1889): The flowers almost seem to glow. Here we see all different kinds of essentially one color and could certainly be surrounded by the feeling of power. The paints are so thick to give its weight. Van Gogh liked things to run down, to be a bit rough and worn, which was like real life – you could see some of the flowers are dying. This work was served as a welcome for Gauguin to Arles and the artist Ppainted five different versions all with dazzling light. Van Gogh wanted to proclaimed himself as the painter of sunflowers.
Almond Blossom (1890): Here we see a turquoise sky. Where was he standing? After the good news of Theo’s newborn child, this work was painted as a gift to the couples. Van Gogh depicted blossoms in great precision, some in bloom while others are still in bud.
Butterflies and Poppies, Giant Peacock Moth, Roses (1890): Van Gogh presented a close look at ordinary things, including the pale roses. The exploration of universal beauty is the key of Van Gogh’s art. He always wanted to convey his certain way of looking to the audience.
Irises (1890): This painting is strong and animated, elegant and powerful. It was so thickly painted that it took a month to dry.
Copies after Millet (1889): This copy of Millet’s famous work are re-presented with colors of Van Gogh’s own invention. This is like a musician interpreting the composer’s work.
Landscape at Twilight (1890): There are green and black leaves, as well as yellow light full of energy. The foreground is full of long sweeping diagonal strokes. What is the subject of this painting? The strokes themselves, which represent energy and life of nature.
Wheatfield with Crows (1890): The wheat field is as big as sea. The painting is filled with extreme loneliness. This was painted during the last week of Van Gogh’s life though not being his last work. There are a few more which were more optimistic.
Tree Roots (1890): Van Gogh is here studying tree roots, with its twisted forms. The painting was unfinished. It is the last painting of Van Gogh.
All pictures without external links were taken by the author during his trip to National Gallery in Oslo, Norway. Texts sourced from National Gallery’s official English website.
Werenskiold studied in Munich and Paris before he returned to his home country in mid-1880s. Thereafter, depicting rural and folk life of Norwegians became the key theme in his painting. This painting is a study in green, from the grass in the foreground to the trees and further the hillside in the background.
Peasant Burial has been considered as a principal work of Norwegian art. Its naturalist theme and the bright lighting indicates it was most likely painted outdoors. The picture raises several questions, such as who is the deceased, who is the woman presented, and who is the man reading a book?
Krohg used realist approach as well as size and composition to bring to light contemporary social issues: the center figure is a prostitute while Albertine, the name and the main figure of Krohg’s novel Albertine, is seen further. The painting deals with the compulsory medical exam that prostitutes had to subject themselves to.
Like Munch, Krohg lost both his sister and mother at his young age, and this painting may well be a source of inspiration of Munch’s Sick Child (1886). The dying girl is heavily foregrounded, allowing viewers to feel as though they are in the same room with her. The girl herself expresses no sorrow or despair.
Church’s interior played a crucial role in Backer’s art. She studied in Munich and Paris where she lived for ten years. Backer is considered to be an early Impressionist. In this painting, Backer captures the variously illuminated surfaces as the sunlight filters into the interior of the church. Also the view from inside the church and out into open creates a striking perspective.
The title of this painting, Blue Interior, alludes Backer’s ambition to depict the impact of daylight on the coloring and lighting of an interior, mirroring Monet and other Impressionists’ interest in lighting effects.
Swedish artist Anders Zorn manages to capture the play of the light against skin, water, and stone with his broad, rapid brushstrokes. The naked woman depicted allows her body to be warmed by the blazing sun as she peers out into the distance. Zorn was the foremost Impressionist in Scandinavia during his times and here presents an independently Nordic reply to the bathing scenes by Cezanne, Renoir, and others.
The stools have been casually pushed aside and the people have presumably gone indoors. The door remains ajar and reflects in its window the landscape. There is a tension in the painting between the foreground’s colorful wealth of detail and the background’s simplified shapes and tones. The painting can be seen as a homage to the luminous Nordic summer nights. Like many other Sohlberg’s works, the painting is devoid of people.
Henrik Sorensen was one of the most distinctive artists in Norway before and after WWII. He received training largely abroad, including Académie Matisse in Paris. This work was painted after his stay in Paris and is a fine example of his more “moderate modernism”. The woman seems both present and somewhat distant.
Cabaret is considered Krohg’s principal work. One year before this painting he stated in an interview that he was “influenced by this Picasso fellow”, also citing Cézanne, Matisse, and El Greco as key sources of inspiration. There are five figures crowded in this painting. The three grey-white, slender female nudes in the foreground contrast sharply with the murky background and the two frantically playing guitarists. The painting may also be an homage to Paul Gauguin, who included small, symbolic scenes with animals in some of his paintings.
The painting is highly complex in regard to form, color, and content, and many consider itto be the political manifesto of Arne Ekeland, who was a communist. The three figures – a priest with a collar, a military man in uniform, and a representative of the moneyed interests – can be seen as symbolizing the capitalist society that Ekeland wanted to topple. Beyond Italian Renaissance art that the painter had seen on his trip to Italy, he was also inspired by German expressionism, French cubism, Byzantine art, etc.
Based on museum audio guide. The number of each painting corresponds to the actual item number in the museum.
200. Time is a River without Bank
Up till now I still think of this painting by Chagall in his early period as the most poetic and romantic one in this exhibition. Perhaps this is also why the museum placed it at the front of the hall. In this painting, we see a wide and peaceful river which of course represents Chagall’s hometown; while the flying fish is his father. Chagall himself and his wife, Bella, which are the only two “live” figures in the picture, sit at the corner, holding each other and cherishing the moment being together. This painting is about time, memory and loss, as said by the commentary, which I cannot agree more. Time is like a river, which is always moving and never stops. The grandfather clock in the middle, which is a more obvious symbol of time, in my opinion, is more of a implication of the objectiveness about time and we as human beings have to sit aside to either embrace or withstand the memory and loss that the times brings to us.
201. The Lovers
To understand this painting, it is important to know that bouquet was rare in Russia but plenty in Paris back in 1930s. This helps us understand the inner passion and spiritual energy that drive Chagall to grow and grows his flowers to essentially the whole canvas. The background color of this image is similar to the last one, and also from the lower right-hand side we see the houses the sheep representing Chagall’s hometown and his nostalgia while living in Paris and enjoying his sweet life at the same time. The contrast between these two color palettes and the emotions behind them make this bouquet look so special and joyful.
Based on museum audio guide. The number of each painting corresponds to the actual item number in the museum.
651. The Lost Jockery
The black curtains on the sides of the canvas remind us what we see behind is actually something not real (even surreal?). In the center of the “stage”, we have Magritte (should be himself, right?) riding a horse, seems running very fast but looks like not going anywhere. The standing “trunks” is actually bilboquets – a French toy and Magritte repeatedly used this form in his early works.
652. Portrait of Paul Nouge
Paul Nouge was a Belgian composer and he was a close friend of Magritte. In this painting Magritte challenged the convention view that portrait should be singular. The two Pauls look almost identical but with tiny differences – the shades of foreheads, one’s hand was cropped out of the canvas, etc. We believe from Magritte’s view, neither of them is Paul Nouge and both are representations.
653. The Secret Player
Again, we see the curtain and bilboquets. But here in front of us is an even weird and surreal world, with two players and a woman in a closet whose size is smaller than usual. What is interesting about this work is – it seems there are two sources of light. Obviously one is coming from left to the right (you can tell from the reflection of the bilboquets) and the other one, which sheds light on the woman’s face, is less to be aware of. This is a painting without a narrative and we can only explore the meaning and the truth simply by looking at it.
655. The Titanic Days
This one is disturbing – not only because it shows a man fighting with a woman but more than that we see the two bodies are forced to be in one plane. The three-dimension conventional pictorial space is destroyed.
656. Attempting the Impossible
Magritte and his wife. This can be regarded as the most literal interpretation of what a painter does – just apply paints – there is nothing more mystical, mysterious, and metaphysical about it. This also reflects the Surrealists’ attack on painting as a medium itself at the very beginning and what Magritte was trying to bring us here is the initial state of painting, without being commercialized, related to religion or something else, just paint. On another perspective, this painting also reminds us of Pygmalion, the Greek mythological character that brings his beloved sculpture to life.
657. The False Mirror
Unfortunately this is the only one painting that I knew before I came to this exhibition (but not knowing it is from Magritte). The caption of this work makes us to think about, and problematize that optical vision is limited. What you see is not necessarily reality – inner vision, hallucination, and dream may provide us as real as what we see in external phenomena – this plays an important role in Surrealism and the relationships between dream and reality, vision and illusion, what we see and what we do not see, are among the central issues that the Surrealist painters wanted to address.
658. The Eternally Obvious
Personally I think this is the most “magical” work in this exhibition and what you actually see is definitely beyond the five pieces of female torso. It simply ignites your imagination and brings about the inner desire to connect these disjoint pieces and even to create . Each individual piece may also represent a radical and violent act in terms of creation – the cropped and closeup view of a particular part of a female’s body – to some sense it looks like a photograph rather than a painting. It interestingly illustrates the relationship between these two and somewhat the fear that photography as mechanical reproduction is threatening the role of painting.
660. Elective Affinities
One of the several works that I cannot understand well. Magritte are trying to depict some form of illusion here because the positions of the edges of the cage are self-contradictory.
661. The Light of Coincidence
This one is my favorite since there are so many interpretations of its meaning, and the line between truth and illusion so blurred here. One cannot really tell if we are seeing a painted female torso in the frame, or instead a sculpture which is illuminated by the candle. The vivid light and shades of the torso is driving us to discover the truth and puzzling us at the same time, with the help the candle, which then represents illumination. Human is illuminated by arts, just like the torso is illuminated by the candle. This simple and complex work illustrates how paintings are created and how arts tell or do not tell stories and communicating ideas.
662. The Interpretation of Dreams
One interesting thing about this work is the English rather than French words under each of the objects (thought only the bottom right is correct). The mismatch between the objects and the meanings of the words reveals the complexity how we as a view gather information from a painting.
Magritte himself is present in this painting, illustrating what his daily work looks like and what he thinks about his work and art itself. Painting is about reproduction – it tells us the truth but also suggests multiplicity. There is no relationship between the egg and the bird and it is something else which is beyond the simply realistic and mechanical reproduction that connects this two objects together.
664. Not to Be Reproduced
The caption of this work is interesting – not to be reproduced. Perhaps this is why the figure behind the mirror refused to turn around his face to us? This hence poses the question on the role of painting as means of reproduction. The figure behind the mirror represents the hidden potential behind our everyday life. More often than not, life and truth is not about what we see but what it is concealed.
665. On the Threshold of Liberty
It is hard to imagine what you will really feel if you walk into a room like this. This painting plays with our expectations. One thing to note is that the texture in each plane (for example, the female torso and the wood next to it) and Magritte has applied quite different techniques to achieve that.