During times like this, when most of the museums around the world are closed I thought to post something about my art-related experiences. I will mention here only paintings that I admired from close distance in museums or expositions around the world. Of course, there are many others I wish to see. Hopefully, I will have that chance someday. I was lucky to see many of the most important galleries in Europe and the United States and I have a collection of memories from those visits.
I will start with a disclaimer. There is a big difference between admiring a painting at a close distance in a museum and looking at its picture on the internet. The pictures listed below do not impress me and I do not expect to inspire my readers. Seeing them in a museum it’s a different experience. But this is all we can do these days.
This is a subjective selection and it is for sure influenced by my life experiences. Here are the paintings listed in chronological order:
Leonardo – Annunciation (1472) Uffizi, Florence
While visiting Uffizi in Florence I’ve seen many annunciation paintings, as religion was the main theme for painters until the 17th century. Yet, when I saw this painting I was intrigued. It seems to have so many senses and symbols hidden. The characters are surrounded by mystery, it was just different from all I’ve seen before. Maybe I was impressed because it was the first time in my life when I was seeing a major artwork.
Raphael – Portrait of Pope Julius II (1511) National Gallery, London
This painting impressed me most of all I’ve seen at the National Gallery in London. I didn’t know about this artwork before seeing it. I watched it amazed for several minutes.
I did not have the sensation that it was made to look better than in reality. Yet, it was a different reality which I can’t express in words. The artist captures so well the feelings of the character in the painting.
After watching this painting I understood the sense of words written on Raphael’s epitaph:
“Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die.”
For reference, Pope Julius II is the one who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. The Pope died in 1513 after he was able to see the Sistine Chapel painted. Interestingly is that before that he was also leading his armies on the battlefield as their commander. He believed in imposing religion by the sword, which was common during his time. If you want to find out more about him you can read “Agony and Ecstasy” by Irving Stone or simply watch the movie.
El Greco -View of Toledo (1596) MET, New York
The contrast of colors in this painting is fascinating. Another example of a painting I did not know and discovered in a gallery. El Greco paints here Toledo, the city where he spent most of his life and where he also died. This is not the only El Greco painting that I like, he was an artist well ahead of his time. The way he uses the colors and his characters (in other paintings) are very modern. Because of his modernism, people in the 17th and 18th centuries did not appreciate his works. He was misunderstood, as it was the case with other artists that had a vision beyond the horizon of his times.
Rubens – Old Woman and Boy with Candles (1616) Mauritshuis – Hague
I’ve discovered this painting in the Hague gallery. I am not a big fan of Rubens. I’ve seen many of his paintings around the world. Rubens created the biggest paintings in terms of size in museums. And the characters in his paintings were also big.
However, this is a small painting where he paints using the “chiaroscuro” technique he learned from Caravaggio.
I was attracted by how this painting looks but mainly because it is an allegory that can be interpreted in many ways. This way it’s like life itself.
One possible interpretation is a quote from Rubens: “Light can be taken a thousand times from another light without diminishing it”. In the museum it was written the local interpretation: “The renewal of life with the transfer of light from the candle, soon to die, held by the old woman to the freshly lit one held by the youth.” Then there was the religious interpretation of three hands with a light in the center. Each reader could have his/her own vision of this painting and that’s the beauty of it.
Probably, Rubens himself liked this picture as he kept it with him until the end of his life.
Vermeer – Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) Mauritshuis -Hague
This was the main attraction in Hague. At the time I’ve seen this painting it was accepted the theory that the girl with a pearl earring did not exist in reality. It was believed that she was created by the imagination of Vermeer.
I did not believe that theory but that was just my intuition.
Later, in 2018, a new study of the painting was done with X-Rays and other methods. This year, in April, they published the conclusions. The examination had revealed the presence of tiny eyelashes around the girl’s eyes, invisible to the naked eye. Research also established the existence of a green curtain in the seemingly empty background of the painting that has faded to black over the centuries.
These are indications that the girl was real.
“Speculating on who the girl was, with her enigmatic expression, wide eyes, unusual blue turban, and huge pearl earring remains part of the fun. The fact that she is still a mystery keeps people coming back and keeps her exciting and fresh.” -The Guardian
In my opinion, this is the last classical masterpiece. It took another 200 years for the art of painting to reinvent and by the creation of impressionism to add new amazing artworks.
Vermeer himself was considered a second class artist during his life and was forgotten after his time. He was rediscovered almost 200 years later.
Van Gogh – Starry Night (1889) MoMA -New York
The most beautiful association between blue and yellow. This painting is one of the most famous in the world. The painting is often associated with the words of Vincent van Gogh: “Why, I wonder, wouldn’t the shining dots in the sky be as easy to reach as the black dots on the map of France? Just like we were on the train to Tarascon or Rouen, we use death to travel to the stars. “
The painting depicts the city of Saint-Remy-de-Provence where Van Gogh was interred in a hospital after his breakdown in 1888 when he cut his ear.
Van Gogh – Wheatfield with Crows (1890) Van Gogh Museum – Amsterdam
Some consider this as Van Gogh’s last painting. I remember it was nicely presented in the museum. Since it was a museum dedicated to Van Gogh it was a perfect way to finish the exposition. The wheat field is located in Auvers-sur-Oise and it was painted in July 1890.
“Wheat Field with Crows remains as Vincent van Gogh’s most contentious painting. The many interpretations of the work are probably more varied than any other in Van Gogh’s oeuvre. Some see it as Van Gogh’s “suicide note” put to canvas, while others delve beyond a superficial overview of the subject matter and favor a more positive approach. And some more extreme critics cast their vision even further – beyond the canvas and the brushstrokes – in order to translate the images into an entirely new language of the subliminal.”- http://www.vincentvangogh.org
“Van Gogh used powerful color combinations in this painting: the blue sky contrasts with the yellow-orange wheat, while the red of the path is intensified by the green bands of grass.” – Van Gogh Museum
The artist shot himself in this wheat field and died the next day in a hospital. His paintings remained to inspire the world for the future.
Magritte – The Lovers II (1928) MoMA -New York
I’ve seen many Magritte paintings in Brussels. In that city exists even an entire museum dedicated to Magritte’s works. There I discovered an interesting artist and found out more about him. Yet, the painting I like most from his creations was in New York.
“Frustrated desires are a common theme in René Magritte’s work. Here, a barrier of fabric prevents the intimate embrace between two lovers, transforming an act of passion into one of isolation and frustration. Some have interpreted this work as a depiction of the inability to fully unveil the true nature of even our most intimate companions.” – MoMA
“René Magritte lovers are unable to communicate or touch, they are forever apart.” – http://www.dailyartmagazine.com
The painting is intriguing and has many hidden symbols and possible interpretations.
Dali – The Persistence of Memory (1931) MoMA -New York
Surrealism at its peak by Dali. This painting is at MoMA since 1934.
The general interpretation of the work is that the soft watches are a rejection of the assumption that time is rigid. This idea is supported by other images in the work, such as the wide expanding landscape, and other limp watches shown being devoured by ants.
“Three of the clocks in the painting may symbolize the past, present and future, which are all subjective and open to interpretation, while the fourth clock, which lies face-down and undistorted, may symbolize objective time.” – http://www.dalipaintings.com
“Those limp watches are as soft as overripe cheese—indeed, they picture “the camembert of time,” in Dalí’s phrase. Here time must lose all meaning. Permanence goes with it: ants, a common theme in Dalí’s work, represent decay, particularly when they attack a gold watch, and they seem grotesquely organic. The monstrous fleshy creature draped across the painting’s center is at once alien and familiar: an approximation of Dalí’s own face in profile, its long eyelashes seem disturbingly insect-like or even sexual, as does what may or may not be a tongue oozing from its nose like a fat snail.” -MoMA