Art – Some of My Favourites

Hans Holbein the Younger – The Ambassadors (1533)

The National Gallery, London

You can see the skull in perfect symmetry by viewing your computer screen from the right at about 10 past three.

Amedeo Modigliani

Red-Haired Boy – (1919)
Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Reclining Nude – (1917)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Girl with Blue Eyes – (1917)
McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas

James McNeill Whistler – Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 or ‘Whistler’s Mother’ – (1871)

Musee d’Orsay, Paris

Although an American by nationality, Whistler divided his career between London and Paris. He enrolled in Charles Gleyre’s studio at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1856 and went into partnership two years later with Alphonse Legros and Fantin-Latour to ensure a better circulation of his works. Fantin-Latour put him in the centre of his painting Homage to Delacroix, alongside Manet and Baudelaire, proclaiming his place in the avant-garde of the Paris art world.

Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, also called Portrait of the Artist’s Mother is a reminder, if only through its double title, of the stylisation to which Whistler soon submitted the realistic aesthetic of his early years. The portrait’s psychological acuity is powerfully conveyed by the deliberately pared down composition. The work, in its linear austerity and chromatic rigour dominated by neutral tones, was a continuation of Whistler’s experimentation with prints, to which View of the Thames hanging on the wall is an allusion.

Dropping all pretence at anecdote, Whistler soon gave nothing but musical subtitles to his paintings, insisting on the musical notion of harmony rather than that of subject matter. The painting, bought by the French state in 1891, is now one of the most famous works by an American artist outside the United States.

Grant Wood – American Gothic – (1930)  Art Institute Chicago

I visited the AIC on a visit to Chicago in June 2012 – I (finally) got to see this wonderful paining up close. I surprised at how small it was (78 x 65.3 cm). Grant Wood adopted the precise realism of 15th-century northern European artists, but his native Iowa provided the artist with his subject matter. American Gothic depicts a farmer and his spinster daughter posing before their house, whose gabled window and tracery, in the American gothic style, inspired the painting’s title. In fact, the models were the painter’s sister and their dentist. Wood was accused of creating in this work a satire on the intolerance and rigidity that the insular nature of rural life can produce; he denied the accusation. American Gothic is an image that epitomizes the Puritan ethic and virtues that he believed dignified the Midwestern character.