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Old Posted May 6, 2007, 6:33 AM
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America's greatest artwork

This thread is partly inspired by a book written by the former director of the Louvre ("Only in America"), and partly inspired by a recent BBC poll meant to rank the greatest paintings in Britain. Anyhow, all statements in this thread represent only the viewpoints of the author and are therefore not subject to derision, anger or indignation. They are opinion. So without further ado, the greatest paintings in America:

1) The greatest painting in America is...............

Juan de Pareja by Juan Velazquez. Gasp! A simple portrait the greatest painting in all of America?!???!!!??? Absolutely! I believe Velazquez is the greatest painter in the history of art. No other artist attained both truth and beauty in their art with such frequency. And this may very well be his greatest picture. I have been to the Prado and through the museums of England, and none of his other paintings can match the intensity and honesty of the subject's gaze. Pareja was a slave, but one senses a nobility that defies labels and titles. The more I look at this painting, the more I know him. The brilliant strokes of paint, while breathtaking, become secondary. The angel of death has cheated us out of the pleasure of conversation with Pareja, but thanks to Velazquez, his soul lives with us to this very day. And make no mistake, this is no insult to the art of America; after all, Velazquez has the greatest painting in England (Rokeby), Spain (Las Meninas), and certainly one of the five greatest pictures in Italy (Pope).


Metropolitan Museum of Art

2) Les demoiselle d'avignon by Picasso. Not since Giotto and Duccio has there been a painter so critical to the course of history. And not since Giotto's frescos in Padua has there been a singular work of art so revolutionary as this one. In a single canvas, Picasso has shattered the rules of not just painting, but of art in general. Very easily the most important piece of art in America. When Picasso painted this, people were still getting around by horse and buggy, a few humans had just conquered the skies, and the most advanced computing device was still the abacus. This work was a starting gun for a century of immense change. Picasso is saying, "let's get this party started right!" And it doesn't look the slightest bit dated. It still looks new!


museum of modern art

3) Autumn Rythm by Jackson Pollock. Modern art is chalk full of stories about artists breaking rules. But the greatest rule-breakers of them all were Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock. Pollock was the father of the abstract expressionist movement, America's first major movement it could call its own. Autumn Rythm is one of a series of paintings created in 1950 tht is considered among his greatest. One gets easily lost in the neural tangles. Pollock's dance around the canvas results in a universal truth--beauty and order from chaos. It hangs proudly in his adopted hometown of New York. A few miles away at the MOMA, one can appreciate the full the gamut of his work in a room dedicated to progression of his art.


Metropolitan Museum of Art

The famous photograph of Pollock working on his masterpice--Autmn Rythm



4) Madonna and Child by Duccio di Buoninsegna. This devotional picture from 1300 may be small in size but it its importance in art history is immeasurable and is most likely the greatest Italian Renaissance painting in this country. How did we get from the flat Byzantine images of the Middle Ages to the dynamic three dimensional images of masters like Leonardo and Botticelli? This painting is a critical missing link. To us it may seem a bit boring, but to the lucky Italians for whom this was painted; this was radically diffirent way to look at Mary and Jesus. Instead of cold stoicism from cartoonish figures, we see a soulful mother worrying about what is surely a terrifying future, and a loving baby exploring the world around him. In recent decades this painting was talked about in art history circles as if it were a the loch ness monster, seen by a select few only a handful of times over the past century. When it was put up for sale the Met quickly snatched it up before the Louvre had an opportunity to counteroffer. $40 million dollars may seem like a lot for such a tiny painting, but some in the fine art business say it could have easily fetched twice that amount if put up for public auction. Certainly a new American treasure.



Metropolitan Museum of Art




5) The Crucifixion by Jan van Eyck. Inexplicably, Eyck is overshadowed by his contemporaries in Italy. But this is the father of oil painting we are talking about, and he therefore deserves his spot in the pantheon of art megastars. As always he displays in this canvas the precision of a surgeon; but the real brilliance in this picture is how he presents a familiar scene from an entirely different perspective, with emotion we have never before seen in a crucifixion; and emotion we will never again see from van Eyck himself. In the lower left hand corner you see Mary unable to stand upright against the weight of her grief, and flowing robes that reveal only a sliver of her face. A face so full of sadness words cannot do it justice. Others carry on, ignorant of this grief and of the suffering above them, as they converse and laugh. In my opinion this is his singular masterpiece.


Metropolitan Museum of Art

6) Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. This might be the most famous painting in the United States. I am not a fan of landscape artists, but the two exceptions are Breughal and van Gogh. Here, van Gogh has captured an essential truth of southern France, of night, and of himself. This is his best painting, and I'm not sure he even knew it. He copied most of his images multiple times, but not this one.


Museum of Modern art

Last edited by pico44; Oct 7, 2009 at 9:28 PM. Reason: a million mistakes with my first post
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Old Posted May 6, 2007, 7:11 AM
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Why is this in City Discussions?
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Old Posted May 7, 2007, 3:00 PM
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strange rankings. nothing by deKooning, motherwell, kline or rothko, unfortunately.

not that art can be ranked...
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Old Posted May 8, 2007, 6:52 AM
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America's greatest paintings continued...

Hopefully some dialogue will result from my effort, but if not; at least I had fun coming up with a list of of the greatest paintings in a country from which there are plenty to choose.


7) The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins. Eakins was America's first great artist. Unfortunately few laypeople are familiar with his genius. Eakins was overshadowed by lesser artists such as Sargeant and Whistler, and his reputation suffered for not having produced notable pupils in spite of his lifetime dedication to teaching; but he is a legend among those who really care about art. The Gross Clinic is his masterpiece, and was thankfully saved from a hellish existance in Arkansas by Philidelphian philanthropists.


Philidelphia Museum ofArt




8) Gold Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol. This painting by the greatest--if not, certainly the most famous--pop artist is my personal favorite. Notice how he takes an ubiquitous image of this American icon and gives it the same treatment artists used to paint the iconography of the middle ages.


moma



9) The Bather by Paul Cezanne. Cezanne has been called the father of modernism, and this is one of his most forward looking pieces. An odd assortment of limbs and facial features striding towards us, whether we like it or not. Much like the future. The background may be the most brilliant part of the painting. Here you see one of the great minds in art history toying with the idea of abstraction.


moma



10) St Francis in Ectasy by Giovanni Bellini. The former director of the Lourve said that this may very well be the greatest piece of European Art in the United States. I don't agree with him on that point but I will agree with him on the fact that this is an extremely brilliant piece of Italian Renaissance art. Bellini was the first great Venetian painter, and in my opinion this is his greatest masterwork. Very rarely do you see painting where the artist has perfected both the human form and nature in the same painting. This is one (Van Eyck's Crucifixion is another). If you are ever in New York, do yourself a favor and see this painting.



Frick Museum in New York


11) The Harvesters by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. While almost every other painter ofhis time fixated on the writhing bodies of religious martyrs and Greek gods, Bruegel dedicated his considerable talent to the working masses. About every one of his few surviving canvases is a masterpiece, but this is certainly one of my favorites. A perfectly balanced canvas.


Metropolitan Museum of Art



12) Onement I by Barnett Newman. Out of nothingness, something. The most profound question ever posed by a human being is brilliantly symbolized by a single band (or "zip") of paint across a dark background. Sure, the origins of the universe might be a bit more complex than a stroke of paint, but Newman is reminding us that all the philosophy, all the religion of the world; resulted from a single question. Why are we here? Bang!


moma



13) Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. No one captured New York in paintings like Hopper did. He belongs with Fitzgerald, Scorcese, Allen, Gershwin, and Bernstein in that regard. His rural paintings are also fantastic but this scene of a Greenwich Ave diner is his most captivating.


Art Institute of Chicago


14) John the Baptist by Caravagio. This is a work of such profound genius that is a bit intimidating to me. If someone said this is the greatest painting in the United States, I don't think I could disagree with them. Caravaggio was the greatest genius ofthe Italian baroque and this is one of his greatest masterpieces of chiaroscuro that I have ever seen. It probably deserves a higher place on this list but I just haven't spent much time in front of it. I look forward to our next encounter.


Nelson Museum in Kansas City



15) Nearly Hit by Paul Klee. I just adore Klee. He may not be the most famous modern artist but he was certainly one of the most experimental and daring. Not only that but there is just something so mystical and comforting about his work. This oil painting is one of my favorites here in the states.


San Fransisco moma



15) A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte by Seurat. I have always thought pointilism was a bit gimmicky and have never had much patience for it. But that just one of the things that makes this canvas all the more impressive to me. The fact that Seurat spent years filling this giant canvas with tiny dots absolutely blows my mind. It must be seen to be believed. Sure it may be devoid of emotion, but it adds to the eeriness of the fact that someone was actually OCD enough to complete this thing. Great art? Mmmm, maybe. Great testement to human persaverence? Absolutely. Thats enough greatness for me.


Art Institute of Chicago

Last edited by pico44; Oct 7, 2009 at 9:54 PM.
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Old Posted May 8, 2007, 6:13 PM
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at least barney newman made the list...one of my all-time favorites.

I'm surprised he beat out Rothko or Motherwell or Frankenthaler...

ranking art is stupid.
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Old Posted May 9, 2007, 4:45 AM
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at least barney newman made the list...one of my all-time favorites.

I'm surprised he beat out Rothko or Motherwell or Frankenthaler...

ranking art is stupid.
Why is it stupid? Do you like all art equally? You think every genre is just as goo as any other? Every artist of each genre is equally important as the next? Every work by an artist is of the same quality? If ranking art exercises my memory of all my museum and gallery-going experiences, and allows me to examine what it is I like about art, genres, artists, and individual works; don't you think there is any value to that? Or is just calling something stupid, stupid? So why does Rothko or Frankenthaler belong on the list ahead of Caravaggio or Van Eyck?
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Old Posted May 15, 2007, 3:00 AM
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^I am afraid, my friend, that you might be putting pearls before swine.

While many forumers here might have an inkling of the difference between a Koons and a Klimt, I suspect most wouldn't, anymore than they'd know the difference between Shostakovich and Schubert.

To those that do, I salute you.
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Old Posted May 15, 2007, 5:14 AM
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^I am afraid, my friend, that you might be putting pearls before swine.

While many forumers here might have an inkling of the difference between a Koons and a Klimt, I suspect most wouldn't, anymore than they'd know the difference between Shostakovich and Schubert.

To those that do, I salute you.
You may very well be right Avian, but I gotta tell you I'm having a blast just coming up with the list. If people would like to contribute suggestions I would love to entertain them.
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Old Posted May 15, 2007, 7:08 AM
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part three

Alright, so I guess I'm at 16. Hopefully I can get through 20 tonight before I get too tired.

16) Young Woman with a Water Pitcher by Jan Vermeer. There are something like 12 of his 34-38 paintings here in the United States. I had trouble choosing between this one and his painting of a woman holding a balance in DC. I like this one because the light is so warm and the womans countenance is pleasnt and inviting. As always, Vermeer spares no details, and each item or piece of clothing is meticulously detailed. I love Dutch art, and in my opinion this is the greatest dutch painting in America.


Metropolitan Museum of Art



17) White Flag by Jasper Johns. Regardless of how one wants to classify his art, I don't think there is any doubt that Johns is one of the great painters in modern art. Is he neodada or pre-pop? Well he certainly isn't AE, but his niche is an important one nontheless, a niche he shares with the equally brilliant Rauschenberg. Johns had many wonderful images that became synonymous with his name: targets, numbers, maps. But of all his stages I like his flags the most. His white flag in particular is especially thought provoking. What is he trying to say? And why does it seem more poignant now than it did ten years ago?



Metropolitan Museum of Art



18) Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze. In spite of numerous historical innacuracies and odd lighting, this is certainly an American icon. France has Liberty Leading the people by Delacroix and we get a nice view of New Jersey by the Dexy's Midnight Runners of art history. So what, you gotta a problem with that? It may not be great art according to the cognoscenti but I love it.


Metropolitan Museum of Art



19) The Annunciation by Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden. While I think van Eycks Crucifixion is a greater picture, this is undoubtedly the most famous piece of Flemish art in America. Campin was instrumental in art's progression to realism, and this is quite easily his masterpiece. It certainly helps that he had the uber-brilliant van der Weyden to help him out with the panels of this tryptich. Entire books have been written about this painting and the symbolism of all the objects contained within it. I always have fun looking at the insane amount of detail included in the cityscape out the window.


The Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art



20) Le Bonheur de Vivre (The Joy of Life) by Henri Matisse. Matisse's fauvist movement was a natural progression from the postimpressionists like Gaugain and Van Gogh, and for that he deserves his rightful place amongst the greats; but he just wasn't the genius of Picasso. Regardless, he played an adequate yin to Picasso's yang. Many of Matisse's greatest works are in Russia, but his first great painting and perhaps his greatest painting is in America. As with all of his work it is very pleasant and the canvas is blanketed with rich, wonderful colors. Here you see hints of Manet's Luincheon on the Grass and in the background you see a wonderful little prelude to his dance paintings.


Barnes Foundation in Merion, PA


21) Ginevra de Benci by Leonardo de Vinci. This is Leonardo's only painting in America, and in spite of having been cut down a bit, it is in fantastic condition. Go to the Louvre if you want to see Leonardo's brilliance in creating androgynous icons, go to the National Gallery in DC if you want to see his brilliance as a technical painter. Thereare no brushstrokes on this canvas, only an image that seems to have been carved out of mother of pearl.



National Gallery of Art in Washington DC

Last edited by pico44; Oct 7, 2009 at 10:18 PM.
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  #10  
Old Posted May 15, 2007, 7:41 AM
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Interesting thread, though your title suggests that this is a ranking of American art, meaning American artists, American subject matter, etc. Instead, it's about mostly European pieces found in American collections.
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Old Posted May 15, 2007, 3:02 PM
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Interesting thread, though your title suggests that this is a ranking of American art, meaning American artists, American subject matter, etc. Instead, it's about mostly European pieces found in American collections.
You are right, many of these pictures were not painted in the United States. They arrived from Europe one by one and after some time became important pieces of a new whole. A new collection of cultural treasures that inspired a newer, wholly native generation of American artists. In this sense they are very American. As American as all of those great European, African, Asian and Latino immigrants who also came here one by one and made our country what it is.
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Old Posted May 16, 2007, 1:26 AM
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You are right, many of these pictures were not painted in the United States. They arrived from Europe one by one and after some time became important pieces of a new whole. A new collection of cultural treasures that inspired a newer, wholly native generation of American artists. In this sense they are very American. As American as all of those great European, African, Asian and Latino immigrants who also came here one by one and made our country what it is.
But vertex has a good point. Many of these paintings were collected by Americans who - in an older culture, might find them important cultural icons - may have amassed them based purely upon their monetary (or speculative) value.

If this is the case (and I am happy to allow otherwise), then the question becomes whether or not these art masterpieces really do become icons of American culture as you suggest. Or whether they are simply the record of American capitalism.

If it's the former, then I agree that these works have had an artistic influence upon "American" values. However, if it's the latter, then I suspect that these paintings are but simple indications of how one could become rich in the American art market.

BTW, your assertion that "Velasquez is the greatest painter in the history of art." also needs some justification. I'm not disagreeing with you at all. I'm really just curious why you make such a statement
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Old Posted May 28, 2007, 12:30 PM
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But vertex has a good point. Many of these paintings were collected by Americans who - in an older culture, might find them important cultural icons - may have amassed them based purely upon their monetary (or speculative) value.

If this is the case (and I am happy to allow otherwise), then the question becomes whether or not these art masterpieces really do become icons of American culture as you suggest. Or whether they are simply the record of American capitalism.

If it's the former, then I agree that these works have had an artistic influence upon "American" values. However, if it's the latter, then I suspect that these paintings are but simple indications of how one could become rich in the American art market.

BTW, your assertion that "Velasquez is the greatest painter in the history of art." also needs some justification. I'm not disagreeing with you at all. I'm really just curious why you make such a statement

Sorry for the delay. I actually wrote a nice response to your post but it was somehow erased, so here goes again.

I don't think any of these paintings were collected for their monetary value. And I don't think you give American collectors enough credit. Sure, the art trade is big big business, and the dealers can be a bit suzzy; but I have full confidence that nearly every European piece on my list was bought for the right reasons. The right reasons being for quality, beauty, rarity, and the idea that it would eventually grace the wall of an institution open to the public. For example, I know for a fact that the Velasquez, Van Eyck, Breugel, Duccio, da Vinci, Seurat and Campin were all bought by benefactors to the institutions in which they eventually came to rest. And I know for a fact that most of them never hung for a single day in an American private residence. From Europe directly to the museum wall. And then, in those few instances when the paintings were collected to hang in a private residence, such as the bellini; no one could ever doubt Henry Clay Fricks geniune passion for art, and his dedication to turning his fifth avenue mansion into a museum for the public after his death. What an amazing gift to the world, for many of the paintings hanging in his museum hadn't ever been on view to the public before.

And suppose they were collected purely for monetary value and speculation that their worth would increase. Does that really make it less of treasure? Does that really taint the experience of looking at it? If it does then I feel sorry for you. Why does it have to be so black and white?

And yes, i think Velasquez is the greatest painter in history. No other painter created works so arresting so often. Perhaps I'll delve deeper into your question at another time. I have to go.
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Old Posted Jul 20, 2007, 6:03 AM
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I have a little free time so here goes:

22) Untitled by Mark Rothko. Ahhhhh, Rothko's boxes. I wholly believe that the very best of his paintings were the ones where the edges of his blocks have no edge. His technique of layering paint always meant the the borders between colors would be somewhat obscured, and hence they always have a weightless, almost vibrating quality; but in paintings such as the one I selected, the colors are such, and his technique so painstaking, and their beauty so subtle--that the borders become completely obscured. Their existence becomes as delicate and wondrous as our own existence. Truly ethereal.


MOMA



23) Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali. I believe de Chirico to be the true father of surrealism, but Dali will always be its more famous practitioner. This is his most iconic work, and here he establishes the landscape form whence all of his subsequent paintings would arise.


MOMA

Last edited by pico44; Jul 21, 2007 at 5:26 AM.
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  #15  
Old Posted Jul 20, 2007, 6:06 AM
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Grant Wood. American Gothic, 1930. Art Institute of Chicago.
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Old Posted Jul 20, 2007, 9:58 PM
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Grant Wood. American Gothic, 1930. Art Institute of Chicago.
Awesome! Thank you so much for contributing. And one of the most iconic American images ever created at that. Well done! I am actually a big fan of the regionalists, and Grant Wood in particular. I always thought they didn't get nearly the acclaim they deserved, and they still don't. Two things going against them: one, they steadfastly refused to evolve as a group. In other words, an early Curry and a late Curry are not very different; whereas an early Titian and a late Titian are totally distingiushable. Two, they were too prolific. They each created volumes of paintings. Volumes. Of course i feel the same way about Picasso, so what do I know.

Anyhow, look for my personal favorite piece of the regionalist movement in the near future. One hint: it isn't American Gothic. If this were a list of the ten most famous pictures in America, Wood's painting would easily be in the top ten. Easily. And I do love this painting, but in my opinion Wood just didn't have the genius of Thomas Hart Benton. Not even close.
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Old Posted Jul 25, 2007, 1:54 AM
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Here's another quick installment:

24) Madame X by John Singer Sargent. This painting caused mass hysteria in supposedly avant garde Paris. Twenty years after Manet's Le Dejeuner, one wouldn't think a painting of a fully clothed woman would be such a scandal. Then again, this is pre-Rules-of-the-Game, aristocratic France we are alking about. And even though the land had become accepting of nude peasants and prostitutes; the idea of a woman of good standing showing a little too much of that gorgeous alabaster skin, was as shocking to them as a Madonna covered in elephant dung was to us. The painting originally showed one of the straps of her dress falling off her shoulder, but Sargent (unfortunately) caved into public pressure and painted the strap in its rightful spot. No matter, the damage was already done and he was run out of Paris where he spent the rest of his career pumping out hundreds of paintings that never came close to equaling the brilliance of the work from his younger days. When he finally parted with this picture as an old man, he said with what i am sure was a mixture of pride and regret, "I suppose it is the best thing i have ever done." Pride in the fact that it is a true masterpiece on par with any other, regret that it came so early in his career.



Metropolitan Museum



25) The Annunciation by Fra Angelico. This is the second annunciation on my list but in my opinion it is the most beautiful in the world. The only reason it isn't ranked higher on my list is because the Campin I have listed above is many times more famous and much more important to art history. Heck, this isn't even Fra Angelico's most famous annunciation. For that one has to travel to the Convento di San Marco in Italy. But this version is so much more beautiful in my opinion. This exquisite little dyptich is about as beautiful an image as I have ever seen in my life.


Detroit Institute of the Arts
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Old Posted Jul 25, 2007, 6:59 AM
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26) Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth. Just as Eakins before him, Wyeth proves that one can make up for the fact that they operate outside the avant garde as long as they have immense talent. Much like Eakins, Wyeth had a productive career with very few misteps. Just about every Wyeth panel I have seen of is absolutely breathtaking, and Christina's World is no exception. Indeed, it is one of my favorite paintings ever. If not for the beautiful imagery and superb technique, then for the infinte number of narrative stories I have created for this tempura masterpiece. They range from heartwarming and nostalgic to terrifying, depending on my mood.



MOMA


27) F-111 by James Rosenquist. Great art has a way of transporting the viewer back to a certain time and place of the artist's choosing. This painting takes us back to an era of tremendous flux and tumult. It is a massive work, and if I were to choose one painting to get capture the feeling of 1960s America, this would be it.


MOMA
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Old Posted Oct 31, 2007, 3:03 AM
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28) Aristotle with a Bust of Homer by Rembrandt van Rijn. Perhaps one of the reasons Rembrandt doesn't make a higher appearance on my list is because there are several examples of his work in Europe I prefer to any of his American pictures. Also, I was torn between this painting and his self-portrait at the Frick which is easily my favorite Rembrandt self-portrait. But his Aristotle is just so fantastic. Pensive, intelligent, brilliantly lit. Rembrandt at his best.


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Old Posted Nov 6, 2007, 3:33 AM
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29) Mezzetin by Jean Antoine Watteau. It's ironic that France's second greatest painter (after Cezanne) was born out of one of my least favorite movements in all of painting. Watteau brought depth and subtlety to rococco art. A genre known for anything but subtlety and depth. Watteau's Mezzetin is at once comical, pathetic and tragic. Whenever I see him, surrounded by all the crap painted by Fragonard and Boucher, I give him an empathetic smile.


Metropolitan Museum

Last edited by pico44; Mar 3, 2008 at 4:21 PM.
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