The Norton Simon Paintings page contains 52 images of Late Medieval to Modern art,
including some important works by di Arpo, Rubens, Rembrandt, Renoir, and van Gogh.

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Norton Simon Museum Index

Paintings          Sculptures          Rodin Bronzes


Madonna and Child Enthroned with St. Francis 3499

Madonna and Child Enthroned with St. Francis, Master of Saint Cecilia, c. 1315, Italian, tempera and gold leaf on panel.

The Master of St. Cecilia was active in Florence in the late 1200s and early 1300s, and was familiar with innovations in the naturalistic rendering of form and space created by his contemporary, Giotto. Named for the altarpiece of St Cecilia Enthroned from the church of St. Cecelia, now in the Galleria degli Uffizi, it is thought that the Master of St. Cecilia may originally have come from Rome because his work contains poses and Greek inscriptions derived from Roman paintings and mosaics.

In this altarpiece, the facial characteristics retain some of the Byzantine style seen on earlier works by this master, blended with the shading style originated by Giotto to create a sense of volume and a more realistic rendering of the figures. The slight tilting of Mary’s head toward the Christ Child breaks from the rigid poses of Byzantine works, and the realistic rendering of St. Francis with his subtly shaded habit and his foot braced against the inner edge of the painted frame embraces Giotto’s new style. The Master of St. Cecilia painted several scenes in the Legend of St. Francis frescoes at the church of St. Francis at Assisi in about 1290-1300 along with the Master of the St. Francis cycle using the earlier Byzantine style.


Veneziano Madonna and Child HS7669

Madonna and Child, Paolo Veneziano, c. 1340, Italian, tempera and gold leaf on panel.

Paolo Veneziano's Madonna and Child blends the Venetian style with the reserved, hieratic Byzantine style. The Christ Child, looking closely at His mother, holds a palm branch, symbolizing His future entry into Jerusalem and subsequent death. The goldfinch, perched on the Madonna’s hand, is a bird associated with thorns and thistles and so is a further allusion to the Passion of Christ. The facial characteristics strongly suggest the earlier Byzantine style, with the new shadings of Giotto’s style used to create volume, and a subtle use of Brunelleschi’s new principles of perspective are seen in the lines of the throne.

Paolo Veneziano was one of the first distinctive Venetian painters. He was inspired by the art and culture of the Middle East and Greece and the churches and palaces of Constantinople. Constantinople's Byzantine mosaics inspired his paintings with their brightly colored glass and golden backgrounds, and he was the first Venetian painter to blend the Byzantine and Gothic styles. Unlike the clear-cut forms of the Florentine and Sienese schools, Paolo's Venetian works are luxurious webs of color and line. One of the most sought-after panel painters of 14th century Italy, Paolo influenced nearly all of the younger Venetian painters of his day and is considered to be the founder of the Venetian school, which is noted for its strong use of color and decorative line. This piece was done in the period just after Paolo began working for the Doge as a state painter.


di Arpo Coronation of Virgin Altarpiece HS7664

Coronation of the Virgin Altarpiece, Guariento di Arpo, 1344, Italian, tempera and gold leaf on 32 panels.

Strongly influenced by Giotto di Bondone, the first pre-Renaissance painter to break with Byzantine style and create realistic images from life, leading directly to the new styles of the Renaissance (see the Florence section), this altarpiece from the early part of di Arpo’s career illustrates the major events of the New Testament in panels surrounding the central image of Mary being crowned as the Queen of Heaven. It likely stood at the main altar of San Martino church in Piove di Sacco, outside of Padua. The use of color and refined linear technique anticipate the International Gothic style of the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

Guariento di Arpo, like Paolo Veneziano, is known for his fusion of the Gothic and Venetian
styles of painting, providing a bridge between the Medieval and Renaissance periods in art.
Guariento di Arpo was the first painter of distinction from the city of Padua, west of Venice.


di Arpo Coronation of Virgin Altarpiece HS7664c LG

A 1985 pixel detail crop of the central section of the nearly nine foot wide altarpiece showing the primary scenes.

Guariento di Arpo worked in Padua, west of Venice, where Giotto was a primary influence. Like Giotto, Guariento endows his figures with solidity and naturalism, expressing his individual style with a refined linear technique and limpid color which anticipated the International Gothic style which would appear in the late 14th century and spread across Europe.

Note the early use of contrapposto in the twisted positions of some of the figures, the interplay of light and shadow which di Arpo used to create a sense of volume, and the weighting of the figures and depiction of drapery in comparison to Byzantine works.


Rexach Crucifixion Madonna and Child Enthroned HS7656

The Crucifixion and Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels
Juan Rexach, c. 1465-70, Spanish, tempera and gold leaf on panel.

Rexach was one of the most important 15th century painters in Valencia. His Spanish Gothic artwork contains elements from other artistic centers in Europe, particularly Flanders. The crucified Christ is painted in a style similar to that of Flemish artists, and the distant architecture is Northern in origin. The beautiful and typically Spanish composition of the Madonna and Child enthroned with angels became a popular subject in Valencian painting of the period. Fortunately, the late Gothic ogee arches above each compartment have been preserved. It is clear from the framing and arrangement of subjects that this must have been the top central section of a large framed altarpiece (or retable).

Below are 1500 pixel wide detail images of the two sections.


Rexach Crucifixion HS7656c


Rexach Madonna and Child Enthroned HS7656c


Romano Madonna and Child with Cherubim 3502

Madonna and Child with Two Cherubim, Antoniazzo Romano, c. 1475-80, Italian, tempera on panel.

Antoniazzo Romano contributed a sense of spaciousness and naturalism to this traditional depiction of the Mater Amabilis, the Virgin introducing the Christ Child. She is clothed in a blue mantle with green lining and a red robe, colors indicative of faith, hope and charity. The symbol of the "Stella Maris," the gold star, can be seen on the Virgin's left shoulder. The small size of this panel (21” x 16.5”) indicates its use as a devotional object, perhaps in a private home.


Romano Madonna and Child with Cherubim 3502c

A 1200 x 1500 detail crop of the central section of the Renaissance frame and Romano panel.

Antoniazzo Romano was the leading painter of the Roman school during the 15th century and one of the three founders of the Compagnia di S Luca, the guild of painters in Rome, signing the guild statutes in 1478. Romano produced a great number of paintings depicting the Virgin, basing many of his works from Byzantine models, and copied a great number of icons. This work was from the period when he was decorating the Vatican Library with frescoes alongside Perugino, Melozzo da Forlì and Ghirlandaio, whose influence caused him to create gentler expressions and drape his figures in clothing ornamented with decorative patterns, although he still retained some of his Medieval style. During this period (1475-80), Antoniazzo Romano's production of Virgin altarpieces and panels increased as a result of  encouragement of the Cult of the Virgin by Pope Sixtus IV. Romano was one of the last Roman artists to use the archaic Medieval styles prior to the infusion of the Tuscan techniques, which he acquired from collaboration with artists from Florence and Siena, but his retention of the earlier styles led to his being left behind when Raphael, Michelangelo and others began redefining the Renaissance in Rome at the end of the 15th century.


Francia Madonna and Child with Saints 3508

Madonna and Child with Saints Jerome and Francis, Francesco Raibolini (Francia),
c. 1500, Italian, originally oil on panel, transferred to canvas, re-transferred to panel.

Francia (Francesco Raibolini) was a native of Bologna who was born into a family of painters and goldsmiths, and he was a painter, goldsmith, medallist and the director of the city mint. His paintings are technically accomplished and his rich, high-key coloring was praised by Vasari, the Renaissance biographer of the artists, who noted that “people ran like mad to see them.” Altarpieces were his specialty, especially those representing the Virgin and Child enthroned with Saints. Stylistically eclectic, the artist absorbed contemporary developments from Venice, Florence and Umbria, as well as from Flemish painting. The richness of color and meticulous surface finish are qualities of his mature works, and result from his training as a goldsmith. The Madonna, with her characteristic soft plumpness around the neck, jawline and eyes and the slow swelling curves of her hairline and veil edge represent a type which was introduced by Francia.

In this painting, the importance of the influences of Perugino and Raphael are evident in the tender, poetic expression of the figures. Francia’s adoption of the Umbrian styles of Perugino and Raphael gained him a reputation for diversity of style which was unmatched in his time. This sacra conversazione, a ‘holy conversation’ between the Madonna, Child and Saints where the Child is presented on a parapet, is representative of the type of private devotional images found in homes and convents.


Pencz Sleeping Woman 8943

A Sleeping Woman, Schlafende Frau (Vanitas), Georg Pencz, 1544, German, oil on canvas.

Taken with a student’s camera during a training session while demonstrating technique, this is an Early Renaissance painting by the German engraver and painter Georg Pencz, who had studied engraving and printmaking under Albrecht Dürer in Nuremburg 20 years earlier, before his imprisonment and banishment for being one of the three “godless painters”. He was later pardoned, and after studying in Italy with a primary focus on Venetian art, he returned to Nuremburg and became one of the “Little Masters” because of his tiny intricate prints. He created a number of trompe-l’oeil ceiling paintings in Nuremberg based on work he had seen in Italy, and returned to Italy in the late 1530s where he studied Venetian portrait style.

An early example of a typically exact Northern artwork blending the Italian Renaissance Venetian-school hairless nude female trend with a Northern style of body rendering, this painting exhibits a Northern approach to the emerging Renaissance nude as well as symbolic still life elements that allude to Vanitas themes (a sleeping figure alluding to moral failure and the recently extinguished candle alluding to the passage of time). The painting was most likely intended as a bedroom hanging.


Reni St. Cecilia 3470

Saint Cecilia, Guido Reni, 1606, Italian, oil on canvas.

Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, was an early Christian martyr, killed in Sicily under Emperor Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180. According to legend, she could play any musical instrument and was so exalted she could hear the singing of angels. Here, with her eyes turned toward heaven, she plays a violin; in the background is an organ.

Saint Cecilia exhibits the refined colors, delicate flesh tones, soft modeling, and the emotional and pious sentimentality which made Guido Reni the most sought-after Bolognese painter of the early 17th century. Born into a family of musicians, Guido Reni was apprenticed at the age of nine in the studio of the Flemish painter Denis Calvaert, where he trained with Domenichino and Francesco Albani, all of whom moved in 1595 to a rival studio led by Lodovico Carracci. Together, these three formed a nucleus of Bolognese painters who followed Annibale Carracci to Rome to paint the frescoes in the Farnese Palace in late 1601.

This early work was commissioned from Reni by Cardinal Sfondrati, who enthusiastically promoted the cult of Saint Cecilia after the discovery of her remains in 1599. The picture was acquired in about 1607 by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, whose patronage of artists like Caravaggio and Bernini and accumulation of the spectacular Borghese art collection was responsible for the development of the Baroque style, and who commissioned Apollo in his Chariot preceded by Dawn (Aurora), Reni’s masterpiece ceiling fresco for the Casino dell’Aurora at the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi on the Quirinal Hill in 1614.


van Steenwijck Liberation of St. Peter HS7626

The Liberation of St. Peter, Hendrick van Steenwijck the Younger, 1618, Dutch, oil on panel.

Hendrick van Steenwijck was known by his contemporaries as a painter of architectural motifs. Gothic church interiors, palace terraces and prison interiors formed the subjects of much of his work. The dimly lit, vaulted prison interior with deep spatial perspective and sleeping guards is characteristic of paintings by Steenwijck, who used geometry and mathematical formulas in his compositions. St. Peter’s liberation by the angel after being imprisoned by King Herod is just one of several focal points in the composition. Steenwijck painted more than 25 versions of this subject, each of them slightly different from the others.

This is one of the earliest renderings of this particular subject and one of the finest (several others dating from 1619 forward are in the Royal Collection at Windsor). Hendrick van Steenwijck worked in London from 1617 to 1637, and often painted the architectural backgrounds of works in which the figures were depicted by collaborators, although this procedure was not necessarily followed here. The solid architecture with vaulted interiors, thick columns and heavy masonry can be made out in the flickering light of an oil lamp and the dying embers of a fire. The guards slumber in a variety of poses, their weapons laid aside, while Saint Peter and the angel make their escape down the corridor in the distance at right center.


Brueghel Flowers in a Gilt Tazza 3604

Flowers in a Gilt Tazza, Jan Brueghel the Younger, c. 1620, Flemish, 1601-1678, oil on panel.

This painting by Jan Brueghel the Younger demonstrates the exquisite and meticulous style that fed the growing appetite of seventeenth-century patrons for still lifes. The challenge of rendering such varied and complex natural forms, as well as the ornate tazza, demanded extraordinary technical skill. The gilt tazza, for example, is frequently depicted in Baroque painting holding wine or such delicacies as biscuits or candied fruits. It presents a challenge to the artist to render the circular form, the astonishing details of the goldsmith’s work and the lustrous finish, all of which Brueghel has handled with confidence, layering thin strokes of yellow over darker gold to suggest the cup’s reflective surfaces.

To delineate the mass of delicate flowers, Brueghel’s technique is almost invisible. Netticheyt, or neatness, describes this style of painting, which complements the microscopic detail of the dainty, vibrant flowers displayed in the tazza. The artist completes his tour de force with two butterflies, a ladybug and drops of water on the shelf, calling attention to his skill at trompe l’oeil. The artist also used the characteristic symbolism of the period: Rosemary symbolized eternity due to the length of time the sprigs kept their fragrance, and the butterflies symbolized redemption... both alluding to messages of hope and the hereafter.

Brueghel was born and died in the 17th century in Antwerp. He was trained by his father Jan Brueghel the Elder and spent his career producing works in a similar style. Along with his brother Ambrosius, he produced landscapes, allegorical scenes and other works of meticulous detail. Brueghel also copied works by his father and sold them with his father's signature. Jan the Younger was traveling in Italy when his father died of cholera, and swiftly returned to take control of the Antwerp studio.  He was made dean of the Guild of Saint Luke in 1630, and collaborated with a number of prominent artists including Rubens.


Snyders Still Life Fruits and Vegetables 3556

Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables, Frans Snyders, 1625-35, Flemish, oil on canvas.

Frans Snyders, a master of the Flemish Baroque still life, is renowned for his bold brushwork and monumental compositions. One of the themes of this painting, which likely depicts the larder of a fine house, is that of abundance, particularly as the idea relates to productivity and prosperity. The first impression may be of a chaotic layering of the fruits and vegetables on the table, in a bowl or basket, or on the ground. Closer inspection shows, in a manner apparent to a 17th century viewer, that the produce is arranged in a hierarchy reflecting value and rarity. Root vegetables are picturesquely arranged on the ground, whereas highly prized peas and asparagus are placed in the basket at right.

In this collaboration, Snyders painted the still-life elements, and his brother-in-law, the portrait painter Cornelis de Vos, painted the figures. The interaction of the boy and the woman through touch and gaze and the inclusion of live animals enhances the sense of animation. The painting resonates with allusions to all five senses. Snyders created a sense of dynamism by combining vivid color, dramatic lighting, a rhythmical repetition of line and form, and a plethora of objects piled upon each other.

Frans Snyders was the progenitor of Flemish Baroque still life and animal painting. He worked intensively for about 50 years, producing an enormous body of works, of which more than 300 paintings survive, along with some oil sketches and about 100 drawings. Through his own paintings and his collaboration with Rubens and other artists, his influence was considerable.


Rubens David Slaying Goliath 3548

David Slaying Goliath, Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1616, Flemish, oil on canvas.

Rubens chose to depict the moment when David, having felled the giant and taken possession of his sword, is about to sever the head of his adversary. The two monumental figures occupy nearly the entire painting, with only a fragment of the battle in the background. A strong circular motion (which will be completed with the impending swing of the sword) animates the composition and increases the tension of the drama. The attacking form of David and the prone Goliath are balanced against one another in a wonderfully calculated equilibrium. The background landscape extends into the vast distance, which is emphasized by the low line of the horizon. As a result, the dramatic foreground action is almost completely silhouetted against the sky, and is relieved and balanced only by the variation of color.

Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish painter well known for his extravagant Baroque style which emphasized  movement, color and sensuality. One of the most celebrated and prolific artists in his lifetime (as well as during the entire Baroque era), his  patrons included royalty and churches and his art depicted religion,  history, mythology and allegory, combining Renaissance classicism and  lively realism with superb depictions of figures derived from his study  of the work of Michelangelo, Raphael and da Vinci. Rubens was one of the last major artists to paint on wooden panels, although he used canvas  as well, especially when the work needed to be sent a long distance. He  also painted on slate for some of his altarpieces to reduce reflections.


Rubens Louis XIII King of France 3515

Portrait of Louis XIII, King of France, Peter Paul Rubens, 1622-25, Flemish, oil on canvas.

Louis XIII, son of Henry IV and his second wife, Marie de' Medici, was born in 1601 and became king at age nine. Although he was declared of age in 1615, stronger men and especially his mother dominated him. He never learned to rule his kingdom effectively. Nevertheless, Rubens has portrayed the young king with all of the attributes of strength. He is dressed in a polished suit of armor and rests his left hand, enclosed in a gauntlet, on the table next to his plumed helmet, while his right hand grasps a marshall's baton. Attached to a ribbon at his right side is the Cross of the Order of the Saint Esprit.

This painting and its companion of Anne of Austria, Queen of France (shown below) were painted during the period in which Rubens was executing one of his first great commissions, a series of paintings for the Luxembourg Palace in Paris known as the Marie de' Medici Cycle. Marie de' Medici, the wife of assassinated King Henry IV, had been Regent of France between 1610 and 1614, but continued to rule France after Louis XIII came of age until he finally exiled her to Blois and took over rule in 1617. She was allowed to return to Paris in 1621 and took over building and decorating the Luxembourg Palace. Rubens directed the Palace decoration, and was commissioned to paint two large series of the life of Marie de' Medici and Henry IV for both wings of the first floor of the Palace, to be completed by the marriage of her daughter Henrietta Marie to Charles I of England in 1624. During this period Rubens was also entrusted with the first of a series of diplomatic missions for the Habsburg rulers of Spain, for which he was raised to the nobility in 1624. He later acted as a diplomat for both Spain and England, moving between the two courts in an attempt to bring peace. He was knighted by Charles I of England in 1630.


Rubens Anne of Austria Queen of France 3530

Portrait of Anne of Austria, Queen of France, Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1622-25, Flemish, oil on canvas.

Anne of Austria was the wife of King Louis XIII of France and Queen Consort of France and Navarre. The Queen is represented at about the age of twenty-five, dressed with a "Medici" pleated lace ruffle around her neck and a jeweled crown on her head. The satin dress is embroidered with repeated fleur-de-lys, and she wears an ermine-lined mantle.

Anne of Austria was the eldest daughter of Philip III, King of Spain and Portugal. An Infanta of Spain and Portugal and Archduchess of Austria, she was called Anne of Austria because the rulers of Spain belonged to the House of Austria. She was betrothed to Louis XIII at age 13 and married by proxy at 14 at the same time as Louis’ sister Elizabeth of France married Anne’s brother Philip IV of Spain to cement a political alliance. Their rule was overshadowed by the power of Cardinal Richelieu who advised the King from 1622, became first minister in 1624, and became more powerful than even the King. Richelieu was the primary antagonist in Alexander Dumas’ novel “The Three Musketeers”. After a number of miscarriages which reduced her status with the King, Anne gave birth to Louis XIV at age 37, securing the Bourbon line, and was later Regent of France.

This portrait and its companion above were part of a series of portraits of the French rulers done by Rubens during this period. The dress with its fleur-de-lys was probably intended to solidify Anne’s position as Queen of France. Anne had never given up her Spanish ladies in waiting or adopted French customs, and had only recently been convinced to wear French dress.


Rubens St. Ignatius of Loyola 3538

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1620-22, Flemish, oil on canvas.

Among Rubens’ works devoted to religious subjects, the representation of saints plays an important role. Rubens created an artistic language fully adapted to the Counter-Reformation movement, which stressed the heroic, emotional and ascetic aspects of the saints’ lives. This depiction of St. Ignatius of Loyola was painted for the Mother Church of the Jesuit order in Rome, Chiesa del Gesù. The dating of this work between 1620-22 is based on the presence of the nimbus, a sign of his sanctity which was confirmed during his canonization feast in 1622.

The founder of the Jesuits wears a brocaded chasuble and gazes ecstatically to the viewer’s right, where beams of heavenly light break through the clouds. His right hand is raised in a gesture of admonition; his left hand holds a copy of the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, with a page open to their famous motto: “To the greater glory of God.” Ignatius, painted to be seen from below, is presented as a Christian hero, full of Baroque sentiment designed to strengthen worshippers in their belief and spur them to emulation. This was painted soon after The Miracles of St. Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuit Church of Antwerp.


Lievens Young Man with Red Beret 3570

Young Man with Red Beret, Jan Lievens, c. 1629-1630, Dutch, oil on panel.

The identity of the young man in this painting is unknown, and the attribution to the painter who portrayed him has been a matter of debate for many years. The handling of the paint and the rendition of the subject as a “tronie” (the Dutch word for a study of a head), rather than a specific portrait, had led many historians to assume that the picture was painted by Rembrandt van Rijn. Other attributions have included Jacob Adriensz. Backer, as well as the lesser known Isaac Jouderville, who was apprenticed to Rembrandt in the early 1630s. But the tighter brushstrokes, the theatrical lighting, and the attention to detail suggest another, more likely possibility: Jan Lievens, who in the late 1620s was still working in close proximity to his friend Rembrandt in Leiden, the city where both artists were born. Other paintings by Lievens show a similar, linear definition of features and details. These qualities are often reinforced in the more thickly applied areas of paint with actual incised lines made by using the back end of the paintbrush. This “sgraffito,” as it is called, defines the tendrils of the hair, the feathered plume, and the more careful detailing in the exotic turban and costume of the subject.

Jan Lievens, the son of a tapestry worker, was sent to Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam to train as a painter at the age of 10. His career as an independent artist began at the age of 12, which brought him great celebrity due to his talent at such a young age. Lievens collaborated with and shared a studio with Rembrandt from 1626 to 1631, and their styles during this period were close enough to each other to cause difficulties in attribution of unsigned works from the period. The artists split in 1631 when Lievens moved to England and Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam. Lievens’ style of shaping and texturing his surfaces with the brush and even with the handle was picked up by Rembrandt, and his inventive style and theatrical lighting was inspired by his study of the work of the Italian painter Carravaggio. Like Rembrandt, he ended his life in relative poverty and obscurity in Amsterdam.


Rembrandt Bearded Man in a Wide-Brimmed Hat HS7647

Portrait of a Bearded Man in a Wide-Brimmed Hat, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, 1633, Dutch, oil on panel.

The man portrayed here is believed to be Pieter Sijen, a merchant who was a member of the Mennonite congregation in Amsterdam. An inscription at the left informs us that he was 41 years of age at the time of this portrait. Rembrandt painted a companion portrait of the man’s wife, Marretje Cornelisdr. van Grotewal, that is now in the collection of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.

The sitter as depicted embodies sobriety and modesty, values that were important to the middle class in Amsterdam. Yet Rembrandt transforms what could be an austere first impression (given the limitations of the formal black attire that was fashionable at the time) into a warm and insightful portrait. The vivid description of the features, the warm, directional light, and the marvelous brushwork impart a sense of animation that earned Rembrandt a position as one of the most sought after portraitists in Holland during the 1630s.


Rembrandt Bearded Man in a Wide-Brimmed Hat HS7650

The sculptural effect and tight brushwork are characteristic of Rembrandt's early Amsterdam portraits. Intense light from the upper left creates a dramatic contrast between the two sides of the face and throws a shadow on the wall at lower right. The light brilliantly illuminates the folds of his white ruff, fashionable clothing in the mid-16th to mid-17th centuries. The deep shadows above and below obscure the details of the hat and clothing, except for areas on the brim of the hat. The slightly turned position of the subject and the volume of the ruff were stylistic conventions used by Rembrandt to create forceful portraits in the 1630s.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art and the most important in Dutch history. His contributions to art came in a period of great wealth and cultural achievement that historians call the Dutch Golden Age when painting, while contrasting greatly with the Baroque style that dominated Europe, was extremely prolific and innovative, and gave rise to important new genres in painting.


Rembrandt Bearded Man in a Wide-Brimmed Hat 3584 LG

A 1575 x 2100 pixel clip of Rembrandt’s Bearded Man in a Wide-Brimmed Hat.

This work is a striking example of Rembrandt’s early portrait style, painted when the artist was 27, just after he moved from his native Leiden to Amsterdam. Already famous, he quickly became the leading portrait artist in the commercial capital.

Rembrandt nearly always angled the sitter in a way which created a demarcation line between light and shadow down the line of the subject’s nose. This portrait was created when he was painting numerous portraits while staying with the art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh, whose cousin Saskia he married the following year.


Rembrandt Self-Portrait 1636-38 HS7640

Self-Portrait, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, c. 1636-38, Dutch, oil on panel.

Rembrandt was his own favorite model, and there is no moment in the artist's biography that he did not vividly represent. Rembrandt portrays himself here in the characteristic beret that had been associated with the artistic milieu since the sixteenth century. The chain around his neck was a symbol of prestige awarded to artists, often by a noble patron. The combination of elegant attire and an artist's attributes elevates Rembrandt to the status of a fine artist. This distinction was important at a time when artists were only beginning to realize their social standing among the creative elite.

Rembrandt created nearly one hundred self-portraits during his lifetime, including approximately fifty paintings, 32 etchings and seven drawings. The self-portraits create a visual diary of the artist over a span of forty years. Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, Rembrandt's later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships, although his etchings and paintings were popular throughout his lifetime and his reputation as an artist remained high. Rembrandt's greatest creative triumphs are exemplified especially in portraits of his contemporaries, self-portraits and illustrations of scenes from the Bible. His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity. In this painting, Rembrandt tucks his left hand into the front of a variation of the 16th century tabard, a gown which is lined in red. The carefully worked face contrasts with the less detailed torso, with loose brushwork around the torso correcting areas. The unusually vivid palette and disrupted brushwork around the face suggest that it may have remained unfinished, later being worked on by other artists in his studio, or it may have been the result of later cleanings and restorations.


van Ostade Peasants Butchering Pork HS7631

Peasants Outside a Farmhouse Butchering Pork, Isack van Ostade, 1641, Dutch, oil on panel.

Isaac van Ostade (known from his few signed works as Isack) studied under his brother Adriaen van Ostade until 1641, when he began his independent work as an artist, producing primarily cottage subjects similar to those of his brother, with scenes of picturesque peasants. This work is of that type, done when the artist was aged 20, either just before or just after the end of his apprenticeship. He continued in this style until 1644, when he began creating landscapes, skating or sledging scenes, and his later works featured scenes of roadside inns, all with animated groups of people based on his earlier work as a figure painter. He often used the warm lighting typical of Haarlem artists, with a mellow, hazy character. He died at the age of 28.


Pannini Interior of St. Peters 1376

Interior of Saint Peter's, Rome, Giovanni Paolo Pannini, 1735, Italian, oil on canvas.

Pannini painted about twenty versions of the interior of St. Peter's. This painting depicts the interior of the basilica as it looked prior to changes that occurred after 1743. It is based on a work, now in the Louvre, that was commissioned by Cardinal Melchoir de Polignac, French Ambassador to the Vatican. In these paintings, Polignac, dressed as a Cardinal, is in the basilica surrounded by a small coterie. The bold description of the vast interior and the sureness with which the architecture and decor are described on the canvas are reminiscent of Pannini's thorough familiarity with scenographic design.

Giovanni Paolo Pannini was an architect and painter who worked in Rome, and is mainly known as a vedusti (view painter). He painted a number of works of Rome’s antiquities and scenic vistas of the city, as well as interiors such as the Pantheon. Pannini became famous for his decoration of Roman villas, palazzos, and the Seminario Romano (ecclesiastic colleges in Rome).


Tiepolo Triumph of Virtue and Nobility 1370

The Triumph of Virtue and Nobility Over Ignorance, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, c. 1740-50, Italian,
 oil on canvas (ceiling painted for the Palazzo Dolfin Manin, Venice), 126" x 154.5" (10.5 x 12.83 ft.).

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo was the purest exponent of the Italian Rococo. He created fresco decorations and paintings for palaces and churches throughout Europe with an unprecedented, inventive freedom of form and expressive, shimmering colors. A master of the airborne figure and of perspective, he excelled in creating the illusion of infinite space articulated with luminous colors and atmospheric effects. His use of bright, luminous colors from the later 1720s gained him many commissions, and while he used a cooler palette for many depictions of skies than previous Venetian masters, he also created warm morning and evening skies such as that seen in the painting above. His primary objective was a realistic representation of daylight.

This enormous painting was designed for a ceiling in the Palazzo Manin in Venice as part of the decorations to celebrate the 1748 marriage of Elizabetta Grimani (from a patrician family which had produced three Doges of Venice, including Pietro Grimani, the Doge at that time), to Ludivico Manin of the noble Dolfin family, who would later become the last Doge of Venice.

The painting depicts allegorical figures in the light, curving style of the Rococo period, with winged cherubs and mythology. The allegorical figure of Virtue is dressed in white with a sun symbol on her breast. Beside her, Nobility holds a statuette of Minerva and a spear. To the left, Fame blows her trumpet. Below, the figure of Ignorance is being vanquished. The poppy wreath falling through the sky alludes to the "sleep of the mind." The bats symbolize ignorance, which refuses to see the light of wisdom and knowledge. The figures of Virtue and Nobility display a lofty, detached air indicative of the mythological world they occupy.


Future Buddha Maitreya 8th Dalai Lama 1456

Future Buddha Maitreya Flanked by the Eighth Dalai Lama and His Tutor, 1793-94, Tibet, appliquéd silk.

This appliquéd thangka was commissioned in 1793 by the Eighth Dalai Lama (1758-1804) to commemorate the death of his tutor, Yongtsin Yeshe Gyaltsen. Created for the Dalai Lama's personal use, this monumental 22 foot tall, 14 foot wide thangka once hung in his private chapel in Lhasa. Tibet is well known for its large thangkas, which can be painted, woven, embroidered, or appliquéd. The central figure is Maitreya, whose distinctive attributes are a golden body, a miniature stupa lodged in his hair, and a hand gesture that shows him turning the wheel of law. Known as the future Buddha, Maitreya will succeed the Buddha Shakyamuni on earth. Until that time, he resides in the heaven called Tushita, where he teaches the dharma. Above Maitreya is Tsong Khapa (1357-1419), the founder of the Yellow Sect, or Geluk (Gelupga), order of Buddhism.

A thangka (sometimes called a scroll painting) is a painting on cotton or silk or an appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala. The thangka (or scroll-painting) consists of a picture panel which is painted or embroidered over which a textile is mounted, and then over which is laid a cover, usually silk. Thangkas last a long time and retain much of their lustre, but because of their delicate nature, they have to be kept in dry places where moisture will not affect the quality of the silk.


Future Buddha Maitreya 8th Dalai Lama 1462 LG

A 2000 x 821 large crop from an image taken at a different angle in which the light was more even.

It very likely took a team of 10 artists using silk thread as much as 6 months, 7 days a week to create an applique of this size. First, a master painter makes a drawing of the design, then tailors transpose that to tracing paper which is used as a guide for each of the motifs. Each component of the thangka is made of small cut pieces of silk glued and sewn together to create the overall image. Fine lines separate each motif, made of small silken cords hand-wrapped around three horsehairs. Some details like eyes, fingernails and mouths are embroidered. The silk components are pieced together to form a large mosaic, very like a large complex puzzle, but they are not sewn to a backing (specifically to reduce cost). Monumental thangkas like these were kept rolled most of the time, and were unrolled for short display periods on the exterior of a temple on special occasions.

These images were taken the first time this monumental 20 foot tall applique depicting Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, flanked by the Eighth Dalai Lama (Jamphel Gyatso) and his tutor Yongtsin Yeshe Gyaltsen was available for view. This first time the thangka was displayed at a shallow angle to the floor, but a steep angle to the viewer, under a low reflective ceiling. The thangka is reasonably evenly lit, but at many viewing angles the gold reflects the light at the viewer. At higher angles you can see more detail in the upper sections of the thangka, but color saturation in the surrounding images is better at the lower angle.

The only other time it was viewable by the public was in 2014. The second time it was displayed, the thangka was mounted in a larger room on a curving ramp rising to a higher ceiling, making the upper regions easier to see. The lights were redirected and placed farther away, and more lights were used to more evenly light the surface. Sorry... no photos.


Corot Venice Piazetta 1331

View of Venice: The Piazzetta Seen from the Riva degli Schiavoni,
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1835-1845, French, oil on canvas.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot based this carefully executed view of Venice on studies made during his three-year stay in Italy in the mid-1830s. Although the work was completed in his studio after his return, Corot's magnificent attention to detail is flawless. The meticulous delineation of each stone, of each architectural element, and even of the costumes of the figures peppered throughout the piazzetta, is exceedingly precise. This technical achievement speaks to the influence of Corot's 18th century predecessor Canaletto and his nephew Bernardo Bellotto who were well known for spectacularly detailed Venetian views (see the View of the Grand Canal and the Dogana, Getty Paintings 1650-1900). Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) painted the Piazetta from the opposite side in the 1760s. Unusual in Corot's paintings, the fastidious approach based upon numerous detailed studies to his subject provides an interesting comparison to the artist's more often lyrical and expressive works.

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot was a French landscape and portrait painter and a printmaker in etching. He is a pivotal figure in landscape painting and his vast output simultaneously references the Neo-Classical tradition and anticipates the plein-air innovations of Impressionism. Corot spent much of his life without widespread appreciation by France's artistic establishment or the public. Undeterred and blessed with an independent income, he pursued his own course: to preserve the freshness of his impressions of nature. The Impressionists, whom he later befriended, embraced this intention, but unlike them, Corot painted only sketches outdoors; he composed his finished paintings in the studio.

When Corot was twenty-six, he decided to make art his career. With his father's financial support, he received training and traveled, visiting Italy three times. On his first trip, he painted small landscape studies with simple forms and a crisp, pure light that influenced many younger painters. This painting was done in his studio after the artist’s second trip to northern Italy, during a period when he had trouble with critics and many of his works were rejected for the Salon.. In the 1850s, Corot began painting the silvery, feathery landscapes that brought him such popularity-and were frequently forged, even in his own lifetime. Still later, for his own pleasure, he painted figures, which he seldom exhibited.


Corot Site in Italy Church of Ariccia 1328

Site in Italy with the Church at Arriccia, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1839, French, oil on canvas.

In the late 1830s and 1840s Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot made a series of landscapes incorporating the methods of his 17th century predecessors Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. Site in Italy is a superb example of the absorption of these techniques. The painting's darkness, broken only by the hazy glow of dawn, the shepherd and his companion, and the fine touch of Corot's brush evoke an idealized pastoral directly reminiscent of his classical predecessors. Incorporating the methods of Claude and Poussin ultimately led Corot to create the more modernized lyrical landscapes of the 1850s and 1860s that brought him his greatest critical success.

Claude Monet exclaimed in 1897, "There is only one master here: Corot. We are nothing compared to him, nothing."

Though often credited as a precursor of Impressionist practice, Corot approached his landscapes more traditionally than is usually believed. Compared to the Impressionists who came later, Corot's palette is restrained, dominated with browns and blacks ("forbidden colors" among the Impressionists) along with dark and silvery green. Though appearing at times to be rapid and spontaneous, usually his strokes were controlled and careful, and his compositions well-thought out and generally rendered as simply and concisely as possible, heightening the poetic effect of the imagery. Corot's approach to his subjects was similarly traditional. Although he was a major proponent of plein-air studies, he was essentially a studio painter and few of his finished landscapes were completed before the motif. For most of his life, Corot would spend his summers travelling and collecting studies and sketches, and his winters finishing more polished, market-ready works.


Rousseau The Fisherman Early Morning 3429

The Fisherman, Early Morning, Pierre-Étienne-Théodore Rousseau, c. 1865, French, oil on canvas.

Known as Le Grand Refusé due to his exclusion and consequent abstention from the annual Paris Salons of 1836–48, Théodore Rousseau is considered to be instrumental in the establishment of the Barbizon School of French landscape painting. Neither stylistically consistent nor a cohesive band of painters, this group held but one common credo: that humans and nature could coexist without the hierarchy of one establishing itself over the other. Rousseau focused on naturalism and mastered the art of plein air painting, creating his works outdoors rather than in a studio. His style paved the way for Impressionism, notably Claude Monet, whose 1872 work Impression, Sunrise gave rise to the name of the Impressionist movement.

Rousseau’s unique approach, different from fellow landscape painters Corot, Daubigny and Harpignies, took cues from the idealized world of Romantic landscape painting and applied them to the less structured aspects observed while painting outdoors. After many years of his previous works having been rejected from the Paris Salon due to the École des Beaux-Arts’ perception that they were unruly in character and primitive, The Fisherman, Early Morning exhibited to much acclaim at the Salon of 1850–51, and is considered a superb example of the transitional character of Rousseau’s landscapes. The morning sun creates a dramatic silhouette of landscape and fisherman, who appears to be just leaving with his morning catch. Located at the center of the canvas between an untamed area of forest at left and a cultivated pasture with grazing sheep at right, the fisherman assimilates peacefully and naturally into the meticulously executed rural setting.


Monet Mouth of Seine at Honfleur 3396

Mouth of the Seine at Honfleur, Claude Monet,1865, French, oil on canvas.

With this impressive seascape, Claude Monet made his debut in the prestigious annual Salon in Paris and set a course toward his Impressionist work of the following decade. The large-scale marine painting, which shows a bustling French port across the English Channel from Portsmouth, focuses on the vernacular rather than on narrative or history. Monet executed the choppy waters of the inlet with unblended paint, and the muddy browns and blacks, incorporated even beneath the partly cloudy sky, lend a sense of authenticity to the scene. The construction of the composition is still apparent, though, particularly through Monet’s use of the figures and their boats, as they struggle with the wind, with the current and with fishing nets.

This work was done in 1865, when Monet began to paint with Eugene Boudin, whose controversial works depicted the changing light and colors of nature. Monet also took up Boudin’s habit of painting outdoors and finishing works on the spot. Monet also received many lessons and much inspiration from Johan Jongkind of Rousseau’s Barbizon School, whose work reinforced the ideas he had gotten from Boudin. When Monet’s later works were rejected from the Paris Salons along with those of Renoir and others, several of the young artists founded the Société anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs and held their first of several independent exhibitions in 1874, during which Monet displayed his 1872 work Impression, Sunrise which gave its name to the movement after an art critic’s disparaging review of the “Exposition of the Impressionists”.


Manet The Ragpicker HS7456

The Ragpicker, Édouard Manet, c. 1865-1870, French, oil on canvas.

Édouard Manet depicted contemporary social types of Paris throughout his career. From high class courtesans to bourgeois flâneurs to familiar street figures, Manet was intent on presenting the world that he inhabited. The Ragpicker is one such social type, and it would have been familiar to all of his contemporaries. Collecting rags to sell to paper manufacturers, these figures lived life on their own terms, outside of the restrictive expectations of society. They were also highly romanticized at the time, as they stood as an emblem of the charm of a Paris that was disappearing as the city was rebuilt by Napoleon III in the 1860s. Despite this strong contemporary resonance, Manet’s Ragpicker (among four monumental nearly life-sized paintings of people on the margins of society which were created by the artist in the 1860s) was directly inspired by Diego Velázquez’s 17th-century treatment of the same theme (his “Philosopher” series). Having visited the Prado, Manet was enthusiastic over the works by the Spanish master, and he employed a similarly straightforward composition, a somber, monochromatic palette, and a beautifully executed still-life with vibrant brushwork in his own representation of the subject. Manet often turned to his 17th to 18th century predecessors for inspiration, incorporating the art of the past into the artist’s very tangible Parisian present.

Regarding the painting of a single figure, Manet wrote of “... how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this unique figure and still keep it living and real. To paint two figures which get their interest from the duality of the two personalities is child’s play in comparison”.

Édouard Manet was one of the first 19th century artists to paint modern life, and was an important transitional figure between Realism and Impressionism. This was painted about the time when Manet became friends with Monet, but he never participated in the Impressionists exhibitions although he was considered to be their leader, instead continuing to submit works to the Salon.


Cezanne Portrait of Uncle Dominique HS7483

Uncle Dominique, Paul Cézanne, 1866, French, oil on canvas.

Although he participated in the first and third Impressionist exhibitions, Paul Cézanne felt that he “wanted to make of Impressionism something solid and enduring, like the art in museums.” His early interests were far from the light effects studied by the group and instead were directed toward capturing structure and solidity. This focus made the resolutely non-Parisian artist from Aix-en-Provence a natural model for Picasso and the cubists, and he is widely considered a father of 20th-century art.

This early portrait of the artist’s uncle Antoine Dominique Sauveur Aubert (b. 1817) was one of nine created of the same sitter in a span of a few months in late 1866. Given the forceful swaths of pigment applied with both palette knife and brush, the straightforward portrait speaks directly to Cézanne’s artistic concerns. The materiality of the picture is paramount, its solidity reinforced by the near-relief created by the medium itself.

Paul Cézanne’s focus and technique laid the foundation for the transition from Impressionism to Cubism, and inspired the work of both Matisse and Picasso. He envisioned naturally occurring forms as extensions of the geometric essentials of the cylinder, cone and sphere, and explored the concept of binocular vision by rendering slightly different angles simultaneously to create a sense of depth. His work was ridiculed by contemporary critics, rejected by the Salon in Paris, but widely admired by artists.


Cézanne Farmhouse and Chestnut Trees 1344

Farmhouse and Chestnut Trees at Jas de Bouffan, Paul Cézanne, 1884-1885, French, oil on canvas.

Jas-de-Bouffan means either Bouffan’s Sheepfold or Sheepfold of the Winds. Jas means sheepfold in Provençal French, and Monsieur Bouffan owned the land in the 17th century, using it as a stopover to water his sheep while the herd moved between their winter and summer pastures. By some other accounts, the name means “sheepfold of the winds” (bouffées means gusts of wind). The 18th century house and 37 acre grounds near Aix in the south of France were bought by Cézanne’s father in 1859 to use as a summer retreat. Paul was allowed to use the salon as a studio and bachelor pad, and painted one of his earliest efforts there, the allegorical murals known as the Four Seasons (which were later detached from the walls and mounted on canvas). Cézanne painted at Jas-de-Bouffan for 40 years, and produced 36 oils and 18 watercolors of the Jas and its grounds. After his father died in 1886, Paul continued to work at the Jas sporadically until 1897 when his mother died.

This view demonstrates the artist's subtle compositional methods. The lines defining the trees and house are loosely drawn, allowing each element to merge with the surrounding environment. The modulation of the whole composition creates another set of visual tensions, as areas of creamy white unpainted canvas upset the apparent orderly progression toward the background.

Cézanne's often repetitive, exploratory brushstrokes are highly characteristic and clearly recognizable. He used planes of colour and small brushstrokes that build up to form complex fields. The art Cézanne made in Provence destabilized centuries of representation and created a sort of 19th century surrealism. In the early 1900's, when Cézanne's paintings began to be known to younger artists, his works provided the foundations for Cubism and the multiple strands of early Modernism. Cézanne's works were rejected many times by the Paris Salon and ridiculed by art critics when exhibited with the Impressionists, but during his lifetime Cézanne was considered a master by the younger artists who visited his studio in Aix. His explorations of geometric simplification and optical phenomena inspired Picasso, Braque, Metzinger, Gleizes, Gris and others to experiment with ever more complex multiple views of the same subject and eventually to the fracturing of form.


Renoir Portrait of a Young Woman in Black HS7494

Young Woman in Black, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c. 1875-1877, French, oil on canvas.

Like his Impressionist colleagues, in the 1860s through 1880s Pierre-Auguste Renoir was dedicated to capturing Paris and its modern inhabitants on his canvases. Renoir made dozens of small facial studies of his friends and colleagues, which he often gave away to various members of his inner circle. Young Woman in Black is one such work, an elegant and perceptive consideration of a young parisienne. Although the sitter’s identity is not known, her large eyes, petite nose and round face appear in several of Renoir’s works at this time. Her “look” was typical of both the artist’s tastes and of the consummate young bourgeois female. Sparkling earrings and a brooch attest to her elevated class status. With a fabric daisy perched atop her fashionable hat, this young woman is ready to take to the stylish streets of Paris.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir studied art under Charles Gleyre in Paris, where he met Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Frédéric Bazille, with whom he later formed the Société anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs which became known as the Impressionists after their first independent exhibition in 1874. The six paintings which Renoir hung at the 1874 Impressionist Exhibition brought him his first recognition, although he had been exhibiting at the Paris Salon since 1864. In the 1860s, Renoir often did not have enough money to be able to buy paint.


Renoir at Home Rue St-Georges HS7505

At Renoir's Home, Rue St.-Georges, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1876, French, oil on canvas.

Formerly called The Artist’s Studio, Rue St.-Georges, Renoir's only studio group portrait records an informal conversation among his friends in his Montmartre studio. The central figure holding a book and appearing to lead the discussion is the art critic and Renoir's biographer, Georges Rivière. The bald, bearded man partially hidden to the right is painter Camille Pissarro. Less definite are the identities of the other three men. The animated, delicate brushwork that dances over the surface is typical of Renoir's works of this period.

The first Impressionist Exhibition in 1874 was not a financial success for Renoir, but it raised awareness of his work, and soon afterward, the wealthy publisher Georges Charpentier and his wife Marguerite took an interest in Renoir and invited him to social gatherings at their Paris home, where he met the writer Emile Zola and received commissions for portraits from their friends. His first positive critical reviews were for his 1878 painting Madame Charpentier and her Children shown at the 1879 Paris Salon. He used to funds from these commissions to travel in the early 1880s, visiting Algeria, Italy and the south of France. During his trip to Naples, he painted a portrait of composer Richard Wagner and three of his masterworks.


Renoir Bouquet of Lilacs HS7474

Bouquet of Lilacs, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1875-1880, French, oil on canvas.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir made floral still lifes throughout his long career. Like his scenes of contemporary life, his paintings of flowers project an inviting image of bourgeois domesticity. Whether he was depicting a bouquet of spring foliage, a gathering of friends in the artist’s studio or a Provençal landscape, Renoir did not engage with the more difficult issues of alienation and tension inherent to the modern world. Instead, using the seductively soft, pillowy texture of his brushstrokes, he presented agreeable (and by extension, salable) scenes of comfort and beauty.

Many of Renoir’s best-known works were painted en plein air (outdoors), where along with Claude Monet, he discovered that shadows were not brown or black, but the reflected colors of their surroundings. He used this principle throughout his career.


Renoir Reclining Nude HS7486

Reclining Nude, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, c. 1892, French, oil on canvas.

Few artists took such delight in the depiction of the female form as did Renoir, and few were able to present it with such vitality. By the time of this painting, Renoir's personal style had developed to combine both the bright palette of his Impressionist works and the discipline of the classical masters. Here the artist has repeated the colors he used on the figure throughout the rest of the composition, thus unifying the nude and the landscape.

Renoir's paintings are notable for their vibrant light and saturated colour, most often focusing on people in intimate and candid compositions. The female nude was one of his primary subjects. Renoir developed rheumatoid arthritis about the time this work was done (1892), which plagued him throughout the rest of his life.


van Gogh Portrait of a Peasant HS7385

Portrait of a Peasant (Patience Escalier), Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Dutch, oil on canvas.

After living in Paris for two years with his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh decided to move to Arles, in the south of France. He went there to escape what he saw as the decadence of urban life in the French capital, to improve upon his health, and to return to a world less cluttered by corruption and selfishness. The move also facilitated his return to the painting of peasants, “an absolute continuation,” according to the artist, of the work he had accomplished in the small parish of Neunen in 1884-85. This portrait is one of several completed in the few years he lived in Arles, and it is one of two of Patience Escalier, an old gardener and former goatherd. Not dark like his earlier peasant portraits, this work instead presents a spectacular range of pulsating, prismatic color. Van Gogh employed the vibrant palette “as a means of arriving at the expression and the intensification of character”; this approach permanently liberated him from the use of color for purely representational reasons.


van Gogh Portrait of a Peasant HS7395

A 1275 x 1600 image of van Gogh’s Portrait of a Peasant, cropped from its frame.

This is one of two portraits van Gogh painted of Patience Escalier, a gardener and shepherd. As a “man of the earth, a member of the true peasant race”, he symbolized the sort of man whom van Gogh deeply respected. Van Gogh believed that this portrait was one of a small group which marked his break with the principles of Impressionism. Instead of using color to achieve a greater naturalism, color is used subjectively to express emotion.

Patience Escalier was painted in August, 1888, before Paul Gaugin’s visit, in anticipation of which van Gogh painted four of his Sunflowers in Vases. He hoped to establish an artist’s commune in Arles, where his artist comrades from Paris could work together and pursue a common goal. Gaugin would not arrive until October, and the worsening weather forced the artists to remain indoors, where their relationship deteriorated along with Vincent’s mental health. In December, van Gogh mutilated his  left ear, severing the earlobe with a razor. Van Gogh was hospitalized and Gaugin left Arles. They never saw each other again.


van Gogh Portrait of the Artist’s Mother 3393

Portrait of the Artist's Mother, Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Dutch, oil on canvas.

While Vincent Willem van Gogh had been drawing since he was a child, he did not begin to paint until his late 20s, after staying in the village of Cuesmes in 1880. He painted his first major work (The Potato Eaters) in 1885 using somber earth tones. He changed to his characteristic brighter palette after discovering the French Impressionists in Paris in 1886, after which he moved to the south of France, where he was influenced by the vibrant sunlight and the local landscape at Arles.

By the autumn of 1888, Vincent van Gogh had settled into his Yellow House in Arles, and at the end of October he would welcome Paul Gauguin in what he hoped would become an artist’s collective, a “Studio of the South.” Portraits were on the Dutchman’s mind, as not only had he exchanged self-portraits with Gauguin, Émile Bernard and Charles Laval that same month, but he had also set out to complete a series of family portraits. According to van Gogh’s letters to his brother, Theo, this portrait of their mother was based upon a black-and-white photograph. Of the portrait, the artist wrote, “I am doing a portrait of Mother for myself. I cannot stand the colorless photograph, and I am trying to do one in a harmony of color, as I see her in my memory.” Despite his intent to liven up her visage with his palette, van Gogh created a nearly monochromatic version in a pallid, unnatural green. Nevertheless, this preeminent figure in the artist’s life sits attentive and proud, a model of middle-class respectability.


van Gogh The Mulberry Tree 3385

The Mulberry Tree, Vincent van Gogh, 1889, Dutch, oil on canvas.

In the spring of 1889 van Gogh committed himself to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum at Saint-Rémy. During his lucid periods, between periodic attacks of what seems to have been epilepsy, he was constantly working, creating dazzling compositions of vigorous brushwork and energetic spontaneity. This painting was of particular interest to van Gogh, who wrote about it three times in letters to his brother and sister, commenting that he believed it was the best of his mulberry tree paintings.

Vincent van Gogh had a far-reaching influence on 20th century art. Unsuccessful during his lifetime (he sold only one of his 900 paintings), he was the archetypical tortured artist who painted for only ten years, from 1880 until he took his own life in 1890. After his death, memorial exhibitions and several retrospectives spread knowledge of his work, and by the middle of the 20th century he was considered to be one of the greatest painters in history. His work is now among the the most valuable in the world, with some paintings valued at over $100 million.


Emile Bernard Cupboard 1318

Cupboard, Émile Bernard, 1891-1893, French, carved and painted wood.

Émile Bernard and Paul Gauguin were among the first artists within the Symbolist movement to focus on the decorative arts. While Bernard was not known as a furniture maker, this cupboard represents his most successful endeavor. The reliefs reflect a combination of styles from Bernard’s work in tapestry design and woodcuts, where he adopted an angular, medieval character.


Emile Bernard Cupboard 3402


Emile Bernard Cupboard HS7466

Émile Henri Bernard was a French Post-Impressionist painter and writer, who had artistic friendships with Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and later, Paul Cézanne. Most of his notable work was accomplished at a young age, in the years 1886 through 1897. He also produced literary work, including plays, poetry, art criticism and art historical works with first-hand information on the crucial period of modern art to which he himself had contributed. He began his primary work in painting after having been suspended from the École des Beaux-Arts for "showing expressive tendencies in his paintings". The École did not appreciate the pointillism and other Impressionist techniques he was beginning to use after meeting Anquetin and Toulouse-Lautrec.

After his suspension, he toured Brittany on foot. Bernard theorized a style of painting with bold forms separated by dark contours which became known as cloisonnism. His work showed geometric tendencies which hinted at influences of his revered mentor Paul Cézanne, and he collaborated with Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh.

This cupboard was made during a period while Bernard was working with a group of Symbolist painters and organizing the first French retrospective of van Gogh’s works (1892). In 1893 he traveled to Italy to study the Old Masters of the Renaissance, and then on to Egypt where he spent 10 years painting street scenes in Cairo before returning to Venice and back to France.


Vuillard The First Fruits 3432

The First Fruits, Édouard Vuillard, 1899, French, oil on canvas, 96" x 170".

This canvas is Vuillard's largest, and is one of a pair of paintings commissioned by the banker Adam Natanson for the dining room of his Parisian home, where its companion was the slightly smaller Window Overlooking the Woods, now in the Art Institute of Chicago. Together, the works are a modernist’s answer to the art of French and Flemish tapestry decoration, where large areas of monochromatic color (here a medley of greens) are enlivened by compositional details. The landscape depicted is probably from the area of L’Étang-la-Ville, where Vuillard’s sister lived with her husband, the painter Ker-Xavier Roussel.

Although much less known today than his contemporary Henri Matisse, Vuillard was among the most advanced and accomplished artists of his generation. At 22 he had already achieved a reputation among a circle of young writers, artists, and musicians whose aesthetic ideas showed the influence of the Symbolist and Synthetist theories of Paul Gauguin and Claude Debussy. Like many artists whose careers began after the last Impressionist exhibition, Vuillard experimented with decorative arts and found an interested public for his lithographs, painted porcelain, stained-glass window designs, stage decors, book illustrations, and other alternatives to easel painting. However, most important for his earliest career were the commissions for large-scale paintings he received from members of his immediate social circle to decorate their urban apartment interiors.

In 1890 Vuillard was a founding member of Les Nabis, a group of art students inspired by the Synthetism of Gauguin which included Ker-Xavier Roussel, and favored a decorative style of painting in which they freely altered form and colors to suit the expressive needs of the artist. In First Fruits, the decorative pattern takes precedence over the objects in the scene and unifies the painted surface. The overall visual impression recalls the art of tapestry, and the decorative borders reinforce this analogy.

In the 1890s, the Natanson brothers, founders of the cultural review La Revue Blanche, published his graphics designs, and at their urging Vuillard took on his first decorative apartment “frescoes”. He mostly depicted interiors, streets and gardens.


Gaugin Tahitian Woman and Boy 1303


Gaugin Tahitian Woman and Boy HS7461

Tahitian Woman and Boy, Paul Gauguin, 1899, French, oil on canvas.

These images are lit slightly differently. The light on the image at left highlights some reflections in certain areas,
 notably on the boy’s face. The light on the image at right (which was taken at a different angle and with softer focus)
reduces highlights in these areas at the expense of overall brightness, different color saturation and some loss of detail.

Paul Gauguin, along with a number of artists of his period, did not become popular until after his death. Gauguin was later recognized for his experimental use of color and synthetist style that were distinguishably different from Impressionism. His work was influential to the French avant-garde and many modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. He was an important figure in the Symbolist movement as a painter, sculptor, print-maker, ceramist, and writer. His bold experimentation with coloring led directly to the Synthetist style of modern art, while his expression of the inherent meaning of the subjects in his paintings, under the influence of the cloisonnist style, paved the way to Primitivism and the return to the pastoral. He was also an influential proponent of wood engraving and woodcuts as art forms.

Gauguin, along with Émile Bernard and many others, frequently visited the artist colony of Pont-Aven. Disappointed with Impressionism, Gauguin felt that traditional European painting had become too imitative and lacked symbolic depth. Under the influence of folk art and Japanese prints, Gauguin's work evolved towards Cloisonnism, a style given its name by the critic Édouard Dujardin in response to Émile Bernard's method of painting with flat areas of color and bold outlines, which reminded Dujardin of the Medieval cloisonné enameling technique. Gauguin was very appreciative of Bernard's art and of his daring with the employment of a style which suited Gauguin in his quest to express the essence of the objects in his art. His painting later evolved towards Synthetism in which neither form nor color predominate but each has an equal role.

By age 43, Paul Gauguin was infusing his works with spiritual and symbolic meaning in an effort to renounce the bourgeois materialism that had reigned over France in the preceding decades. To that end, in 1891, the already famous painter left France for Tahiti, where “living means singing and loving,” and where he would remain, save for one visit home, the rest of his life. The considerably traditional composition of Tahitian Woman and Boy belies the fact that it was completed during a time of great emotional upheaval for the artist. The two figures engage the viewer directly with their placid stares, while the decorative canary yellow and acid green background seems to burst forth from the canvas. Absent are Gauguin’s less inflected swaths of color, and save for the patterned pink dress and the flower in the female sitter’s hair, any hint of a reductive exoticism is absent. Rather, the sturdy nobility of the figures reflects a remarkably straightforward, observed reality.


Picasso The Ram’s Head 3451

The Ram's Head, Pablo Picasso, 1925, Spanish, oil on canvas.

Pablo Picasso, one of the most influential and celebrated artists of the 20th century, is perhaps best known for his championing of Cubism. During the 1920s, he combined elements from the Classical, Cubist, and Surrealist movements creating a series of still life paintings. Compactly arranged, Picasso's Ram's Head imposes the cubist idiom over cups, tablecloths, and other motifs re-presenting them as geometric circles and flat planes of color, which then border and taunt the imposing head of a ram. The classically derived subject matter of the still life, a table laden with sea life and an animal head (all the elements necessary for a meal) slips into a disorienting, Surrealist dreamscape in which still life appears to float in water, suggested by the blue waves, as much as it exists on a flat table.

Picasso composed this image as a “still-life of cruelty”. With the gaping mouth of the scorpion fish and the spiky sea urchin, everything seems poised to bite or sting, cut or poison. Originally conceived in stark contrasts of black and white with a few patches of color, Picasso later added more bands of color to the composition.


Rivera Flower Vendor Girl with Lilies HS7433

The Flower Vendor (Girl with Lilies), Diego Rivera, 1941, Mexican, oil on masonite.

Rivera entered art school at a very young age and moved to Europe in 1907. There he was deeply affected by the great Italian muralists and contemporary French painters. Returning home in 1921, he became a painter of murals, and over the next several years the direction of Mexican art changed dramatically under his leadership. During the 1930s, Rivera painted a number of large murals in the United States and had a major influence on American art, as the federal government began to fund the painting of large murals in public buildings. The theme of a flower vendor, dwarfed by a massive display of flowers, was one that Rivera painted many times.


Click the Display Composite above to visit the Norton Simon Museum Sculptures page.


Click the Display Composite above to visit the Norton Simon Museum Rodin Bronzes page.