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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

National Gallery of Art, DC

National Gallery of Art, DC

National Gallery of Art, DC

The National Gallery of Art and its attached Sculpture Garden is the national art museum in Washington, D.C., located on the National Mall. The museum was originally privately established in 1937 for the American people by a joint resolution of the United States Congress. Andrew W. Mellon donated a substantial art collection and funds for construction. The Gallery’s collection of paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures, medals, and decorative arts traces the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to the present.

The Gallery’s campus includes the original neoclassical West Building, which is linked underground to the modern East Building and the 6.1-acre (25,000 m2) Sculpture Garden. The Gallery often presents temporary special exhibitions spanning the world and the history of art. It is one of the largest museums in North America and is open to the public and free of charge. The National Gallery of Art, DC, includes among its many treasures the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas and the largest mobile created by Alexander Calder.

A Tour the National Gallery of Art

  • “Ginevra de’ Benci” by Leonardo da Vinci
    • Ginevra de’ Benci by Leonardo da Vinci depicts a well-known young Florentine aristocrat. Leonardo painted the portrait in Florence in 1474 to commemorate Ginevra’s marriage at the age of 16. The juniper bush that fills much of the background was regarded as a symbol of female virtue, in Renaissance Italy, while the Italian word for juniper, echo’s Ginevra’s name. Ginevra is shown beautiful but reserved with no hint of a smile. Her gaze, although forward, seems indifferent to the viewer.
  • “A Young Girl Reading” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard
    • “A Young Girl Reading” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard depicts a girl in profile wearing a lemon yellow dress with a white ruff collar and cuffs and purple ribbons. The girl is reading from a small book held, and a cushion resting against a wall supports her back. Her face and dress are lit from the front. Fragonard used fine brushwork on the face and looser brushwork on the dress and cushion and the ruff, which was scratched into the paint with the end of a brush.
  • “Small Cowper Madonna” by Raphael
    • The “Small Cowper Madonna” is a painting by Raphael, depicting Mary and Child, in a 1500’s Italian countryside. It was painted around 1505 during the middle of the High Renaissance.
  • “The Alba Madonna” by Raphael
    • “The Alba Madonna” by Raphael depicts three figures all looking at the cross; they represent the Madonna with the Christ Child and Saint John the Baptist as a child. The figures are grouped to the left in the round composition. The outstretched arm of the Madonna and the resting elbow on the stump with her enveloping cloak balance the group image.
  • “Nude on a Divan” by Amedeo Modigliani
    • “Nude on a Divan” by Amedeo Modigliani is one of the dozens of nudes created by Modigliani in a modern style characterized by elongation of faces and figures that echo precursors such as Titian, Goya, and Velázquez. However, Modigliani’s figures differ significantly in the level of raw sensuality they transmit. Unlike depictions of female nudes from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, in which female nudity is couched in mythology or allegory, this series of paintings are without any such context, highlighting the painting’s eroticism.
  • “Nude on a Blue Cushion” by Amedeo Modigliani
    • “Nude on a Divan” by Amedeo Modigliani is one of the dozens of nudes created by Modigliani in a modern style characterized by elongation of faces and figures that echo precursors such as Titian, Goya, and Velázquez. However, Modigliani’s figures differ significantly in the level of raw sensuality they transmit. Unlike depictions of female nudes from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, in which female nudity is couched in mythology or allegory, this series of paintings are without any such context, highlighting the painting’s eroticism.
  • “Saint Jerome” by El Greco
    • “Saint Jerome” by El Greco shows him as an ascetic with gaunt, sunken features and a white hair and beard, which are symbolic of his history as a penitent and his retreat to the Syrian desert. The cave-like setting recalls St Jerome’s years as a hermit in the desert. The book symbolizes his scholarly activity. During the Renaissance, paintings showed Saint Jerome either in his study or performing acts of penance in the wilderness. These pictures adorned the walls of the homes of many humanists and scholars.
  • “The Houses of Parliament, Sunset” by Claude Monet (National Gallery of Art, DC)
    • “The Houses of Parliament” by Claude Monet is one in a series of paintings of the Palace of Westminster, home of the British Parliament, created during the early 1900s while Monet stayed in London. All of the series of paintings with similar titles share the same viewpoint from Monet’s terrace at St Thomas’ Hospital overlooking the Thames. The set of pictures depict different times of the day, and various weather and light conditions, interestingly all on canvases are of approximately similar size.
  • “Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)” by Winslow Homer
    •  “Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)” by Winslow Homer is an iconic painting of a father and three boys out for a spirited sail. Homer had a sensibility that allowed him to distill art from potentially sentimental subjects and to yield straightforward views of American life of the period. Homer painted warm and appealing images that appealed to the postwar nostalgia for a simpler, more innocent America. Following a trip to Europe in 1866–1867, Homer adopted a warmer palette and a technique, which owed much to the influence of French artists such as Courbet, Manet, and Monet.
  • “Madame Moitessier” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
    • “Madame Moitessier” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres is a portrait of Marie-Clotilde-Inès Moitessier (née de Foucauld) completed in 1851 which depicts the subject standing in a black dress looking directly at the viewer. Madame Moitessier (1821–1897) was the daughter of a French civil servant who married a wealthy banker and merchant, who was a widower twice her age.
  • Adrienne (Woman with Bangs) by Amedeo Modigliani
    • Adrienne (Woman with Bangs) by Amedeo Modigliani is similar to Modigliani’s other iconic and stylized portraits. Adrienne is depicted with a simplified, elongated oval face, gracefully sculptured nose, and simplified mouth highlight the Modigliani’s interest in African masks. Modigliani used portraiture to explore both his psychology and that of his subjects, who were typically fellow artists, friends, or lovers. Modigliani drew inspiration from the art of so-called “primitive” cultures; his work often resembling African or Pre-Columbian sculpture. Adrienne’s neck is elongated as in may other Modigliani portraits again echoing his appreciation of “primitive” sculptures.
  • “Watson and the Shark” by John Singleton Copley
    • “Watson and the Shark” by John Singleton Copley depicts the rescue of the boy from a shark attack in Havana harbor, Cuba. This painting is based on the true story of an attack that took place in 1749. The English boy Brook Watson, then a 14-year-old cabin boy, lost his leg in the attack. He was not rescued until the third attempt by the shark, which is the subject of the painting. The shark attack on Watson resulted in the loss of his right leg below the knee. However, he went on to have a distinguished career, including becoming a Lord Mayor of London.
  • “The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries” by Jacques-Louis David
    • “The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries” by Jacques-Louis David shows Napoleon standing. This portrait is a three-quarters life-size, wearing the uniform of a colonel of the Imperial Guard Foot Grenadiers with his military decorations. Napoleon is looking at the viewer and poses with his right hand is in his jacket. His face is reminiscent of Churchill’s early portraits of determination. On the desk are a pen, several books, dossiers, and rolled-up papers. More rolled documents and a map are on the green carpet to the left of the desk. Napoleon is shown with unbuttoned cuffs, wrinkled stockings, disheveled hair. The flickering candles are nearly spent, and the time on the clock is 4.13 am. These symbols are all meant to imply he has been up all night, writing laws such as the Code Napoléon. The word “Code” is prominent on the rolled papers on the desk.
  • “The Boating Party” by Mary Cassatt
    • “The Boating Party” by Mary Cassatt depicts a woman, baby, and man in a sailboat. It is one of her largest oil paintings and is an unusual painting compared to Cassatt’s other artworks. While it does show her familiar theme of a mother and child, most of her other pictures are set in domestic interiors or gardens. In this painting, Cassatt expertly contrasts the dark figure of the oarsman with colorfully dressed figures of mother and child. In 1890 Cassatt visited the great Japanese Print exhibition in Paris, and she started collecting Japanese prints, which had a significant influence on her. In this picture, Cassatt placed the horizon at the very top of the frame in the Japanese fashion.
  • “Interior of the Pantheon, Rome” by Giovanni Paolo Panini
    • “Interior of the Pantheon, Rome” by Giovanni Paolo Panini depicts the interior of the famous and best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings, the Pantheon. The Pantheon has been a prominent tourist attraction in Rome for hundreds of years. Built by Hadrian in 113–125 AD, this grand domed temple has survived structurally intact because it was consecration as a Christian church, “St. Mary and the Martyrs”, in 609 AD. Panini populated the scene with foreign visitors. He featured a diverse mix of Romans and visitors from all parts of society. They congregate in the Pantheon to pray and to admire the fantastic architecture.
  • Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
    • Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in “Chilpéric” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec depicts the artist’s favorite subject from the theater, Marcelle Lender, the red-headed actress. Toulouse-Lautrec first encountered her when he began to attend the theater regularly, in 1893. His infatuation with her peak when she starred in the revival of Hervé’s “Chilpéric.” Toulouse-Lautrec visited this operetta over twenty times, arriving just in time to see Lender dance the bolero in the second act. This painting shows Lender performing a bolero from the operetta.
  • “Quadrille at the Moulin Rouge” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
    • “At the Moulin Rouge” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is one of several works by Toulouse-Lautrec depicting the Moulin Rouge cabaret built in Paris in 1889. This painting portrays a group of three men and two women sitting around a table situated on the floor of the nightclub. In the background of this group is a self-portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec himself, who can be identified as the shorter stunted figure next to his taller companion.
  • “A Dutch Courtyard” by Pieter de Hooch
    • “A Dutch Courtyard” by Pieter de Hooch depicts two men seated at a table in the courtyard and a standing woman. The soldier who is wearing a breastplate is setting down the pitcher he has used to fill the glass, now held by the woman. The “pass-glass” the woman is drinking from was used in drinking games. Each participant had to drink down to the next line on the glass. If the drinker failed to reach the line level, the reveler would be required to drink down to the next ring. Only when the drinker had drunk successfully to the required line would the glass be passed on to the next participant. The little girl carries a brazier of hot coals so that the two soldiers can light their long-stemmed, white clay pipes.
  • “The Mother and Sister of the Artist” by Berthe Morisot
    • “The Mother and Sister of the Artist” by Berthe Morisot depicts a family portrait and an intimate scene, which the artist created when Morisot’s sister stayed with her family in the winter of 1869–1870 to await the birth of her first child. The loose white morning robe discreetly disguises the pregnancy.
  • “New York” by George Bellows
    • New York by George Bellows is a large painting that captures the essence of modern life in New York City in 1911. The view looks uptown toward Madison Square from the intersection of Broadway and 23rd Street, but Bellows drew on several commercial districts to create an imaginary composite. His focus was to show the crowds and traffic to convey a sense of the city’s hectic pace. Bellows assembled all of these diverse elements of New York into one scene.
  • Self-Portrait by John Singleton Copley
    • Self-Portrait by John Singleton Copley depicts the artist ten years after his departure from Boston. In London, he achieved success as a portraitist for the next two decades. He also painted several large history paintings, which were innovative in their depiction of modern subjects and modern dress. His later years were less successful, and he died heavily in debt.
  • “Self-Portrait” by Benjamin West
    • Self-Portrait” by Benjamin West depicts the artists with the light strongest on his face and hands, and the rest of the picture falls into shadow. West began his career as a portrait painter in Philadelphia and New York. Patrons granted him a scholarship visit Rome, the first American artist to be given this opportunity. An earlier version of this portrait is exhibited in the Baltimore Museum of Art, which was created in 1770. This version is from 1776 and is more dramatic in its contrasts.
  • “Symphony in White, No. 1” by James Abbott McNeill Whistler
    • “Symphony in White, No. 1” by James Abbott McNeill Whistler shows a woman in full figure standing on a wolf skin in front of a white curtain with a white lily in her hand. The woman is dressed all in white, which is the color scheme of the painting. The painting was originally called “The White Girl,” but later, Whistler called it “Symphony in White, No. 1.” Art critics have interpreted the painting as an allegory of innocence and its loss. This painting was an early experiment in white on white. This color scheme was a subject he would return to later, in two other paintings that would be given the titles of Symphony in White, No. 2 (1864) and Symphony in White, No. 3 (1865–67).

Masterpieces of the National Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art, DC

  • Museum:       National Gallery of Art, DC
  • City:               Washington, D.C.
  • Country:         United States
  • Established:   1937
  • Type:              Art Museum
  • Address:        National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets at Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20565, National Mall, Washington, D.C.
  • Public transit access:
    • Metro:      Red Line – Judiciary Square, Yellow Line, Green Line – Archives, Blue Line,
    • Orange Line, Silver Line – Smithsonian
    • Metrobus: 4th Street and 7th Street NW
    • DC Circulator: 4th Street and Madison Drive; 9th Street and Constitution Avenue NW

National Gallery of Art Map

National Gallery of Art, DC Map

Explore Museums in Washington, D.C.

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“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow.
The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

Abraham Lincoln

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Photo Credit: By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By USGS, cropped and labeled by Postdlf (USGS satellite image) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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