Wander American Masters in the National Gallery of Art

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The National Gallery of Art recently opened an exhibition, Wander: American Masters in the National Gallery of Art , that looks at the role of landscape in the work of artists like John Constable, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe.

The exhibition is organized around a pair of landscapes by Frederic Church and George Inness—two 19th century artists who were born in rural New York State but whose careers took them across the Atlantic to Europe and South America. The paintings have been placed on either side of a doorway that leads from one gallery to another, and which also serves as an entrance to the exhibition’s online component . It is a brilliant choice: rather than placing these two paintings in isolation, they are framed by this doorway. It is a visual representation of how their influence has continued to recede into the distance.



The National Gallery of Art has a nice blog, called “Wander: American Masters in the National Gallery of Art”. The blog is written by an art historian who works at the gallery. It has the tone of a guided tour, and discusses various paintings in the collection. The writer often comments on what is behind the painting, or on the artistic or historical context in which it was made.

I have been reading this blog for a while. It is interesting, and I get to learn more about some of my favorite painters. I think that if you’re interested in art history at all, it would be worthwhile to check out this blog.

The National Gallery of Art’s (NGA) just-completed exhibition, “Wander: American Masters from the NGA and the Smithsonian American Art Museum” is a must-see for fans of Georgia O’Keeffe, Andrew Wyeth, and other 20th century American masters.

The exhibition boasts 14 of O’Keeffe’s paintings, including “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1,” above, as well as 24 Wyeth works. There are also pieces by Edward Hopper, Norman Rockwell, Winslow Homer and others.

The show is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., until Sept. 7 this year. A separate version of the show is being mounted at the National Gallery of Art in Washington from Oct. 15 to Jan. 20 next year.

Wander is a blog that highlights the treasures of the National Gallery of Art. The paintings, sculptures, photographs and drawings are interspersed with commentary on their creators, the circumstances around their creation and their significance in the history of art. The blog is updated daily.

The blog is written by an unnamed writer whose identity is not revealed. He or she does not present his or her credentials, but it appears the author has studied art history and is familiar with many of the works in the gallery’s collection.

The site uses a “tag” system to organize content, allowing visitors to search for specific artists, time periods or types of works. Each blog post features a single work of art and can be read at no cost. The blog also offers a subscription service for $10 per month that allows access to more than 300 artworks without viewing advertisements.

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) is a tremendous resource for art lovers with its collection of American art. The American Wing is located on the second floor of the West Building and contains many paintings, sculptures and prints from 1670 to 1970. The collection includes work by John Singleton Copley, Martin Johnson Heade, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Tours of the American Wing are usually led by docents from the Smithsonian Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD. The tours are free of charge and can be scheduled up to 6 months in advance through the NGA website.

As I told a friend, if you look long enough at any painting, you can find something to criticize. The trick is not to look too long.

In this case, the thing I find myself criticizing is how dull the painting is. I mean, it’s not just that the artist was trying to make the background a neutral gray and instead made it look like dirty dishwater; it’s that he or she seems to have been trying to do that, with no apparent awareness that there might be a better alternative.

But of course there are other ways of looking at it. The stillness of the composition makes it easier for us to focus on the intense drama inside each little figure—the way the young man in blue seems about to leap up and out of his chair, or how the woman in the background seems about to turn back toward him and say something that will change his life forever. Or maybe we’re supposed to see them as trapped in their own separate worlds, unable to communicate with each other or even themselves. Or maybe we’re supposed to notice how hard they’re all concentrating on what they’re doing—so focused on their work that they don’t even notice us as we stare at them from across two hundred years.

The museum also holds a few of his “Sleeping Beauties” (sleeping beauties, indeed), which are famous for their eroticism and the fact that he painted them from life. But these are not great paintings. They are interesting as documents of a period in the artist’s life, and as evidence of what happens when an artist stops painting from imagination and starts painting from models.

The best way to see Rembrandt’s work is to make a pilgrimage to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, where every last one of his masterpieces is on display — or so it seems. The National Gallery has a couple of his self-portraits, but they pale in comparison to those at the Rijksmuseum. The National Gallery’s “The Night Watch” is probably the most famous painting in Holland, and it is impressive in its own right, but it is not Rembrandt’s best work.

My own favorite Rembrandt canvas is “Adam and Eve.” It was painted late in the artist’s career, after he had started using models instead of his imagination, but it has poetry and mystery in equal measure. It reminds me that great art can be about more than just pretty pictures; it can also be about us.

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