I’m beginning to think that my tumblr is becoming an ode to Jerry Saltz. But I stumbled across a blog he did for NY Mag about his 16 favorite paintings in NY in no particular order. Jerry is a self- proclaimed lover of painting, and while I think he harbors a soft spot in his heart for the classical use of the medium, he still manages to approach contemporary works with an open mind. Obviously I’m going to have to do a follow up and list my 16 favorite paintings.
Here they are:
Philip Guston Stationary Figure (1973) The Met
"In an image reflecting Guston’s egomania, his love of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, his felicitous touch and rosy-fingered color sense, a monstrous, one-eyed figure lies in bed, smoking and staring at a pulsating bare lightbulb. A clock reads 2:25. That’s a.m. In one cartoonish flourish, Guston sums up the dark nights of the soul, when artists wonder if they will ever produce something good."
**Perhaps there is nothing more indicative of modern painting than guston’s personal depiction of the artistic ego. This painting is a touchstone for the Art School age and all those self-aware in their creativity.**
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes
The Duchess of Alba (1797)
The Hispanic Society of America, New York
"Goya, master of dashed hopes, daredevil brushwork, and the color black, gives us this voluptuous duchess in mourning dress—though she isn’t grieving so much as being mourned by Goya. Sixteen years her senior and stone deaf, he offers up a vision of imperious sensuality and unrequited love. The inscription at her feet translates to “Only Goya.” That’s how I often feel. "
** A second self-referential piece, though less insular than the first, celebrating the girl of one’s dreams, Only Goya**
The Cathedrals of Fifth Avenue (1931)
"Paint as cake frosting; color as shimmering cellophane. This hallucination of a wedding procession on a red carpet spilling out of a department store raises shopping to a batty rite of passage."
** I think what makes JSaltz sucessful is his ability to see somethign more in paintings that I would immediately write off. At first Stettheimer’s piece looks kitchy and predictable, but then I realized it was made in 1931, and all of a sudden I could understand what makes this piece important. With our country in the throes of depression it really makes this seem more like a hallucination then a daydream.**
Jean-Auguste- Dominique Ingres
The Comtesse d’Haussonville (1845)
"A showstopper in any context, even at the Frick, which has one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces of any small museum in the world. The girlish 27-year-old countess, already a mother of three and destined to be a historian, scrutinizes us coyly, within a typically sumptuous Ingres setting. The amazing Delft-blue ensemble, her insanely creamy, curving arms—she’s a decadent dessert almost too rich to digest."
**This artist’s control over hte medium is enougnh to solidify this piece in the cannon of great art. Even though the pixels of my computer screen, her dress crosses dimensional boundries and appears to be solid and soft and the same time. There is something unsettling though about the sexualization of youngwomenchildren in these paintings that I do not like, perhaps its this that makes me want to take a bite out of her puffy girl arms. Decadent dessert indeed.**
The Bather (1885)
"Think of this enigmatic boy as stepping into a new optical dimension: He is simultaneously seen from above and below, left and right, surrounded by a subtly destabilized space that will fracture into Cubism. The Bather is the dawn of a new pictorial era. Matisse was right: Cézanne is “a sort of god.” He’s in my top four Western painters along with Velázquez, Goya, and Matisse himself."
** Like a Koros Boy for the modern age, Cezanne takes two classical view points and combines them, disregarding traditional artistic conventions, not only in pose but in texture. Here we can see the beginnings of cubist facets and the intensity of Fauvist coloring. This piece is truly the steppingstone into paintings modern age, where paintings became less about subject matter and more about the medium itself.**
Evening Storm, Schoodic, Maine No. 2 (1942)
The Brooklyn Museum
"I am so overwhelmed by the wounded otherness in Hartley’s art that I can’t write about it or him. He defeats me. This is the work that I would most want to live with."
**Sometimes my sliding scale to determine is a work of art is great or not is measured by my desire to stick my fingers into it. Occationally there is something about a painting that just grabs you, and while it may not be ‘great’ in a traditional sense, you just know deep down that you need it in your life. Marsden Hartley doesn’t do this for me, but there is something captivating about the spumage of his waves crashing against the rocks in an indeterminable darkness that triggers a reaction that is part the omnipresent forces of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and part Sorceror’s Apprentice.**
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
"The artist as monumental Buddha, cloaked foremost in shadow but also in furs and embellished silks worthy of a magus—a poignant counterpoint to his careworn face, staring from beneath the brim of a nearly invisible hat. From that face, Shakespeare could have written King Lear. Rembrandt, Goya, and Velázquez were the painters who opened the door widest to the fullness of human emotion."
** This is one of my favorite paintings as well. I have spent hours discovering the subtlties of this piece as I worked on my own art. There is something romantic and noble, but also rugged and unabashedly human. Perhaps one of the greatest paintings of all time.**
Morning in the Village After Snowstorm (1912)
"Like an explosion in an airplane factory, the Cubo-Futurist masterpiece depicts gleaming robot peasants in curved metallic shards. The composition of snowdrifts, houses, and people spirals energetically toward a distant sled-puller, and recalls the artist’s childhood—a way of life that predated the Industrial Revolution and outlasted the Russian one. “
**Constructivism is one of hte more fascinating eras of modern art. As Russia was slower to industrialize, once machinery and modernization were introduced into society, they became akin to religion. Constructivists became obsessed with clean design and utilitarianism, something that can be seen in Malevich’s metallic and geometric figures roam through the Russian country side as if someone replaced traditional peasant figures with machines.**
Blue Lines X (1916)
"The visionary painter was one of only about a dozen European and American artists attempting abstract paintings in 1916. The simplicity here is poetic, the blue lines reminding me at once of animal tracks, hieroglyphics, and Barnett Newman’s zips."
Young Lady in 1866
"Isolated against a background of unbroken gray (containing Brice Marden’s entire career) is one of the greatest housecoats in the history of painting on one of the period’s greatest models, Victorine Meurent—the nude star of Manet’s once scandalous Olympia. This is what she looked like on her day off."
Staten Island and the Narrows (1835–55)
The Brooklyn Museum
This bewitching picture of white-crested waves, wispy clouds, and gorgeous ships passing between Brooklyn and Staten Island jumps off the wall: How wondrous and magical New York was—and still is. I imagine Walt Whitman on the shore, in his usual state of multitudinous ecstasy.
Vincent Van Gogh
Mountains at Saint- Rémy (1889)
A progression of motion and emotion set off by brushwork, color, and Van Gogh’s turbulent sense of surface design. The road, trees, and house in the foreground are reasonably real. But the undulant mountains beyond—under a threatening sky of raw impasto—are haunted with figures, flames, and, in the middle of it all, a blue angel’s wing.
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Mortlake Terrace: Early Summer Morning (1826)
Although I’m not a Turner fan, this painting speaks to me for its uncharacteristic calm. Instead of the painter’s usual bombast and histrionic portrayals of nature’s violent indifference, or just its special effects, we see the beneficent unity of man and nature. Nothing is forced, there is no drama, and for at least one painting, I love Turner.
Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio
The Denial of Saint Peter (circa 1610)
Notice the dramatically gesturing figures, stark lighting, compact cropping, and complex moments of internal and external emotions. That is how Caravaggio essentially foreshadowed modern filmmaking.
Duccio di Buoninsegna
The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain (1308–11)
This powerful little canvas once appeared on the back of Duccio’s Maestà in Siena, one of the landmarks of Western painting. But it does quite well on its own. It depicts the moment that Christ rejects Satan’s offer of two marzipan-like cities (Italian hill towns, actually). Note cowering devil slinking off, stage left. (The equally fabulous landmark painting St. Francis in the Desert, by Giovanni Bellini, lives at the Frick as well.)
The Journey of the Magi (1435)
In a crisscrossing, snow-covered landscape, the three magi follow the star of Bethlehem, fabulous entourage in tow. I am enchanted by the mix of opulence and tranquility and the whimsical pink walls of the city behind them. New York is filled with superb but easily missed sleeper paintings like this.