Jacob Lawrence (1917 – 2000) once wrote, “For me, the most important function of art is observation.” He was inspired by and created works based on his own experiences of everyday life in Harlem and the history of African Americans the United States. In The Wedding (1948), Lawrence simultaneously depicted the solemnity and the joy of the marriage ceremony. Although the preacher’s face is only partially defined, he appears to look down with great seriousness at the couple as they contemplate their vows. The large, colorful urns overflowing with brilliant flowers signify the prosperity of this union
Born in the United States, Isamu Noguchi (1904 – 1988) lived in Japan until he was 13 years old, and was deeply affected by Japanese art and culture. In 1930, the artist returned to Japan to study its sculptural traditions and ceramics
Miss Expanding Universe (1932) was the first sculpture Noguchi made upon his return to the United States in 1932. In this work, he combined machine-age streamlining with characteristics of ancient Japanese funerary sculpture (haniwa).
Later that same year, the artist transformed this flowing form into a sacklike costume for the pioneering dancer and choreographer Ruth Page and her ballet, Expanding Universe.
Ivan Albright painted this lurid work for the 1945 movie adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. In Wilde’s tale, Dorian Gary commissions a portrait of himself as an attractive young man, and later trades his soul for an ever-youthful appearance. As the still-handsome Gray leads an increasingly dissolute and evil life, his painted representation rots and decays, revealing the extent of his moral corruption. Albright’s renown as a painter of the macabre made him the ideal choice to paint the horrific image of Gray for the film. Although the movie was shot in black and white, director Albert Lewin filmed the painted portrait in color to emphasize Gray’s shocking transformation.
The Gare Saint-Lazare was the largest and busiest train station in Paris. Early in 1877, with help from his friend Gustave Caillebotte, Claude Monet rented an apartment in the nearby rue Moncey and began painting the first of twelve canvases showing this icon of modernity. Monet displayed seven of them, including this one, at the third Impressionist exhibition, in April of that year. Legend has it that he arranged to have the standing locomotives stoked with extra coal, so that he could observe and paint the effects of belching steam — dull grey when trapped inside the station, but white and cloudlike when seen against the sky.
Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare (1877) was Photographed at the Institute, Chicago.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s association with the Moulin Rouge began when it opened in 1889 and the owner bought the artist’s Equestrienne (at the Cirque Fernanado) to decorate the foyer. Lautrec populated the scene depicted in At The Moulin Rouge (1892/95) with portraits of the regulars at the dance hall, including himself — the diminutive figure in the center background — accompanied by his cousin and frequent companion, the physician Gabriel Tapie de Celeyran. The woman on the right is the scandalous English singer Mary Milton. At some point, the artist or his dealer cut down the canvas to remove her from the composition, perhaps because her shocking appearance made the work hard to sell. In any case, by 1914 the cut section had been reattached to the painting.
This striking, six-pronged Green Glass Vase (circa 1931) is part of a small group of modernist art glass by Frederick Carder for the Steuben Division of Corning Glass Works. Carder was a glass blower, born and trained in England. He preferred traditional forms and elaborate ornament, but like many of his contemporaries active in the late 1920s, he responded to the international interest in abstraction and avant-garde experimentation by incorporating sharp angles, asymmetry, and bright color combinations into some of his designs.
Contrary to its title, this intriguing and enigmatic self-portrait, The Artist Looks at Nature (1943), shows the artist ignoring the brightly lit landscape in front of him. Nature, as depicted here, is surreal, with inexplicable discrepancies of scale and perspective. The fields suggest the terrain around Sheeler’s Connecticut home, while the massive walls recall Hoover Dam, which the artist photographed in 1939. In the painting, Sheeler works intently on a monochromatic drawing of an antiquated stove, which is based on a photograph he took in 1917. Yet despite these deliberate references to his own work, the painting’s meaning is ambiguous. Perhaps Sheeler wished to evoke the many vistas open to an artist, the literal and figurative landscapes of the mind.