This portrait from 1889 depicts one of Paul Gauguin’s closest friends, the Dutch painter Jacob Meyer de Haan, in the pose of a thinker. The painting includes two books that reflect Meyer de Haan’s preoccupations with religion and philosophy: John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Thomas Carlysle’s Sartor Resartus. Carlysle’s central character is called Diogenes, after the Greek philosopher who searched by lamplight for an honest man, and the prominent lamp shown here may extend the reference. This work was originally intended to form part of a decorative panel for the door of an inn at Le Pouldo — a small coastal village in France where both artists stayed — and was to be hung next to a companion self-portrait by Gauguin that is now in the collection of the National Gallery in Washington, DC.
Jasper Johns began to incorporate a cross-hatch pattern in his paintings after seeing it on a car: “It had all the qualities that interest me — literalness, repetitiveness, an obsessive quality, order with dumbness, and the possibility of a complete lack of meaning.” Using encaustic, a method of paint that suspends pigment in hot wax, Johns created lush, layered paintings with richly textured surfaces.
Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait Between the Clock and The Bed
Between The Clock and The Bed (1981) reference’s Self-Portrait Between The Clock and The Bed (1940 – 43), one of artist Edvard Munch’s last works.
Jasper Johns Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art NYC. Edvard Munch Photographed in the Met Breuer, NYC.
While living and working in Paris, from 1948 to 1954, Ellsworth Kelly (1923 – 2015) developed an abstract vocabulary of line, form, and color and began is career-long investigation into how figure and ground are perceived in nonrepresentational painting. He became interested in the way that painting engages with the architectural space that it inhabits; rather than attempting to simulate three-dimensional perspective in a composition, he instead considered the wall to be a kind of ‘ground’ and the painting itself a figure on it.
In Orange Green (1964), made the following decade when he was back in New York, he established the figure-ground relationship on the canvas itself through the careful balance of two areas of color: the truncated orange egg-shape is the figure and the bright green color that surrounds it functions as its background.
In the late 1980s, David Hockney bought a house on the beach in Malibu, California and proceeded to paint interiors that showcased the incredible view of the sea from his picture window. “When you live this close to the sea,” he said, “when it literally comes up and splashes the windows, it is not the horizon line which dominates, but the close movement of the water itself. It’s like fire and smoke, endlessly changing, endlessly fascinating.” In Breakfast at Malibu, Sunday (1989) the Pacific Ocean is almost opalescent and seems to blend in with the horizon near the top edge of the canvas.
Part of a Private Collection, This Painting was Photographed While On Loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
The diminutive nude female figure in the upper right area of The Nymph Echo (1936) is often identified as Echo — a mountain nymph of Greek Mythology. Far more dominant, however, is the monstrous green vegetal creatures — or is it creatures — in the foreground. This wildly imaginative hydra-headed creation may represent Narcissus, whom Echo loved. Famously, Narcissus fell in love with his own beautiful image reflected in a pool and wasted away from unsatisfied desire, whereupon he was transformed into a flower. The various delicately colored floral effusions in Ernst’s painting recall this moment of metamorphosis.
This Untitled Abstract Painting (circa 1963 or 64) is one of the last paintings made by Eva Hesse before she switched to sculpture. Its deconstructed symbols, figures, and shapes evoke natural forms and bodies without ever being directly identifiable. Delicate brushwork, soft colors and a light, witty touch lend this work a feminine quality that she intended as a rebuke to the masculinity of Minimalist Art. Hess was reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex at this time, and the text led her to question her own fragmented status as artist, woman and wife. Her work, though not overtly political, explores these issues in poetic, expressive abstractions.
A powerful rendering by the artist in her twenties, this picture was made with a practical purpose; it was painted as a reception piece for admission to the life-drawing course at the National Academy of Design. While Lee Krasner (1908 – 1984) is best known for the personal style that she developed within the movement of Abstract Expressionism in the 19540s, this self portrait (c. 1930) is a rare example of her early work, using the thick brushwork and high color of the Impressionists and Realists of the previous generation. Strikingly, Krasner depicts herself at work in nature. She eyes the viewer, who stands on the spot where, presumably, a mirror hangs on a tree. Her expression and strong handling of light and shade evoke the resolve of a young woman rising to the challenge of her artistic vocation.