Kansas-born Aaron Douglas (1899 – 1979) was the leading visual artist of the Harlem Renaissance, the great flowering of the arts in the 1920s and 1930s in New York’s predominantly African American neighborhood. Rendered in Douglas’s flat silhouetted style and with lavender and yellow-gold hues, this work, Let My People Go (1935-39), depicts the Old Testament story about God’s order to Moses to lead the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt.
Ministers, abolitionists , and politicians from the nineteenth-century through the Civil Rights era have related this story to the oppression of African Americans. Light Symbolizing God’s command radiates down and envelops the kneeling figure of Moses. Douglas derived this composition from a design he created in 1927 for God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, a collaboration with author and activist James Weldon Johnson.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
In Francis Picabia’s Selfishness (1947-48), colorful rounds of saturated paint surround a large, crudely rendered phallic shape. This relatively simple composition is energized by heavily encrusted impasto and gestural paint-handling. Built-up ridges of oil paint score the surface, giving the work a dramatic, almost frenzied topography. This sense of substrate activity speaks to Picabia’s ongoing play with surfaces, which here takes the form of accumulation and opacity. The material thickening on display in Selfishness was an artistic strategy shared by others in postwar Paris. Participants in the turn to abstraction known as Art Informel also created works with heavily textured surfaces, and they, too valued direct expression. This work’s erotic imagery finds its echo in Picabia’s contemporaneous illustrated letters, which were an important element of his artistic practice.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art as Part of the Exhibit, Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction.
After visiting Marseilles in late 1905, Paul Signac proceeded to paint two canvases in his studio: one showing the entrance to the port, and this view, facing the hill surmounted by Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, the church nicknamed the Good Mother by seamen. Bright and boldly colored, the composition reflects Signac’s contact with the artists Henri-Edmond Cross and Matisse at Saint Tropez in the summer of 1904. The rectangular strokes of unmixed pigment, arranged like tesserae (an individual tile, usually formed in the shape of a cube) in a mosaic, are Signac’s variation on the innovative painting method pioneered by Georges Seurat.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
The first version of Alexandre Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus created a sensation at the Salon of 1863, which was dubbed the “Salon of Venuses” owing to the number of alluring nudes on view. Embodying the ideals of academic art, the careful modeling, silky brushwork, and mythological subject of Cabanel’s canvas proved a winning combination: the Salon picture was purchased by no leas that Napoleon III for his personal collection. In 1875 , Jon Wolfe commissioned the present, slightly smaller, replica from Cabanel.
Photographed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC
The frightening central figure in this painting by Francis Picabia is taken from a Surrealist photograph by the young photographer Erwin Blumenfeld. The source image in The Adoration of The Calf (1941-42), which was reproduced in the Paris press in 1938, features the head of a dead calf posed atop a classical torso draped with fabric, and possibly refers to Hitler. To Blumenfeld’s composition, Picabia added a series of dramatically lit, expressionistically painted hands, many of which are splayed open in gestures of entreaty. They seem to emerge from the bottom of the canvas, suggesting the presence of bodies just out of sight. Although Picabia was a resolutely apolitical artist, it is difficult not to read this painting, and its cynical vision of the worship of false idols, as an engagement with contemporary politics.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC as part of the Exhibit Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction.
Influenced by Giorgio de Chirico, René Magritte sought to strip objects of their usual functions and meanings in order to convey an irrationally compelling image. In Voice of Space (of which three other oil versions exist), the bells float in the air; elsewhere they occupy human bodies or replace blossoms on bushes. By distorting the scale, weight, and use of an ordinary object and inserting it into a variety of unaccustomed contexts, Magritte confers on that object a fetishistic intensity. He has written of the jingle bell, a motif that recurs often in his work: “I caused the iron bells hanging from the necks of our admirable horses to sprout like dangerous plants at the edge of an abyss.”
The disturbing impact of the bells presented in an unfamiliar setting is intensified by the cool academic precision with which they and their environment are painted. The dainty slice of landscape could be the backdrop of an early Renaissance painting, while the bells themselves, in their rotund and glowing monumentality, impart a mysterious resonance.
Constructed for the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris as a symbol of technological advancement, the Eiffel Tower captured the attention of painters and poets attempting to define the essence of modernity. In his series on the subject (1909 – 12) Robert Delauney developed faceted and fragmented forms typical of the Cubists and presented the tower and surrounding buildings from various perspectives. His technique demonstrated his preference for a sense of vast space, atmosphere and light, while evoking a sign of contemporary life and progress. Many of Delaunay’s city views appear from a window framed by curtains: in Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel, 1911) , the buildings bracketing the structure curve like drapery.
Eiffel Tower was the first of many works by Delaunay that Solomon R. Guggenheim collected following his visit to the artist’s Paris studio in 1930.