My Top Ten | Art

Studies of the Head of a Black Man by Peter Paul Ruben

1 | Studies of the Head of a Black Man by Peter Paul Ruben in 1615. To be clear, I am not even remotely a fan of Ruben or the Baroque period. I've been to the Louvre; I spent several hours walking down hallway after hallway *stuffed* with over-sized cherubs, carbon-copy crucifixions, and stodgy portrait paintings of royalty -- much of which Ruben himself is guilty of in his work. While the title isn't overly awe-inspiring nor do I know much about its history, for its time period I give it two big thumbs-up. Besides, whoever it is resembles the talented Don Cheadle. 'Nuff said.

Lady of Shalot by John Waterhouse

2 | The Lady of Shalot by John Waterhouse (Pre-Raphaelite) in 1888.  Unlike most artists I am familiar with, there is not much of his work I do not hold in high esteem. I like paintings of women, not to be confused with stodgy portrait paintings of women royalty; see blurb above.  And I  like John Waterhouse since he seems to be so adept at it; see images below. His women are either tragic heroines certain to meet an untimely demise or in possession of superpowers that only Wonder Woman could dream of. I am going with the latter. Below: Miranda and the Tempest, The Crystal Ball, Boreas, and La Belle Dame sans Merci. I tossed in a picture of Charlie's Angels, it's the right thing to do. John Waterhouse would have approved.


                   Miranda the Tempest by John Waterhouse  The Crystal Ball by John Waterhouse  Boreas by John Waterhouse    Charlie's Angels

3 | The Scream, Despair, and Anxiety by Edvard Munch (Expressionism) in 1893-4.  He once wrote in his diary, "in my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself". The titles of these three works reveal all, and we can only be thankful that he became an artist and not a motivational speaker. We can also be thankful he wasn't on board The Titanic during its fateful maiden voyage in 1912 (an event that would have occurred during his lifetime), making Nostradamus look like a neophyte.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

4 | Nighthawks by Edward Hopper (Realism) in 1942 is the embodiment of existential loneliness. Mostly though, it's a print widely seen in college dorm rooms. I am a fan of film noir (much more than I am of Hopper) with its silhouettes, smoke-filled rooms, and femme fetales wreaking havoc in the lives of hard-boiled detectives. It is not a stretch to imagine Sam Spade sitting at the counter mumbling to himself, "When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it".    

5 |  Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth (Realism) in 1948.  As with all paintings, each one has its own "story", but I feel the need to retell this one. Wyth used the upstairs of the farmhouse (in Cushing, Maine) depicted in the painting as a part-time studio for thirty years. "In the portraits of that house, the windows are eyes or pieces of the soul" he said years later. Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth"To me, each window is a different part of Christina's life". Christina Olsen died in 1969. She had lived in this house her entire life. Crippled by polio from the waist down, Wyeth stated she "was limited physically but by no means spiritually". "Wyeth was inspired to create the painting when, through a window from within the house, he saw her crawling across a field." He was a realist painter, and to me, this haunting painting respectfully captures a small glimpse into the daily realities of Christina's world. Click on the picture to get a much better image.

Below are other images of women that inspire me in one way or the other.  It should be noted that I don't consider these women as damsels in distress. Quite the opposite in fact, but unlike Waterhouse's superheroes who are clearly hiding something we will never know about...these women are not.   


Right: Blue Nude by Pablo Picasso (Cubism) in 1902, Waiting by Edgar Degas (Impressionism) in 1882, Girl with Hair Ribbon by Roy Lichtenstein (Pop Art) in c. 1960s, and La Dormeuse by Tamara de Lempicka (Art Deco) in c. 1930s.

  Blue Nude by Pablo PicassoWaiting by Edgar DegasGirl with Hair Ribbon by Roy Lichtenstein La Dormeuse by Tamara de Lempicka

The Magnolia Flower by Martin Johnson Heade

6 | The Magnolia Flower by Martin Johnson Heade (Romanticism), c. 1870s. You will see some pieces here from the Impressionism movement, but not many and only because the painting Water Lilies by Monetwould have had some other appeal unrelated to the style and characteristics of the period. To me, Impressionism looks flat, dull, and unfinished (right, Monet's Water Lilies). I tend more towards Expressionism, Realism, and Romanticism (left), with its deep vivid colors, exacting detail, and depth. In terms of pure technical style, The Magnolia Flower holds the top spot on my list. It's just one person's opinion, so hold the hate mail.

Toscano Valley I by Art Fronckowiak

7 | Toscano Valley I by Art Fronckowiak (Realism/Romanticism), b. 1949. I enjoy landscape paintings that evoke an image of a place that "you want to walk into". Along the same lines, other favorites are included below: Dogwood by Albert Bierstadt (Romanticism) in c. 1870s, Rooms by the Sea by Edward Hopper (Realism) in 1950, Landscape by Charles-François Daubigny (Realism/Romanticism) in c. 1877, View of Amalfi Coast by Carl Frederic Aagaard (Realism) in c. 1860s, and Sunlit Stroll by Howard Behrens (Impressionism) b. 1933.

  Dogwood by Bierstandt Rooms by the Sea by Edward HopperLandscape by Charles-François DaubignyView to the Amalfi Coast by Carl AagaardSunlit Stroll by Howard Behrens

8 | Birthday by Dorothea Tanning (Surrealism) in 1942.  I am embarrassed, even annoyed, that I have not spotlighted any female artists. This is likely due to my limited knowledge of art (both present and past), but much of it has to do with the fact that women (pre-modern era) had limited access and exposure to the aesthetics medium unless they were the wives or daughters of prominent artists. Alas, Dorothea Tanning is no exception being the wife of Max Ernst, one the the primary pioneers of the Dada movement and Surrealism. Regardless, her work more than stands on its own.

Lobster Telephone by Salvador DaliSide note: I am not a fan of Surrealism. Artists from this movement tout it as the "liberation of the unconscious". I don't agree...dare I say, more like a group of attention-seeking artists determined to one-up the next in terms of "consciously-forced" absurdity and shock-value? By today's standards, it's nothing more than "cute", but we are still left with enough work like Marcel Duchamp's urinal (my bad, "Fountain") and Dali's Lobster Telephone to make me wonder why being able to use the word 'juxtaposition' correctly in a sentence -- just wasn't good enough.

Birthday (top right) is a self-portrait of the artist when she was 30 years old. I have already mentioned my dislike of portrait paintings (and Surrealism), but when combined with semi-nude John Waterhouse-like fashion, an endless maze of open doorways, and what appears to be a benevolent mini-dragon as a companion -- now you have my attention. What really lies beyond those portals? Women jumping on trampolines wearing tube tops? Olivier Martinez in a thong, eager to serve her beer? Maybe even an Easy-Bake Oven. This is a woman with a serious plan, and I want to know what it is. So do you.

Obviously, my artistic "interpretations" throughout this list clearly emphasizes my ignorance. But who cares? If a painting "says" something to me, no matter how ridiculous its message may be, I am going with it. And for me, that is exactly what this masterpiece spades. Can I get a 'HOOAH!', anyone?


Napolean Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David

9 | Napolean Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David in 1801 and Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze in 1851. It's all in the cape, yes? Regardless, I must admit that I am a sucker for Napoleon. Washington Crossing the Deleware by Emanuel LeutzeAnd I simply go all gah-gah when it comes to the Founding Fathers, especially George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It is said that Napolean stood at 5'2" and Washington at 6'3". Hmm, more evidence that size doesn't matter? Actually, Napoleon's perceived height was the product of English propaganda at the time. He is confirmed to have been 5'7", average height for the period. Throw in Hannibal (of Carthage, not Lector) and Batman, and we have we my ultimate Dream Team. 

10 | Art I Should Like, But Don't by Various Famous Artists. Honestly, I had to resist the urge not to photoshop in a mustache. Mature, huh? Please hold your applause for later. Call me a Philistine, but I just don't "get" it. I just don't.  And clearly I am missing something since all these paintings (see below) sold for upwards of $100 million (Mona Lisa is not for sale, but estimates put her in the same ball park). To be fair though, I very much appreciate every aspect of Mona Lisa's style -- it's simply the popularity of the subject matter that continues to elude me. Suffice it to say that "beauty [truly] is in the eye of the beholder". Regardless, art makes me think...even if you don't like an artist's work, I am forced to think about why. 

Right: Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (Italian Renaissance) in 1506, No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock (Abstract Expressionism) in 1948, Woman III by Willem de Kooning (Abstract Expressionism) in 1953, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt (Austrian Symbolism) in 1907, Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh (German Expressionism) in 1890, Irises by Vincent van Gogh in 1889, Dora Maar au Chat by Pablo Picasso (Cubism) in 1941.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

   No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock   Woman III by Willem de Kooning   Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt  Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh  Irises by Vincent van Gogh Dora Maar au Chat by Pablo Picasso