“Art is an adventure that never ends.”
This is my favorite quote and one that I truly believe in too. For me, art is a never ending journey, exploring unchartered territories and seeking out new levels of creativity. There’s so much to explore and so much more to learn every step of the way that I can’t help but wandering off.
The best way to experience such exquisite artistic pleasures is to scout for them wherever you go. And that’s exactly what I did while on my holiday in the UK. I came across many unconventional works of art, some of which I shared with you all in the first part of this post. But as I had mentioned earlier, that was just the tip of the iceberg! There’s so much more to traverse through in this colossal glacier of visual aesthetics.
So let me navigate you through one of the most iconic art adventures of my life, the wonderful hallways of the National Art Gallery in London. This historical museum is so monumental in size that it deserves a blog post of its own so this one is dedicated solely to it.
National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery houses one of the finest collections of paintings in the world. It is home to over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900, including artworks of masters like Monet, Van Gogh and plenty more. Being in London, it was a golden opportunity for me to see all the original masterpieces with my own eyes, so I grabbed it instantly and made the most of it!
I began with Claude Monet, a leading French Impressionist landscape painter. Two of his paintings that appealed to me, among others were The Thames below Westminster and Bathers at La Grenouillere. Monet was more interested in broad effects than details and displayed fleeting visual effects or impressions of his subjects.
Next I came across a painting titled Still Life with Apples and Pomegranate by Gustave Courbet, a French realist painter. Courbet’s use of line and of light and shade to emphasize the color and shapes of the apples is a traditional feature of realism. The vibrant color palette which almost made the fruits come to life was immensely captivating for me.
Another French painter, Antione Berjon’s famous work Still Life with Flowers called out to me merely because of the casual arrangement of the basket and precisely textured peaches and petals, with the orange nasturtium ready to fall , thus giving a sense of movement to this still life.
The next artwork that caught my attention was Susanna at her Bath by Fransesco Hayez, the leading artist of mid-19th-century Milan. This painting combines two of his favorite subject matters – an Old Testament story and a voluptuous female nude. I was greatly impressed by the beautifully brought out form of the female body and her facial expression.
Another captivating composition for me was a newly acquired French piece titled The Sky at Sunrise. The glowing sky is set between dark hills and threatening storm clouds, the strip of dense grey clouds at the top echoing the blue silhouette of land at the bottom. Distinctive jigsaw-shaped clouds are depicted in layers white hovering over grey, blue sky beyond fading to rose and peach at the horizon.
I have always been particularly enamored by artworks that have a mysterious element associated with them. One such work of art that appealed to me was Archway on the Palatine by Frederic, Lord Leighton. For me on a personal level, the element of mystery lies in the question what lies beyond this archway, which is what, fascinated me the most about this artwork.
And then I came across one of my favorite artists (I’m sure of most of you as well!)….none other than Vincent Van Gogh. Do you know that his first major accomplishment as an artist was one titled Head of a Peasant Woman? Depicted here is a young woman with large dark eyes and an evenly lit face that is broad and open.
Next to this one was Van Gogh’s Chair. This painting of a simple and functional chair with his pipe and tobacco on it and placed on a bare floor of terracotta tiles is one of Van Gogh’s most iconic images.
The third in the Van Gogh collection is Long Grass with Butterflies. Van Gogh painted this in the gardens of the asylum where he noted, ‘the grass grows tall and unkempt.’ The grass is painted with distinct brushstrokes of varying length.
Other iconic Van Gogh paintings that I had the good fortune of viewing were Sunflowers – that shows his signature expressive style, A Wheatfield, with Cypresses – a group of dark trees in the middle of bright yellow bands of wheat, contrasting with blue hills and sky and last but not the least, Two Crabs – a painting in which the artist has used parallel brushstrokes to sculpt the creature’s form on an exuberant sea-like surface.
Then I stumbled upon the great Pablo Picasso and my excitement knew no bounds! I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a totally different side of the artist in a painting titled Motherhood (La Maternite). Apparently, he explored afresh the subject of Madonna and child in this painting.
A tiger crouching in the shadow of thick jungle foliage, it’s back arched and teeth bared….is it in recoil from the flash of lightning, or is it waiting to ambush its prey? These are the questions that aroused my curiosity when I saw the next painting titled “Surprised!” by Henri Rousseau. The foliage is a mix of domestic house plants and tropical varieties, which he had seen at the Botanical Gardens in Paris.
The next painting was quite interesting as it reminded me of pointilism, a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image. This was The Channel of Gravelines, Grand Fort-Philippe by Georges Seurat. He covered the canvas with a shimmering mosaic of dots and strokes of unblended paint to create subtle gradations of luminous tone. He also added a painted border of colored dots.
Inspired by Seurat’s new and startling pointillist painting technique, Belgian artist Théo van Rysselberghe created a composition he called Coastal Scene. This cool, elegant painting explores the quality of light on water. The clouds are hardly reflected in the water: it seems as if the light has slipped under them to illuminate the vast, still stretch of almost tideless sea.
The next painting made my heart leap with joy as it reminded me of my all time favorite artist Leonid Afremov. This piece, called The Boulevard Montmartre at Night was painted by Camille Pissarro. Pissarro was especially fascinated by the different types of artificial light, which are reflected on the wet pavements. Pissarro applied the paint as a patchwork of abstract dashes and daubs. I felt Afremov‘s scenes are quite similar to Pissaro’s, in terms of the artificial lighting of the street lamps and reflections on wet paths.
And then came the Self Portrait of Paul Cezanne, for whom Matisse and Picasso are said to have remarked that he “is the father of us all”. Cézanne stares at us calmly and dispassionately, his face devoid of overt expression. The wallpaper he poses before is not merely a decorative backdrop, but has an important structural role in the composition.
I also saw one of the most dramatic paintings I have ever seen. It’s called An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright ‘of Derby.’ The painting depicts a lecturer demonstrating the creation of a vacuum to a family. A white cockatoo is imprisoned in a glass flask from which the air is being extracted by a pump. Wright focuses on the viewers‘varied reactions – from the girl unable to watch to the lovers with eyes only for each other. It was this wonderful display of expressions and emotions that I found most fascinating about the artwork.
Another painting added to my list was Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds by John Constable. This depicts a memorial to the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds built by Sir George Beaumont situated at the end of an avenue of lime trees, flanked by busts of Michelangelo and Raphael in front. Constable’s introduction of a startled stag in the picture gives a sense of the wildness to the setting, and according to me further adds to mystical quality of the artwork.
When it comes to self portraits, I am quite the fan. So the Self Portrait of Rembrandt at the Age of 34 was a visual treat for me. The wall or parapet at the bottom of the painting deepens the perspective, making it seem less like a flat picture and more like a window onto reality. The way that Rembrandt’s elbow and the swirl of his cloak extend forwards over the wall creates the illusion that they share the same space as the viewer.
Rembrandt’s second Self Portrait at the Age of 63 just made my day. In this one, Rembrandt is preoccupied with depicting the textures and colors of his own ageing face. The sagging fold beneath his right eye is made with the swirl of a heavily loaded brush. The blemishes on his forehead are formed of blotches of coagulated paint.
Then I saw a painting with a painting within. This was Johannes Vermeer’s A Young Woman standing at a Virginal. In most of his paintings, including this one, he seems to invite us to question the virtue or diligence of the women concerned, but then rarely gives us enough clues to help us come to a firm conclusion. The small landscape on the wall of the painting is what I am referring to when I mention painting within a painting.
I had the singular pleasure of viewing perhaps one of the most famous and intriguing paintings in the world, The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck. This portrait probably shows Giovani Arnolfini, a wealthy Italian merchant and his wife. Arnolfini’s hand is raised, apparently in greeting. On the back wall, a large convex mirror reflects two figures in the doorway, one of whom also raises his arm. Could the man in mirror be van Eyck himself, with his servant, coming on a visit?
As I walked from one room to the other in the gallery, I noticed that there were these tiny easels placed here and there with unfinished or partially done paintings on them. Soon it dawned upon me that these were works of present day aspiring artists who would come there to try their hands on sketching and painting the famous masterpieces. What a cool idea! If only I had the time, I would have set up my own art supplies there and done the same!
But I must say, in half a day I managed to cover a whole lot of artists at the National Gallery and that too with my dear husband patiently by my side, going through each and every painting with me without making a sound! To be honest, we didn’t have enough time left to be able to cover each and every section of the museum and moreover I had seen almost everything I wanted to see, so I went home happy and enlightened. I just loved the National Art Gallery…it was a perfect day for to me!
If you remember, in the first part of this post, I had mentioned that I would cover the remainder of my art related travels in the second part but now I realize I will have to do a part 3 (possibly even a part 4, the grand finale or showstopper of the series!) to do justice to them all. So keep following this space until next week!
DISCLAIMER – All the information, data and imagery in this blog post is for informational and educational purpose only. While there may be copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner, I have only made it available with the sole effort to stimulate artistic progress and enrichment.Most of the photos included in this post are my personal copies which I clicked during my trip to the UK. However, some images may have been taken from the links included below and I give full credit to these websites/pages, thereby in no way claiming them to be my own. I have also used these links for reference purposes and collection of data for this post, therefore I give full credit to the respective web pages for their data. Most of the data in this post is based on my personal experiences and opinions and I am not responsible for any material that is found in the links at the end of this post.
Sources and Credits – https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/