Travel in Your Own Backyard – National Gallery of Art

Now, one of the things I look forward to most in Europe is the various museums.  It seems like every city has a ludicrous amount of museums, some as recognizable as the Louvre, others as obscure as the torture museum in Amsterdam, and still more that are as specialized as the Hergé Museum in Belgium.

Part of living in DC right now and writing about “Traveling in Your Own Backyard” involves going to all of the museums.  It’s good preparation for Europe!  I don’t really get art.  I get film.  I get theatre.  I get music.  I get books.  But I don’t really get art.  I’m impressed by it, but I don’t really understand it.  Maybe it’s because I can’t do it.

Anyways, there are so many museums in the DC area, so recently I have been able to venture over to the National Gallery of Art.  Needless to say, the collection is crazy extensive!  I felt a little lost wandering aimlessly through the endless halls and corridors of art.  I noticed that I gravitate more towards the ancient artifacts from Greece, Rome, Byzantine, etc. than the actual art pieces.

Eventually I did make my way to the art, but I realized that I had no base knowledge by which to appreciate or judge the art I was seeing.  I saw some great paintings and art pieces but I decided that in order to look intelligent, I needed to do some research.  Now I can’t provide an extensive list, but I can give you some basics to know about a few famous artists.

So, here are some artists you may want to be familiar with, in no particular order (so you look like you kind of know what you’re talking about!):

Édouard Manet – French impressionist. 19th century. Often known for his depictions of Paris street life, but this is not always the case in his paintings.  Lots of his paintings incorporate dark colors and shadowing.  This is one of my favorites from the DC gallery, The Dead Bullfighter.

Claude Monet – French impressionist. Late 19th century, early 20th century. I can not stress this enough, DO NOT CONFUSE MANET AND MONET… THEY ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE AND YOU WILL LOOK FOOLISH. Monet is known much more for landscapes that are very detailed but soft.  Here is one of Sainte-Adresse in Northern Normandy, France (also from the DC gallery).

Edgar Degas -French Impressionist.  19th Century.  The important thing to remember is Ballet Dancers.  If it is a 19th century ballet dancer, odds are its Degas.

Vincent Van Gogh – Dutch Post-Impressionist (I should probably say that I have no idea what impressionism, post impressionism, or anything else actually means… just sounds great if you know it!  It’s all a facade!). 19th Century. Van Gogh is actually easy to recognize (comparatively) as long as you a few of his works.  He is liberal in his use of crazy and bright colors with swirls and not-straight lines.  This is because he regularly was battling insanity and only had brief moments of lucidity.  Obviously his best known work is Starry Night.  He also has a plethora of self portraits… this one is from the DC gallery.

Paul Cézanne – French post-impressionist. 19th century. Short brush strokes.  Simple, yet complex.  Really a difficult one to describe.  Some say that he bridged the gap between impressionism and cubism (but that means very little to me!). This was one I really liked in DC, unfortunately it got a bit cutoff.

Rembrandt – Dutch, Baroque. 17th century. Generally considered among the greatest painters of all time.  His detail is amazing!  Lots of portraits as well as in action scenes.  Here is one to give you a taste, but considering he is among the best, you might want a passing familiarity.

Salvador Dalí – Spanish surrealist. 20th century.  The first thing i now think of when I think of Dali is Adrien Brody’s portrayal in Midnight in Paris.  His most famous work is The Persistence of Memory, otherwise known as the “melting clocks”.  Since I don’t think the copy right is public domain, you’ll have to click the link to Wikipedia to see the painting!  Worth the click, believe me.

Pablo Picasso – Spanish cubist.  20th century. He is well known as the “guy who put peoples faces together weird”.  But his works are vast and interesting.  My favorite Picasso is a simple sketch he did of Don Quixote (also not yet public domain). It has been the background of my phone for a couple of years now.  Picasso also has a very memorable role in Midnight in Paris.  I literally can’t rave enough about that movie.

Andy Warhol – American pop art.  One of the best known American artists.  Warhol is one of my favorites, you may have seen his Campbell’s Soup Painting. After looking at the style for a couple of paintings, you will have no problem identifying Warhol.

Michelangelo – Italian Renaissance. 15th/16th centuries. His two most notable works are the David sculpture and the Sistine Chapel.  This should be common knowledge from studying the Renaissance in grade school, but if it’s not, remember it!

Leonardo da Vinci – Italian Renaissance.  Saved the master for last.  Obviously da Vinci is well known for everything from his sleep pattern, to advances in math and science, to painting.  He is the definition of the Renaissance man. Known best for the Mona Lisa, the Vitruvian Man, and the Last Supper.

What are some of your favorite artists?

What else is a good starting point for learning about art?

Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Also, check out more posts about Museums in DC and Traveling in Your Own Backyard!

8 Responses to “Travel in Your Own Backyard – National Gallery of Art”
  1. David Marcenaro says:

    First of all, its the National Gallery of Art, not National Art Museum. Secondly, Manet’s painting is “The Dead Toreador”. Also, why include Da Vinci without showing Ginevra De Benci, which is the ONLY Da Vinci painting in the Western Hemisphere, and as far as I know, the only one outside of Europe in general.

    • Thanks, I miss typed the name of the gallery… too many museums in such a short time.
      Unless Manet named his paintings in English, I assumed it an incomplete translation. I’ve seen titles of Toter Torero attributed to the same painting (i.e. here or here it also gives the full title as the dead bullfighter, which would be the english name. Assuming most people don’t know what a toreador is, I found it useful to translate. though i admit, i very may be wrong. I do not pretend to be an art connoisseur.
      Also, if I had known Ginevra De Benci was in DC I would have seen, and in fact I may have since there are so many paintings that I had to quickly look over and move on for time’s sake. However, just because it is geographically close does not necessitate inclusion in a brief overview of the artists. People don’t think about da Vinci as “the guy that painted Ginevra De Benci”… if we are looking at an in depth study of his works, sure, but to have a passing familiarity, there are so many other works that demand have precedent over de benci.

  2. I enjoyed your article! I’m not an art expert myself, but I especially like paintings that depict great moments in history. This is one of my favourite’s; Benjamin West’s: The Death of General Wolfe (Detail), 1770 from the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. I like the Degas and the Rembrandt most. Thanks for the art refresher!

  3. tchistorygal says:

    I enjoyed your descriptions of the art and the artists. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. You now know a lot more about artists than you would have if you had been listening to a lecture as you toured around the museum – whatever it’s name is. hahaha

  4. theladytea says:

    Lid your post very much. Thanks for stopping by Ironman 2012.

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