February 26, 2018

National Gallery of Art - Eastern Wing

I recently got to visit the National Gallery of Art - Eastern Wing. Yes, I know I live here, but it had been a while. 

The East Wing is the modern wing and it's my fave! Containing works from about the 1860s - 1970s, its ever-changing galleries often display the Post-Impressionists, Fauvists, Pop art, Expressionists, Color Field Painting, and even some more contemporary special exhibits.

I was really excited to see the French Collection of the 19th and 20th century, the Fauvists, and some pop art (because it's just fun). 

Here are some of my favorite pieces 
(fair warning: I am not an art historian, these are merely my impressions and observations):

 Edouard Vuillard, The Yellow Curtain, 1893

My main takeaway from this piece is that I'm not that interested in the yellow curtain - I'm obsessed with that floral curtain behind it! I'm not sure if he titled the piece ironically or what, but I can definitely see how his focus on the decorative elements may have influenced Matisse and his contemporaries (he was only a year older than Matisse, but he began his art study & career much earlier). 

Henri Matisse, Open Window, Collioure, 1905

Ah, Fauvism. I love the planes of color in this piece, and the color in general. It's so fresh and bright; I could stare at this painting for hours. 

Raoul Dufy, Beach at Sainte-Adresse, 1906

This was in Dufy's true Fauvist stage. His use of outlines here is interesting - they almost seems like they are radiating off the figures. He became know for this 3-plane dissection of his canvases with the distinct foregound, middle ground (water), and background (sky). I think my favorite part of this piece is how he addressed the foreground with the insertion of that bright orange and faded red in the very front. 

 Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Dance Hall Bellevue, 1910

The final Fauvist piece I will talk about is this building-scape by Kirchner. A mundane subject made interesting by his color usage. It's almost aggressive color, but the pale periwinkle road in front helps soften the piece. I am in love with the pink sidewalk. What did he love about this building? Clearly it was special to him somehow... 

Henri Matisse, Pot of Geraniums, 1912

Matisse loved geraniums and returned to the subject many times in his career. In this painting, I love his use of color (that pop of turquoise right in front!), the strong cast shadow from the pot, and how you can see the beginning of his flattening of the objects in the background. His color useage is slightly more realistic than his high-Fauvist period, but it's still lovely and intense. The pots at the top of the painting really serve as more of a repeating pattern than a level of realism and depth. Wallpaper would almost have the same effect. 

Henri Matisse, Still Life with Apples, 1924

THAT. PINK. And just a tiiiiny lime on top to help give it that extra umph. Here we see him fully embrace the wallpaper-style decorative background. In fact, it almost has as much movement as the cloth on the table. Lingering question: why did he stop the wallpaper pattern on the bottom left side? 

Raoul Dufy, Regatta at Cowes, 1934

This piece by Dufy was amazing in person. It was the brightest thing in the room. You can feel the choppiness of the water and the cloudy sky. I love how some of the waves on the water have been abstracted so much as to be triangles. I am also noticing how much purple is in this piece... I would call it a daring choice. 

Henri Matisse, Woman Seated in an Armchair, 1940

Here we see Matisse's further foray into abstraction. His flat color planes and decorative lines on the floor that hint at a herringbone design (but are wildly out of perspective) and the funky-shaped flowers in the vase foreshadow his late-life abstract collage pieces. 
I love this room with the "bonus art" on the walls (akin to his Red Studio from 1911). This piece also contains the most black of any piece of his thus far - an interesting choice for the former Fauvist. 

Wayne Theibaud, Cakes, 1962

Has any piece of art ever made your mouth water more? I think that chocolate-frosted cake on the middle right would be the one that I'd sneak a taste of first. Yum. The minty foreground is just lovely, I love the slightly angled elliptical cast shadows, and how that bottom left shadow makes you wonder "but what cake did he leave off frame?!" 

Cakes, detail

Yup, I took a close-up shot. Pretty sure the white frosting details on that pink cake were squeezed right out of the tube. I also sense some Fauvist influence here. His multi-colored outlines among all the white remind me of that Kirchner piece, no? 

Graham Nixon, Bather with Outstretched Arms, 1980-1981

This painting done in 5 panels almost shocks the eyes with the purple. This piece is located in a hallway by the elevators and it drew me in from across the entire floor. There is a lot of movement in his linework, even in the "solid" panels at the top, and that pop of chartreuse at the bottom is just enough to make a statement among the violet. I don't even care about the figure, other than the color and strong diagonal she adds. It's really a statement on color and line. The portrait part seems secondary (just like in Vuillard's piece above).

Now I could make some remarks on how all these artists are men, but suffice to say: 
1. There is definitely under-representation of women artists in most museums. That is a fact.
 2. Yes, women were painting in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but most art schools were not co-ed, and women simply weren't taken seriously (though it's not for their lack of skill); and in the Victorian era, it was "improper" for women to paint anything other than domestic scenes. Insert eyeroll here.
3. This doesn't lessen the works by men depicted here - I still find them inspiring.
4. If you want to hear more about women in the arts (and I hope you do) go here and here
Edited to add: check out this book! 

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