London: The National Gallery

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The National Gallery

One of the great things about London is that the museums are free to the public (althought you do have to pay to enter any special exhibitions). We had a few hours to kill before our train, so we headed to The National Gallery, “the story of European art, masterpiece by masterpiece”.

The National Gallery is located in Trafalgar Square, within walking distance from other sites like Westminster and the London Eye. The Gallery is huge and houses more than 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900!

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Inside

 

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“Madame Matisse in a Kimono”, André Derain 1905. Derain spent the summer of 1905 at Collioure, a French seaside town near the Spanish border, working side-by-side with his friend Henri Matisse. Both artists painted Madame Matisse wearing this brilliant Japanese robe. Derain was a leader among the Fauve painters, notorious at the time for their experiments in painting with intense, unmixed colors.

 

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“Portrait of Bibi la Purée”, Pablo Picasso 1901. Twenty-year-old Picasso returned to Paris in 1901. Excited by the city’s vibrant art scene and flamboyant characters, he painted with explosive new conviction. This portrait shows a well-known eccentric from bohemian Monmartre, a former actor, inveterate absinthe drinker and sometime private secretary to the poet Paul Verlaine. Painted in broad, gestural strokes and harsh colors, it captures Bibi’s grotesque energy.

 

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“Portrait of Greta Moll”, Henri Matisse 1908. Margareta (Greta) Moll (1884-1977) was a sculptor and painter. She and her husband, Oskar, were students at Matisse’s Academy and eventually acquired an important group of his works. Greta posed over a period of ten days although Matisse reworked the picture after seeing a portrait by Veronese in the Louvre.

 

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“The Water-Lily Pond”, Claude-Oscar Monet 1899. For more than 30 years at the end of his life, Monet found the subject matter for his art in the gardens at his home in Giverny. The water-lily pond there and the Japanese bridge he constructed across it were the principal motifs in a group of 17 paintings he began in 1899, including this work.

 

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“Irises”, Claude Monet about 1914-17. Monet painted a number of views of the irises which grew along the winding path near the water-lily pond in his garden at Giverny. Here he is looking down on his subject, perhaps from the Japanese bridge.

 

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“The Avenue at the Jas de Bouffan”, Paul Cézanne around 1871. Alternating strips of light and dark green paint show sunlight playing on the trees late one summer afternoon. The view has been cropped at the top to give the painting an impression of depth, despite its small size. The avenue of chestnut trees at Cézanne’s father’s country house was one of the artist’s favorite motifs.

 

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“Portrait of Cézanne”, Camille Pissarro 1874. This portrait testifies to the friendship between Pissarro and Cézanne, who often painted together at Pontoise during the 1870s. The caricature on the left, by André Gill, represents the salvation of France after the Franco-Prussian War; that on the right, by Léonce Petit, shows the painter Courbet proposing a toast, seemingly directed at Cézanne. Below it is a Pissarro lanscape.

 

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“Still Life with Water Jug”, Paul Cézanne about 1892-3. This unfinished work belongs to a series of still lifes made by Cézanne in the late 1880s and early 1890s in which he depicted plates and fruit on a table placed parallel with the picture plane. The tall blue water jug appears in all these paintings. It was a favorite object of Cézanne’s.

 

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“Portrait of Hermine Gallia”, Gustav Klimt 1904. The great Viennese painter found a steady clientele for his portraits among the city’s most elegant and enlightened patronesses. Klimt designed the dress Hermine Gallia wears, and the canvas as a whole echoes its subtle colors and rich decorative vocabulary.

 

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“Woman seated in a Garden”, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 1891. The sitter, seen in strict profile, is said to be the dancer Gabrielle, who appears in other paintings by the artist. She is seated in a garden in Montmartre, then a bohemian quarter in the north of Paris.

 

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“Ballet Dancers”, Edgar Degas about 1890-1900. The ballet and ballet dancers, either in rehearsal, as here, or in performance, were lifelong obsessions for Degas. In this unfinished work, the canvas is unusually coarse but its open weave complements the artist’s broad handling of paint.

 

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“Combing the Hair (‘La Coiffure’)”, Edgar Degas about 1896. The picture’s unfinished appearance and striking orange-red coloration are characteristic of the artist’s large-scale late paintings which influenced vanguard artists of the 20th centure. Indeed, this picture was owned by Matisse.

 

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“Van Gogh’s Chair”, Vincent van Gogh 1888. A simple yellow chair stands on an earthernware floor, contrasting with the blue door and wall. The artist’s tobacco and pipe have been placed haphazardly on the chair. Behind, some sprouting onions peek out of a box. Van Gogh meant this simple composition of everyday objects to represent his direct and plain-speaking character.

 

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“Two Crabs”, Vincent van Gogh 1889. After his release from hospital in Arles in January 1889, Van Gogh embarked on a series of still lifes, including crab studies. This painting may show the same crab upright and on its back. Parallel strokes sculpt the creature’s form on an exuberant sea-like surface.

 

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“Sunflowers”, Vincent van Gogh 1888. Van Gogh associated the color yellow with hope and friendship. He suggested that his four Sunflowers canvases, painted to decorate his house in Arles, express an ‘idea symbolising gratitude’. He seems to have been especially pleased with this picture, which he hung in the guest bedroom in anticipation of the arrival of his friend, the artist Paul Gauguin.

 

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“A Wheatfield, with Cypresses”, Vincent van Gogh 1889. Cypress trees reminded Van Gogh o ‘Egyptian obelisks’. These dark trees were in a wheatfield close to the St-Rémy mental asylum near Arles where the artist spent a year as a patient. They stand straight and tall in the middle of the wheat, and make a strong and deliberate contrast with the receding horizontal bands of the yellow field, blue hills and sky.

 

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“Bathers at Asnières”, Georges Seurat 1884. Asnières is a suburb of Paris. On the right is the island of the Grande Jatte and in the distance, the factories of Clichy. Seurat reworked parts of the picture, such as the hat of the boy on the right, probably in 1886 after he had invented the technique of using dots of contrasting cololr to create a vibrant, luminous effect. The work is based on numerous preparatory drawings and oil studies.

 

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“Corner of a Café-Concert”, Edouard Manet probably 1878-80. This work was originally the right half of a painting of the Brasserie de Reichshoffen in Paris, begun in about 1878 and cut in two by Manet before he completed it. A join where a new piece of canvas was added can be seen here in the man’s blue smock. Manet subsequently repainted the background, adding the dancer, musicians and, on the left, a conductor’s baton.

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