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Post #542 • May 19, 2005, 3:26 PM • 27 Comments

Despite generally not playing along with various list memes in the artblogosphere, I'll make an exception for this one.

Favorite painting in America: the Ginevra de' Benci by Leonardo in the National Gallery of Art in D.C. I visited the NGA for the first time last year and this little jewel has stayed in my head ever since. As I learned from the Rijksmuseum, you can't put excellent paintings (Hals) next to superlative ones (Rembrandt) because the latter will make the former look like trifles. The Ginevra, all of 15 inches wide, occupies its own column in the center of a small gallery of Italian Renaissance paintings so that nothing else gets upstaged. It has details and modulations of surface that reward close examination, and graphic punch that can land on you from thirty feet back. Despite the Leonardo realism, it has a touch of geometric idealization that would have pleased Piero.

Favorite American painting: Brush and Comb by David Park, for which the scan below will have to suffice. Fairfield Porter once praised of Vuillard, "What he's doing seems ordinary, but the extraordinary is everywhere." This painting exemplifies that perfectly - Park has infused it with Himalayan grandeur while transforming brown into gold.

Comment

1.

oldpro

May 20, 2005, 12:04 AM

Two dynamite pictures, for sure. I was not familiar with the Park. It gave me a real start when I looked at it. I said to myself "oooh, what's that!" A nice treat at the end of a hard day.

the Rembrand/Hals conjunction actually happens in place and in numbers at the Met. Hals is a wonderful painter, but the Rembrandts just take him apart. I have gone there any number of times with friends just to walk back and forth and jive on it, because it makes the whole stupid "quality" debate dissolve into pure visual sensation.

2.

J.T. Kirkland

May 20, 2005, 12:46 AM

Wow... that Leonardo is truly spectacular. And I usually don't go for the Old Masters often. But this one has something very special about it.

As for the Park... doesn't do anything for me. But hey, that wasn't the question, was it?!

Thanks for putting me on the Leonardo though. I must now go find it since it sits just down the street from where I live.

3.

Luisa

May 20, 2005, 1:00 AM

What a coincidence, Franklin....my favorite painting in the USA is in the National Gallery too. It is a very small painting called Girl with a Red Hat by Vermeer. I remember that the first time I saw it I was the only one in the room. I was looking and admiring it for more than 20 minutes until a security came and asked me: "is there something wrong"?

4.

that guy

May 20, 2005, 1:25 AM

Good choices Franklin. Think that woman by Da Vinci could use that comb on her bangs however. David Park is one of the most underrated artists in America.

5.

Hovig

May 20, 2005, 2:00 AM

Good pick with the Leonardo. I remember thinking it was like a jewel (the thought is still vivid after like ten years or something). I think you're right that its intelligent and accessible display complements it. Too bad about the Park image, but I can tell this is a work whose golden surface needs to be seen.

Sorry to deviate from Tyler's script, but after some thought, I think my favorite painting in America is -- and I mean this sincerely -- a painting by an artist here in Houston, which greets me every day with unconditional happiness. I may not know anyone in the Sotheby's set or the Christie's crowd, but I think I'm beginning to understand their feeling. Possession may well be nine-tenths of enjoyment.

6.

that guy

May 20, 2005, 2:40 AM

I know that feeling that Da Vinci can offer up. I had the good fourtune to see Lady with an Ermine a few years back in Cracow Poland. Here is a blunder of a jpeg. A real zinger.

7.

George

May 20, 2005, 3:26 PM

Curious, I spent yesterday afternoon at the Met making a first pass through the Max Ernst Retrospective This was one of those exhibitions where I was finally able to see firsthand works I had only seen as reproductions. I have always had an interest in Ernst's work, particularily the early surrealist collages. He excelled with the smaller works but most of the larger paintings fail to captivate me. Still, it is a show worth seeing, up through July 10, 2005.

My friend wanted to look at the Rembrants, there are roughly two dozen at the Met and I wanted to look through the Lehman Collection again. We split the time with a coffee inbetween.

I am not sure I would ever want to pick a number 1 painting but today it was...
In the Lehman Collection at the Met, there is an absolutely marvelous painting by Giovanni di Paolo The Creation and the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise It was painted 560 years ago, in 1445, I'll leave it at that.

Finally, in the Modern wing there was a pairing of paintings... the large Jasper Johns "White Flag on the left wall and a DeKooning on the right wall. Unfortunately I didn't write town the title or date of the DeKooning, I thought it would be on the web, but it wasn't. I like both artists and I've always been a fan of Johns, both my friend and I agreed the DeKooning made "White Flag" a little paler. It's a stout painting.

There are museums all over the US and then there is the Met.

8.

Hovig

May 20, 2005, 4:17 PM

Guy - I saw that work when it toured to Houston as the star of an exhibit of Polish works [see a more detailed and "zoomable" image of the Leonardo here]. It was a good exhibit for a number of reasons. Care to share any of your stories from the Poland trip?

9.

Hovig

May 20, 2005, 4:18 PM

[*] Exhibit link here.

10.

edwin

May 20, 2005, 4:25 PM

"It has details and modulations of surface that reward close examination, and graphic punch that can land on you from thirty feet back. Despite the Leonardo realism, it has a touch of geometric idealization that would have pleased Piero."

thank you Franklin

11.

that guy

May 20, 2005, 5:43 PM

It was a while back Hovig. Mostly backpacking and staying at hostels. Cracow is a great little town. They said at the museum that this painting often travels, to make money for their wanting facilities, so I was lucky to see it when I did.

Franklin: will there be a do it your self round up today? I'll post the info anyway here for now: Phillip Spence's Thesis show which is a must see. One night only, tonight at the CAS gallery across from the Lowe Art Museum. 7-10. I think Phillip has turned a corner with his work and it should get a full write up next week if possible. Thanks

12.

George

May 20, 2005, 6:07 PM

I found a link to the De Kooning I mentioned in #7
A reasonable size version here and a 1069x1400 pixel blowup here The colors look a tad on the yellowish side

13.

Jack

May 20, 2005, 6:22 PM

The Leonardo looks like Ingres, only with a more steely emphasis on line and less on flesh, as well as a more penetrating or intellectual rigor. Despite the stylized rendering of the face, the subject is clearly alive and has formidable presence. A classic example of a more or less ordinary person being immortalized by a great artist.

14.

oldpro

May 20, 2005, 6:51 PM

I'm waiting for someone to say that the Leonardo looks like a John Currin.

Hovig, what did you mean by "Too bad about the Park image.." above?

George, thanks for the Dekooning. I didn't know the painting and it is always good to see something new. I'm not wild about it; it looks to be from the time his work was going downhill, right after the "women", around 1954 or '55. He was still painting virorously then but seemed to have lost the ability to put a picture together.

15.

oldpro

May 20, 2005, 7:02 PM

I should add that though i may not be 100% about the Dekooning is it indeed a "stout picture", as you said,and I would expect that it would knock the Johns Flag right off the wall.

16.

Jack

May 20, 2005, 7:19 PM

Da Vinci was 22 when he painted Ginevra, and she was about 16. It's obviously not a mature work, which can account for a certain harshness or stiffness that would later be replaced by exquisitely subtle modeling (although still underpinned by a superb grasp of line, which was a hallmark of Florentine painting in general).

As for Currin, Oldpro, he never entered my mind till you mentioned him. There is, obviouysly, no real reason for him to do so in this context.

17.

Germain

May 20, 2005, 7:32 PM

Old Pro:
The currin connection or lack thereof occured to me while reading this thread as well; except for the obvious and tenuous technical links, there is nothing else that unites the two. Sincerity, purity of purpose and execution, and the braveness to tell the truth will always outdo clever posturing and mere painterly skill.

18.

Germain

May 20, 2005, 7:32 PM

Old Pro:
The currin connection or lack thereof occured to me while reading this thread as well; except for the obvious and tenuous technical links, there is nothing else that unites the two. Sincerity, purity of purpose and execution, and the braveness to tell the truth will always outdo clever posturing and mere painterly skill.

19.

George

May 20, 2005, 7:47 PM

I found this site with a virtual trove of images but it is in german...
DeKoonings
01 to 41
and another pagefull...
01 to 15

Change the 01b to 01a to get the big pictures.

The particular DeKooning at the Met is much better than the image. The surface is extreamly agressive visually and physically.

20.

oldpro

May 20, 2005, 7:47 PM

I know, I know. it is always interesting to compare superficially similar pictures (eg the Rembrandt/Hals, above) to make it clear that it is not the subject matter that makes the picture, it is how the picture is painted.

21.

oldpro

May 20, 2005, 7:53 PM

That's great, George. Thanks.

The Met Dekooning, like these also, is better when you download it and run it through Auto Levels in Photoshop. These pics seem to have lost something getting up on the web, but what a nice study collection.

22.

Jack

May 20, 2005, 8:04 PM

Going purely by reproductons on the web, which is certainly not entirely reliable, the Met de Kooning in question is clearly more impressive than the Johns, which seems relatively fussy, calculated and self-conscious.

23.

George

May 20, 2005, 8:53 PM

Here's the link to Jasper Johns "White Flag" at the Met.

It's a damn fine painting and I wouldn't characterize it as "fussy" or "self conscious". It has an image, at least as a sacffolding for the painting/collage, so one would expect a bit more deliberate placement of the marks.

The De Kooning is an entirely different beast. It is a great example for the label "action painting" If you look how it's painted, you can just imagine him sitting there, waiting like a coiled spring, when bamn! he fires off the marks like a cannon.
Remember the old rule, don't make the four corners the same and never swordfight with an action painter while he's drunk ;-)

24.

oldpro

May 20, 2005, 10:12 PM

George, one might describe it differently, but the Johns really is inert. If I were a curator I would never put it next to a bully like that Dekooning. It couldn't survive.

A Johns paintings is better seen in isolation, on the page of a book, surrounded by words.

25.

George

May 20, 2005, 11:45 PM

The layout at the Met
Left to right with the Johns on a short wall right angles to the rest.
Jasper Johns, Willem DeKooning, Phillip Guston, Joan Mitchell, Franz Kline

I wouldn't call Johns' inert but "white Flag" is very low contrast compared to the other four.

26.

Carolyn

May 21, 2005, 4:15 AM

Good choice on the David Park, Brush and Comb would be up there as one of my picks too!

27.

Hovig

May 22, 2005, 1:19 AM

Oldpro - I was responding to Franklin's apology for "the scan below" in his original post. This painting seems to be sensitive to conditions of reproduction, and I'd love to see its golden surface by eye.

Jack - I'd compare the Leonardo to Raphael's La Fornarina, which I had the extremely good fortune to view recently, and which made me almost faint from its exceptional quality.

P.S. The Boston MFA was mediocre as usual. At least I spent some time walking and talking w/Dad. The Ralph Lauren car exhibit was the best part. (I enjoyed it sincerely; those classic European sheet-metal racing creations were quite lovely). The impressionist room is okay as always, and there are some masterpieces here and there, but not only are they few and far between, but I wonder if they're worried someone would die if they got themselves a decent 20th-c work or two.

P.P.S. Franklin - Your "favorite" Sargent painting says Hi.

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