A Woman Seated Beside a Vase of Flowers (Madame Paul Valpinçon?)
Edgar Degas French, 1865 (Sixth painting down from top on Home Page)
The juxtaposition of the prominent bouquet and the off-center figure, gazing distractedly to the right, exemplifies Degas’s aim of capturing individuals in seemingly casual, slice-of-life views. The sitter is probably the wife of the artist’s schoolboy friend Paul Valpinçon; Degas immensely enjoyed outings to their country house, Ménil-Hubert, and the dahlias, asters, and gaillardias in the bouquet would suggest a late summer visit. The painting was preceded by a pencil drawing of the woman, also dated 1865 (Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Mass.).
Jalais Hill, Pontoise
Camille Pissarro French,1867 (Fourth painting down from top of Home Page.)
This view of Pontoise, just northwest of Paris, helped establish Pissarro’s reputation as an innovative painter of the rural French landscape. The critic Émile Zola praised the picture enthusiastically when it was shown along with another rustic scene at the Salon of 1868, writing, “This is the modern countryside. One feels that man has passed by, turning and cutting the earth. . . . And this little valley, this hill have a heroic simplicity and forthrightness. Nothing would be more banal were it not so grand. From ordinary reality the painter’s temperament has drawn a rare poem of life and strength.”
Study of a Young Woman
Johannes Vermeer Dutch, ca. 1665–67 (Artist not featured.)
Soft light illuminates the face of a young woman dressed in clothing and costume jewelry that would have struck seventeenth-century Dutch viewers as exotic. Like Vermeer’s famous Girl with a Pearl Earring (ca. 1665; Mauritshuis, The Hague), this painting was most likely not a commissioned portrait, but rather a so-called tronie, a portrayal of an intriguing individual, often in fanciful costume.
Young Woman with a Water Pitcher
Johannes Vermeer Dutch, ca. 1662 (Artist not featured.)
Standing at an open window, a woman begins her day with ablutions from a gilt silver pitcher and basin, with linen coverings protecting her dress and hair. The first work by Vermeer to enter an American collection, this painting embodies the artist’s interest in domestic themes, giving an almost voyeuristic glimpse into the private life of a woman before she presents her public face to the world
The Dance Class
Edgar Degas French, 1874 (Painting not featured.)
This work and its variant in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, represent the most ambitious paintings Degas devoted to the theme of the dance. Some twenty-four women, ballerinas and their mothers, wait while a dancer executes an “attitude” for her examination. Jules Perrot, a famous ballet master, conducts the class. The imaginary scene is set in a rehearsal room in the old Paris Opéra, which had recently burned to the ground. On the wall beside the mirror, a poster for Rossini’s Guillaume Tell pays tribute to the singer Jean-Baptiste Faure, who commissioned the picture and lent it to the 1876 Impressionist exhibition.
By the Seashore
Auguste Renoir French, 1883 (Second painting down from top of Home Page.)
Renoir likely painted this work in his studio, posing his model in a wicker chair and relying on studies he had made on the Normandy coast to furnish the beach scene behind her. Stylistically, it reflects the impact of Renoir’s trip to Italy in 1881–82, which inspired him to unite the “grandeur and simplicity” he admired in Renaissance art with the luminosity of Impressionism. His new approach, which he called his “dry” manner, is evident in the sitter’s face, with its carefully drawn features and smooth handling of paint. The medley of quick strokes in the background, however, displays the freer technique of Renoir’s earlier years.
Study for “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”
Georges Seurat French, 1884 (Fourth painting down from top of Home Page.)
This is Seurat’s final study for his monumental painting of Parisians at leisure on an island in the Seine (Art Institute of Chicago). Contrasting pigments are woven together with small, patchy brushstrokes, whereas in the mural-sized park scene—which debuted two years later at the 1886 Impressionist exhibition—Seurat used tighter, dot-like dabs of paint, a technique which came to be known as Pointillism (from the French word point, or dot). He preferred the term Divisionism—the principle of separating color into small touches placed side-by-side and meant to blend in the eye of the viewer.
Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses
Paul Cézanne French, ca. 1890 (Eighth painting down from top of Home Page.)
Cézanne rarely painted flowering plants or fresh-cut bouquets, which were susceptible to wilting under his protracted gaze. He included potted plants only in three still lifes, two views of the conservatory at Jas de Bouffan, his family’s estate, and about a dozen exquisite watercolors made over the course of two decades (from about 1878 to 1906). Cézanne seems to have reserved this particular table, with its scalloped apron and distinctive bowed legs, for three of his finest still lifes of the 1890s.
Wheat Field with Cypresses
Vincent van Gogh Dutch, 1889 (First painting at top of Home Page.)
Cypresses gained ground in Van Gogh’s work by late June 1889 when he resolved to devote one of his first series in Saint-Rémy to the towering trees. Distinctive for their rich impasto, his exuberant on-the-spot studies include the Met’s close-up vertical view of cypresses (49.30) and this majestic horizontal composition, which he illustrated in reed-pen drawings sent to his brother on July 2. Van Gogh regarded the present work as one of his “best” summer landscapes and was prompted that September to make two studio renditions: one on the same scale (National Gallery, London) and the other a smaller replica, intended as a gift for his mother and sister (private collection).
Vincent van Gogh Dutch, 1890 (Third painting down from top of Home Page.)
In May 1890, just before he checked himself out of the asylum at Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh painted four exuberant bouquets of spring flowers, the only still lifes of any ambition he had undertaken during his yearlong stay: two of irises, two of roses, in contrasting color schemes and formats. In the Museum’s Irises he sought a “harmonious and soft” effect by placing the “violet” flowers against a “pink background,” which have since faded owing to his use of fugitive red pigments. Another work from this series, Roses (1993.400.5), hangs in the adjacent gallery. Both were owned by the artist’s mother until her death in 1907.
La Orana Maria (Hail Mary)
Paul Gauguin French, 1891 (Artist not featured.)
Before embarking on a series of pictures inspired by Polynesian religious beliefs, Gauguin devoted this, his first major Tahitian canvas, to a Christian theme, describing it in a letter of March 1892: “An angel with yellow wings reveals Mary and Jesus, both Tahitians, to two Tahitian women, nudes dressed in pareus, a sort of cotton cloth printed with flowers that can be draped from the waist. Very somber, mountainous background and flowering trees . . . a dark violet path and an emerald green foreground, with bananas on the left. I’m rather happy with it.” Gauguin based much of the composition on a photograph he owned of a bas-relief in the Javanese temple of Borobudur.
The Englishman (William Tom Warrener, 1861–1934) at the Moulin Rouge
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec French, 1892 (Artist not featured.)
William Tom Warrener, an English painter and friend of Lautrec’s, appears as a top-hatted gentleman chatting up two female companions at the Moulin Rouge, the dance hall that epitomized the colorful and tawdry nightlife of fin-de-siècle Paris. The women’s suggestive attitudes—and Warrener’s ear, reddened in embarrassment—indicate the risqué nature of their conversation. This painting served as a preparatory study for a color lithograph of 1892.
Edouard Manet French, 1874 (Seventh painting down from top of Home Page.)
Manet summered at Gennevilliers in 1874, often spending time with Monet and Renoir across the Seine at Argenteuil, where Boating was painted. Beyond adopting the lighter touch and palette of his younger Impressionist colleagues, Manet exploits the broad planes of color and strong diagonals of Japanese prints to give inimitable form to this scene of outdoor leisure. Rodolphe Leenhoff, the artist’s brother-in-law, is thought to have posed for the sailor but the identity of the woman is uncertain. Shown in the Salon of 1879, Boating was deemed “the last word in painting” by Mary Cassatt, who recommended the acquisition to the New York collectors Louisine and H.O. Havemeyer.