David McCullough has written a lovely new book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. In it I read about the painting you see above: Gallery of the Louvre by Samuel F. B. Morse. (Yes, the same Samuel Morse who was the American inventor of the telegraph.) When I flipped to the plate in the book, I was not surprised to see such a jumble of paintings on the wall. I have visited the Louvre and know that this is a favored curatorial method in some galleries. But I was astonished to see the Mona Lisa as one of the jumble.
As it turns out, these were not necessarily the paintings that were hanging on this wall at the time of Morse’s visit. Instead, he chose his favorites from throughout the museum…works he wanted the folks back home to be able to see….and created his own virtual gallery. He then drug his scaffolding round the museum, executing each miniature masterpiece in turn.
I was terribly intrigued by this concept. Though I do not share Morse’s considerable skill with a brush, I began thinking of which art works I would include on such a wall. I did not limit myself to the ample collection of the Louvre. I did, however, disallow paintings that were conjoined to a building (the Sistine Chapel ceiling, for example, or the Last Supper). I also limited myself to a single work by any given artist (with one exception). Though I did not make it a requirement, I have stood in front of almost all these works. This might have contributed to their candidacy. I wish I was tech savvy enough to assemble them onto a virtual wall. But, alas….
Here they are, in no particular order. My dream candidates. I would love to know yours.
Guernica by Pablo Picasso
One of the most powerful works I have ever encountered. Executed quickly for the Paris Exposition to make the world aware of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Anyone who has known despair will find himself in here.
Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli
In the Uffizzi there is a room filled with only Botticelli. I could have stayed there forever. His golden eyed goddesses and Madonnas carry a pathos that transfixes. Seeing the work in person exponentially expounded my fondness for it. It seems certain to me that the artist actually worked powdered gold into the paint used for Venus’ long, golden locks. They fairly vibrate with it. Individual flourishes of the brush add mesmerizing texture.
Charis-Kairos (The Tears of Christ) by Makoto Fujimura
Fujimura’s ancient modern perspective, informed by his faith, articulated with elegance and power always slays me. This piece, a favorite among favorites, is the frontispiece of his brilliantly illuminated Four Holy Gospels.
Ballet Rehearsal on Stage 1874 by Edgar Degas
The restricted palette, sepia with judicious touches of blue and pink give the painting an ethereal quality. I could not stop looking at it. Lingering evidences of changes made give a glimpse into the artist’s process.
Canticle of Canticles IV by Marc Chagall
Chagall is one of those artists whose work you must see in person at least once in your life. He painted with fury and abandon, troweling on huge slurps and gobs of paint, sometimes squeezing the tube directly onto the canvas. His vibrant works tell deeply layered stories and make conspicuous use of symbolism. The marvelous Canticle of Canticles series was painted for his bride and draws inspiration from the pen of Solomon.
Waterlilies by Claude Monet
I might be cheating a little here. Even though this piece is on canvas, it was made for the oval shaped rooms of the L’Orangerie and so would be difficult to hang. But it represents my most spectacular Monet experience, save seeing the waterlily pond itself last summer. The subtleties, the stacks of color in each blossom, reflections, light… Ahhh!!
Luxe, Calme et Volupte by Henri Matisse
More pointillist than his usual style, I love the warm, lazy, Mediterranean atmosphere of this work. And the counterpoint of delicate pastels in figures, sky, blanket against the strong colors of tree, mountain, beach.
Yellow, Red, Blue by Wassily Kandinsky
Kandinsky is one of my artist heroes. His theories on color and art as articulated in Concerning the Spiritual in Art are some of the most interesting I have ever read. Love the reverberations his works create within me.
The Kiss by Gustave Klimt
Klimt’s works are very like painted mosaics. Tiny mini paintings all stitched together into an elegant tapestry, shot through with gold. And every subject cares about something. His works throb with passion.
The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh
Not to be cliche, but it really is my favorite of his works. A reproduction hangs in my bedroom. Standing before it was one of those crack in time moments when all the world fell away except for the two of us.
Deer in the Forest by Franz Marc
Sometimes an artwork has a way of whisking you up into it. This one does that for me. I can smell the evergreens, feel the cool of the forest, hear bird wing against air, and breathe the repose.
Mont Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cezanne
Part of my affinity for Cezanne comes from the fact that my very artistic son Jake used to color like this when he was little. Small squares of pigment would fill the page. I was delighted when my French seatmate pointed out Mont Sainte-Victoire from the train several years ago.
OK. Your turn. Who goes on your wall?