Images: Gustave Courbet

Take a look through some of the best paintings of Gustave Courbet (1819-1877). Is the general claim true, that in his landscapes, portraits and self-portraits, that what we call modern art, began here? Click on each image to enlarge, or watch the video below.

Images: Jean-François Millet

Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) was a formative influence on artists as diverse as Salvador Dali and Vincent van Gogh (his famous sower was lifted from Millet). Looking at two dozen or so of his best paintings, I understood why. Click on any image to enlarge:

Picasso’s Blue Sympathies

Picasso’s Blue Period–or basically anything he did before Cubism–has always struck me as more powerful than anything he did later, which seems mostly theoretical playing. Not that I think somebody as vast as Picasso could stay in one phase forever (I’ve asked before what a genius is supposed to do when they’re almost too good.)…

Manet the Mystic

Manet’s 1862 painting The Old Musician is a great human riddle. Just what everybody is doing here, and why they’re gathered together, is a mystery. Yet it’s a puzzle more emotional than academic. Held in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., you can read their page about it here, or the Wiki page.

Caravaggio’s Dirty Feet

The affront that many of Caravaggio’s greatest paintings presented to their first audience must have been astonishing: casting a local girl as the Virgin Mary being visited by pilgrims, or the body of a prostitute as her corpse after death; filling almost the entire canvas of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus with the…

Picasso & Sex

from John Richardson’s biography of Picasso: When questioned much later about his earliest sexual experience, Picasso claimed that his sex life had started very early on: “Yes,” he says smiling, with a sparkle in his eye, “I was still quite small”—and he indicated a diminutive height wit his hand. “Obviously I didn’t wait for the…

Vermeer’s Window on the Left, Vermeer’s Late Afternoon Light

As I’ve written elsewhere: “Except for his earliest work, there were no grand subjects in Vermeer, and very little else but a room and a window; tiled floor and tapestries and carpeted tables; maps and light and exactitude; liquid, lace, poured milk, lute strings and the weighing of pearls; the reproduction by brush and color…

The Mysteries of Mérode

For some reason the Mérode Altarpiece, painted in the late 1420s by Robert Campin, has become an obsession of mine. I can look at it for hours, and its strangeness never ends. Better than any TV show, I’ve found one of the best uses of a flat-screen is putting the Mérode up on it, and…

Claude Lorrain’s Nostalgia for What Never Was

I first came across Claude Lorrain’s fantasies of classical Greece and Rome on the cover of an old paperback of the Aeneid. These are my favorites, but there are many more of them here. Click on each image to enlarge: