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: Caspar David Friedrich

Three weeks ago I’d barely heard of the painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). Awhile ago I had noted down that I might want to look at his paintings, and now they’re burned into my mind forever. Here are some of my favorites: you can watch the video below, or click on each image to enlarge:

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.

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…

Heat & Light at Lascaux

  The environment in which some of humanity’s first–and still best–works of art, in the cave of Lascaux nearly thirty thousand years ago, is described here by Randall White: Plant materials, especially wood, would have been important fuel for cooking, heating, and light. Again, the excellent preservation at Lascaux indicates that certain species of trees…

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 Brutal Paintings that Predicted the 20th Century

The Austrian artist Egon Schiele’s brutal self-portraits, many dating from before World War One, seem to presage all the carnage and atrocity and alienation that was to come. As more famous artists from the time look terribly dated today, Shiele seems like he could still be working right now: Egon Schiele – Self Portrait (1911)