Josh and I were reminiscing about life in Chicago the other day. One of the things we miss most is the Art Institute. We thought about the famous Ferris Bueller scene in which the three friends explore the magnificent collection.
As I might have anticipated, Josh then asked me about my favorite paintings. As an artist, he asks such questions frequently. Normally, though, he asks about my favorite pieces specifically at the Art Institute, but this was a much broader, much more difficult question. In all of my travels I have visited dozens of museums, so I had to give this a great deal of thought. Do I consider style? Technique? Color Palette? Composition? Themes? How to define ‘Favorite’?
I decided to go with instinct over analysis. Below are the pieces that have most moved me. I am talking about a gut-level response, a reaction I can’t fully explain. For me, the most memorable pieces produce a visceral feeling, a sensation of gripping all of my attention, leaving me motionless and quiet. These works are not just beautiful; they show me something true as well as lovely.
10. Self Portrait, Rembrandt
Rembrandt painted many self portraits, but this one housed at the Frick museum in New York is almost life-sized and, if I remember correctly, sits at eye level, inviting viewers into a staring contest with the Baroque master. I so admire the piercing gaze, the evidence of age etched into his face, and the deep, deep dark from which he emerges.
9. Venetian Glass Workers, Sargent
So many of Sargent’s paintings featured aristocrats surrounded by the sensuous textures of affluence. As much as I appreciate his masterful technique in painting satin and velvet, I admire even more this scene of laborers in the shadows.
8. Bordighera, Monet
This painting sits in the corner of a room full of Monet’s work at the Art Institute. There are so many pieces in there it is easy to walk right by it. But if you catch it, stand right in front of it, and try to tell me you don’t think the tree is moving. The illusion of branches rustling in a breeze makes me smile every time. I also love this painting because I once saw a real view just like in in the hills above Nice in France.
7. Crucifixion, Tintoretto
I realize it is futile even to mention this piece in this list as the photo does nothing to prove my interest. It is the SIZE of this scene that so impresses viewers. It made my sister cry. The scale (17.5 ft x 40 ft) and amount of activity in this painting of the world’s worst moment takes my breath away.
6. Woman at Window Reading a Letter, Vermeer
This painting actually represents a category of paintings I call “Dutch people standing by windows and candles.” This category is vast. I recommend studying this genre as few styles capture realistic light so well as the Dutch Baroque. In this painting, admire with me the softness of the light, the woman’s reflection in the window, the shadows across the curtains and carpets, and the feeling we are being pulled into a story.
To see the remaining five paintings, stay tuned for Part 2!