James McNeill Whistler was an American painter born on July 11, 1834, who was a leading proponent of ‘art for art’s sake’. Artists such as Whistler argued that art did not need to have meaning or function, but existed for its own reason. He was active during what was known as the American Gilded Age, although he was based mainly in the United Kingdom. He often called his paintings ‘arrangements’, ‘harmonies’, or ‘nocturnes’, because he saw many parallels between the world of fine art and the world of classical music.
Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 is the name of his most famous work, although everyone knows it much better as ‘Whistler’s Mother’. Painted in 1871, the 144.3 cm x 162.4 cm is an oil on canvas and depicts exactly what the common title suggests – his mother, Anna McNeill Whistler. It currently resides in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and held by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris after it was purchased by France 20 years after its completion.
The painting went on a tour of 13 US cities during the Great Depression, including putting in an appearance at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. It has been variously described as the ‘Victorian Mona Lisa’, and as one of the most famous works of American art. Whistler even designed the frame for the work which still surrounds the painting today. A lesser known ‘Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 2’ is done in a similar style and depicts the Scottish philosopher and historian Thomas Carlyle.
Born in Norway on 12 December 1863, Edvard Munch was a tortured soul who used his art to combat a fear of inheriting a mental condition that ran in his family. He studied at the Royal School of Art and Design in Kristiania (Oslo) and was greatly influenced by the nihilist Hans Jager, who urged him to ‘paint from the soul’. this led to Munch developing a unique style. He had a breakdown in 1908 which led to a change in his outlook. he continued to paint until his death on 23 January 1944, and left behind an extensive body of work.
The Scream is the popular name given to multiple versions of a composition by Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch between 1893 and 1910. The German title Munch gave these works is Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature). The works show a figure with an agonized expression against a landscape with a tumultuous orange sky. Arthur Lubow has described The Scream as “an icon of modern art, a Mona Lisa for our time.”
Edvard Munch created four versions in paint and pastels. The National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, holds one of two painted versions (1893, shown at right). The Munch Museum holds the other painted version and also a pastel version from 1893. These three versions have seldom traveled, though the 1893 pastel was exhibited at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 2015. The second pastel version from 1895 was sold for $119,922,600 at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art auction on 2 May 2012 to financier Leon Black, the fourth highest nominal price paid for a painting at auction and was displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York from October 2012 to April 2013.
Johannes Vermeer (October 1632 – December 1675) was a Dutch painter of the Baroque period, only moderately successful in his own lifetime and largely forgotten in the two centuries after his death. He specialised in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life and came to prominence in the 19th century. He is now recognised as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age. Particularly renowned for the use of light in his work, he was a methodical artist, using very expensive pigments.
The Milkmaid is a 45.5 cm × W 41 cm oil on canvas painting and depicts a domestic kitchen maid pouring milk into a squat earthenware container on a table. The table is covered with loaves of bread and in the background can be seen some of the famous Dutch Delft wall tiles depicting Cupid and other scenes. Very much an image of the times, it clearly demonstrates a mastery of the depiction of light and is considered one of the finest works of its type.
The painting has been displayed in exhibitions around the world, fortunately being on loan to the US at the time of the outbreak of the Second World War. It is owned by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, which regards it as “unquestionably one of the museum’s finest attractions”.
Even if you’re unaware of some of the other paintings showcased in this series, the chances are that Sunflowers, the name of two series of still life paintings by the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, is instantly recognisable. Van Gogh painted the first series, which depicted the sunflowers laying on the ground, while in Paris. The second series, painted a year later in Arles, has the sunflowers arranged in a vase, and it is this version that has achieved cult status in the art world.
Vincent Willem van Gogh was born 30 March 1853 and the Dutch post-impressionist painter went on to create around 2,100 artworks, including 860 oils, before his death by suicide at just 37 years of age. Most of his work, including landscapes, still lifes, portraits and self-portraits, were created in the last two years of a life marred by mental illness and poverty.
The definition of a troubled artist, van Gogh worked as an art dealer, travelling extensively in Europe, and it wasn’t until 1881, just 9 years before his death, that he took up painting. His work became characterised by bold colours and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork, which became very influential in the modern art movement. Today, his work occupies a rarified place and many are amongst the most expensive works ever sold. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam currently holds the world’s largest collection of his art.