Museum Marathon: Old Friends (National Gallery, DC)

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Although I’ve studied art history for several years now, I wouldn’t ever call myself a connoisseur of any European or American painters–my scholarly interests lie outside of the traditional boundaries of “Western fine art.” Still, after you’ve visited as many museum as I have, it’s easy to identify most relatively famous painters at first glance. I like to think of it as recognizing close friends!

When I visited the National Gallery during my trip to DC, I was delighted by my ability to correctly name most paintings’ creators without looking at the label. I guess all of the tours I’ve led and research I’ve completed has endowed me with the ability to tell a Cole from a Church even from several feet away! Above all, though, I’m just so happy to have had the opportunity to view so many masterpieces in one brief afternoon.

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First stop: the Dutch Golden Age/Northern European galleries! I’ll never tire of the way in which my beloved Ter Borch painted fabrics. How did he make them look so delectably realistic? Each shimmer under the candlelight, each wrinkle and crease and stitch–all so utterly perfect.

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The subject of this painting is pretty standard early Christian fare, but check out the background! Those rough, needling mountains and the empty atmosphere looks more like the cover of a 1970s science fiction paperback novel than a devotional from the 1400s.

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Of course, I was delighted as ever to spend some time with my Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. The National Gallery had a wonderful collection of Seurat and Cezanne, and even an iconic Giverny bridge by Monet graced their galleries, too. I love contrasting these three artists’ extremely different uses of color, brushstroke, and light. Which of the three landscapes would you rather explore?

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As a landscape fancier by nature, I move through museums in search of rolling hills and striking seas, quickly passing by forgettable portraits of the early modern elite. I’ll close with two very iconic depictions of water and land: a shining Turner and the dancing fields of van Gogh. I love both of these artists’ work enough to spend ages staring at them, picking out every detail and letting myself get lost in the scene. Luckily, the National Gallery on a weekday gave me the opportunity to do just that–at least until larger packs of tourists came around and tired of my visual analysis activities!

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