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Famous Paintings

The Usborne Book of Famous Paintings

Ceci LeMay

on 28 January 2013

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Transcript of Famous Paintings

Famous Paintings Girl with a Pearl Earring by Jan Vermeer This beautiful picture was painted about 350 years ago. But it was lost for over 200 years, and only became famous after a collector rediscovered it. It has since inspired a well-known novel and movie. The girl's name is not known, but the artist, Jan vermeer, skillfully suggests her lively expression and exotic clothes.
People often speculate about the girl's identity. You can't tell from her clothes-the silky turban and pearl earring are just fancy dress. She might have been Vermeer's daughter or maid. The artist was probably more interested in studying her costume and expression than in making her portrait. Such studies, known as "tronies" in the Netherlands, were very popular at the time.
The painting is so smooth and lifelike, it almost looks like a photograph. Vermeer blended his brushstrokes until they were nearly invisible. He may also have used a kind of early camera, known as a "camera obscura", to help him draw. This porjects an image into a darkened room, so the artist can copy it. St. George and the Dragon by Raphael Sanzio This dramatic, 16th-century painting illustrates a famous story about St. George, who fought a dragon to rescue a princess. At the time, the story was very popular with artists and their clients. This version was probably created for an Italian nobleman.
The scene is full of action, with the twisting dragon and rearing horse. George raises his arm to strike and the princess runs across the background, her billowing dress suggesting rapid movement. But despite the drama and speed, it's all very neatly arranged.
The main figures form a pyramid, with George in the most powerful position at the top. He towers over the dragon, his plumed helmet adding to his height. It's easy to imagine how his sword will come crashing down to finish off the dragon. Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci The woman in this portrait has one of the most famous faces in the world, and her picture has inspired generations of artists and writers. But no one knows for sure who she was. The most likely candidate is Lisa Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy Italian merchant.
Lisa's strange half-smile fascinates people. Is she happy, sad or simply bored? Her expression is impossible to pin down, and seems to change depending on the angle you look at it. Leonardo used a technique known as 'sfumato' to create this effect, deliberately blurring the corners of her mouth and eyes. Spring by Sandra Botticelli This painting has fascinated viewers since it was painted over five centuries ago. Experts argue over what exactly it's supposed to mean, but they all agree on hte central theme-it's a celebration of love and spring, decorated with more than 500 different plants and flowers. Marilyn by Andy Warhol American artist Andy Warhol was fascinated with the idea of fame. He created colourful images of many celebrities, including this print of movie star Marilyn Monroe. In fact, he made hundreds of "Marilyn" prints-prints which in turn helped to assure his own fame as an artist.
Marilyn's face fills the frame, a bright, bold image of a famous star. But there is something deliberately crude about it, too. The shapes and colours have been hugely simplified, and the star's famous features start to look flat and unreal, suggesting a darker side to fame. In fact, Warhold was inspired to start making the prints by Marilyn's death a few years earlier.
Warhol based all his "Marilyn" prints on a single publicity photograph. He made the prints in an unusually mechanical way. Calling his studio "The Factory", he used modern printing techniques and numerous assistants to set up a kind of assembly line, churning out copies. Some people think this kind of "mass-produced" image is less artistic than a traditional painting. But Warhold wanted to challenge tradition. Dance at the Moulin de la Galette by Auguste Renoir Painted over 100 years ago, this picture shows a buzzing crowd enjoying themselves at a Paris dancehall known as the "Moulin de la Galette". The artist, Auguste Renoir, lived nearby and asked many of his friends to pose for him.
Renoir made frequent visits to the dancehall, to make sketches of the of the open-air dancefloor and plan his picture. He wanted to show the place at its sunniest and best, with everyone in their finest clothes. You can see how his light, feathery brushstrokes make everything look soft and pretty.
Today, the picture is considered a masterpiece, but when it was first exhibited, most viewers hated it. With its glowing colours and blurry brushmarks, they thought it looked garish and unfinished. BUt for Renoir, it was about capturing an on-the-spot impression of light and movement. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet This painting offers a glittering glimpse of a busy bar in 19th-century Paris. The scene is cleverly arranged so most of it is seen in the mirror behind the bar. It's as if you are standing right there, facing the wistful-looking barmaid.
The Folies-Berère was a popular evening spot where people could go to drink and watch entertainers, dancers and circus acts. The artist, Édouard Manet, made sketches in the Folies, but worked on the painting in his studio, hiring a real Folies barmaid, named Suzon, to pose for him.
There is something odd about the mirror. If you look closely, Suzon and some of the bottles don't match their reflections. X-rays show Manet altered the reflection, probably to avoid cluttering the background. The man in the top hat is another puzzle. The reflection shows him standing just in front of Suzon-where you, the viewer, ought to be. It's as if you've been turned into a 19th-century gentleman and included in the scene. Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh In the late 1880s, Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh began a series of dazzling yellow sunflower paintings. These became some of van Gogh's favourite works. Despite remaining unsold during his lifetime, they are now among the most sought-after and valuable paintings in the world.
Each flower is a burst of intensely coloured, thickly layered paint, set off by a contrasting blue-grey background. The petals were painted with thick streaks of a new chemical-based colour known as chrome yellow. For van Gogh, this sunny golden yellow was a symbol of friendship and happiness. But the painting also hints at how fragile life is, as some of the flowers are starting to droop and wither. Blue Dancers by Edgar Degas This painting shows a group of dancers-not dancing, as you might expect, but getting ready to go on stage. It's like a casual snapshot of theatre life, with the dancers crowded together, adjusting their costumes and warming up, apparently unaware of being watched.
The dancers are a mass of shimmering blue, surrounded by smudgey pieces of scenery. Everything is built up out of dabs and dashes of colour, rather than clear shapes and lines. The artist, Edgar Degas, called his method "drawing with colour". The soft, hazy effect conjures up a magical atmosphere.
The use of contrasting colours also helps to focus your gaze and give a feeling of depth. In the middle of all the blues, a patch of bright yellowy orange stands out strongly, helping to draw your eye towards the figures in the background.
The picture may look swift and sketch, but the skill and observation that went into making it were the result of many years' study. During his life, Degas painted and sculpted hundreds of dancers. He was fascinated by how they moved, their grace and strength-and he felt the way they practised, with lots of repeated exercises, was similar to the way an artist works. The Scream by Edvard Munch This dizzying, nightmare scene was created just over a century ago by Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch. An intense, powerful image of a lonely, suffering figure, it has helped to inspire everything from cartoons to horror movies.
Munch made several versions of the picture, both in colour and black-and-white. They formed part of a series called 'The Frieze of Life', which explored life, love, death and the intense feelings these can arouse. Munch spent years on the series, rearranging them and adding new pictures.
The figures mouth gapes, as if he is screaming, so you might think the picture title refers to him. But munch said his inspiration really came from a scream he felt, mysteriously, in the world around him. He described the moment in his diary: I was walking along the road with two friends. The sun was setting... Suddenly the sky turned blood-red. I stopped... My friends walked on-I stood there, trembling with fear. And I sensed a great, infinite scream pass through nature. The Kiss by Gustav Klimt This glittering, golden image of a man kissing his woman was created 100 years ago by Gustav Klimt. Klimt's art was often controversial, but 'The Kiss' was an instant hit.
When you look at the couple, only their heads, hands and feet stand out- the rest is a sumptuous swirl of shape and colour. Different patterns define each of their bodies, but the patterns overlap and mingle, symbolizing their togetherness. The effect is rich and decorative, rather like a mosaic. The man and woman kneel on a carpet of bright, jewel-like flowers, but the background is plain and empty. The lack of a specific setting makes it feel as if the picture should come from any time or place.
The picture was painted in oils and coated with paper-thin pieces of gold and silver leaf. Klimt used so much gold in his pictures at this time, it has been called his gold period. Here, the gold surrounds the two people, giving them a magical, shimmering aura. American Gothic by Grant Wood This picture of American country folk won a prize for its creator, Grant Wood, when it first went on show in Chicago in 1930. Since then, it has inspired endless copies and spoofs, and is often claimed to be America's most famous painting.
The picture was inspired by a house-a real cottage in Iowa, USA-which you can see in the photograph. The arched "Gothic" style window on the top floor gave the painting its title. For the couple, Wood persuaded his dentist and sister to dress up as farmers, saying they were, "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." Double portraits are often used for pictures of husband and wife. But here the man is so much older,many think they are father and daughter.
When the picture was put on show, it divided public opinion. Some complained Wood was poking fun at farmers by making them look dour and old-fashioned. But others claimed the picture celebrated farmers' strength and hard work. Wood himself refused to comment, saying only: "These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully-to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life." Number 6 by Jackson Pollock American artist Jackson Pollock became famous for his "drip" paintings, made up of tangled webs of lines and splodges of colour.
To create the drip paintings, Pollock came up with a whole new way of working. He laid his canvas on the floor and dripped, poured and splashed paint over it-earning him the nickname, "Jack the Dripper".
At first glance, it might look messy and random, but Pollock insisted, "There is no accident." When he painted, all of his movements were deliberate and controlled. People who saw him said it was like watching a dance, full of energy and rhythm.
The drip paintings are abstract pictures-meaning they don't try to show any kind of real-life scene. Instead, Pollock created patterns that are also a record of the movements he made while painting-the swooping arcs and sudden splashes. So really, these paintings are about the 'action' involved in creating them. The Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo Buonarroti Five centuries ago, artist Michelangelo was set a big challenge: to decorate the entire ceiling of a chapel in the pope's palace in Rome. The result was a stunning series of religious scenes, including this famous image of God creating Adam.
The ceiling was so huge and so high, many people doubted Michaelangelo would pull it off. His final design filled the ceiling end-to-end with over 300 figures. To paint them, he spent four years balanced on a scaffold, painfully craning his neck upwards while paint dripped in his face. The strain was so great, he wrote poems about it. He used a technique known as fresco, which involved brushing colours directly onto wet plaster.
In the end, the ceiling was such a success that Michelangelo was asked to decorate one of the chapel walls, too. He covered it with a terrifying vision of the Last Judgement from the Bible. Among all the demons and fallen souls, he included a startling self-portrait. Self Portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn Rembrandt van Rijn painted himself over 40 times during his life, creating one of the msot remarkable series of self portraits ever made. This version shows him at the age of 55, looking old and careworn, but displaying his palette and brushes with quiet pride.
This is a plain, unfussy portrait, painted in muted colours. Rembrandt shows himself in his everyday work clothes- a painter's cap and warm housecoat. And he's not afraid to record unflattering lines and wrinkles. The background is equally plain, decorated only by two mysterious circles. They might be hemispheres on an unfinished map, or they might refer to a story about an earlier artist, Giotto. According to the story, when Giotto was asked to prove his skill, he painted a perfect circle.
Up close, the picture dissolves into rough streaks and daubs of paint. Look at the hand holding the palette- you can hardly make out the fingers. But if you step back, the marks all merge to form a surprisingly natural portrait. Ophelia by John Millais This beautifully detailed painting illustrates a scene from Shakespeare's famous play, 'Hamlet'. In the play, Ophelia goes mad with grief after the death of her father and drowns while picking flowers. Almost all the flowers here are mentioned in the play.
The artist, John Millais, wanted his picture to look as lifelike as possible. So he spent months painting a real English riverbank, braving bad weather and being bitten by flies. But he went back to his studio to paint Ophelia. He hired a model named Lizzie Siddal, gave her an antique dress and got her to lie in a bathtub for hours-until the water got chilly and Lizzie caught a terrible cold.
Notice all the different kinds of leaves in the background, and how the falling light turns them different shades of green.
Millais used thin layers of paint on top of a layer of white, to make his colours look bright and sharp. X-rays show he made hardly any changes as he painted.
Ophelia is surrounded by plants with symbolic meanings. The man with winged shoes is Mercury, the messenger of the gods. He holds up his staff to push away a rain cloud. The trio of dancers, known as the Three Graces, represent grace and beauty. Venus, goddess of love, stands in the middle with her son, Cupid, hovering above her. Cupid's arrows are said to make people fall in love. This is Flora, goddess of flowers and spring, stepping forward and strewing roses. Notice the dark frame of leaves around Venus, which makes her stand out very clearly. The man with the blue skin and billowing robes is Zephyrus, the wind of spring. Zephyrus embraces a shy-looking nymph. His touch transforms her into Flora, goddess of flowers and spring. Ntoice the flowers dropping from the nymph's lips-according to myth, this happened when she spoke. The misty blue hills in the background help to create a feeling of distance. Look for the monstrous mix of animal details in the dragon, with its spiky wings, webbed feet and coiled, snake-like tail. George has already attacked the dragon with a lance. Bright white highlights on George's sword and helmet make them look shiny and metallic. There is a golden halo around George's helmet, to show he is a saint. Notice the gauzy veil over her hair. Lisa's missing eyebrows look strange nowadays. But, in her day, it was fashionable for women to pluck or shave them. Notice how the landscape turns hazy and blue in the distance. This effect is known as aerial perspective, and it helps to give the painting a feeling of depth. You can see Leonardo's amazing attention to detail in the delicate embroidery on the dress. The ceiling is a dizzying 20 m (66ft) above the ground. Strong colours and clear outlines make it easier to see the figures from the floor. Notice the tiny gap between God's finger and Adam's, which adds to the drama of the moment. The lifelike, muscular bodies reveal Michaelangelo's skill in anatomy-something he probably learned from dissecting dead bodies. Look out for the artist's tools-a rectangular palette, brushes and long "mahl stick", which Rembrandt used to steady his hand while painting. Notice how light catches the cap and face, focusing our attention there, while the bottom of the picture is lost in shadows. You can see the thick paint used to build up the eyes, helping to add character to the portrait. Notice how the fingers are just a few hasty dashes. Notice the girl's natural pose, as if she's just glancing over her shoulder. See how the plain, dark background and slanting light focus attention on her face. The background was originally dark green, but has blackened over time. In close up, you can see that the brilliant shine on the pearl is really a thick smear of white. An image made with a camera obscura tends to have soft outlines and bright spots of light, which is just how Vermeer panted his picture-as you can see in the detail. The silky turban was painted using ultramarine blue-an expensive colour made from crushed lapis lazuli, which is a semi-precious stone. Look out for gleaming highlights on the eyes and lips, which bring the face to life. By contrast, the line of the nose almost disappears in the light. Some of the meanings are listed here:-Weeping willow-sadness-Nettles-pain-Roses-love and beauty-Pansies-thoughts-Forget-me-nots-memory-Daisies-innocence-Poppies and violets-death. Can you spot a skull-like shape among the leaves on the bank? It could be accidental effect of the shadows, or a deliberate omen of death. Millais originally planned to include a water vole swimming in the river, but left it out after a friend's uncle mistook his sketch for a rabbit. Look out for a robin perching on the willow branches. Ophelia mentions a robin in the play. The yellowy patches in the reeds are caused by some of the original paint fading over the years. Notice how the scene shimmers with light and colour. The ground is a dazzling white, and even the shadows are painted in blue, rather than black. Look out for clever arrangement of figures. At first glance, it seems like a casual snapshot. But everyone was carefully placed so most of Renoir's friends face the viewer. The two men sitting facing us are Norbert and Georges, close friends of Renoir's. Renoir persuaded a local girl named Estelle to pose for him in her stripey dress. The nearest dancers are an artist named Cardenas and a model named Margot. A vase of roses adds a touch of softness amid all the marble and glass. Look out for the mirror's golden frame. Notice how the mirror glass is misted with blue, too. The figures in the background were dashed in with rapid, blurry strokes, suggesting a fidgety crowd. Notice the green boots here. They belong to an acrobat on a trapeze, high above the crowd. The artist signed his name on the label of this bottle. Van Gogh painted the sunflowers for a friend, Paul Gauguin, who was coming to stay. But after a few weeks, they began to fight. Van Gogh, who suffered from mental illness, seized a blade and cut off part of his own ear. Gaguin fled. Van Gogh painted the self portrait on the right while recovering. Notice the bandaged ear. (Painted in 1889) Look out for the thick, bumpy layers of paint, known as 'impasto'. They are so thick, you can still se the ridges left by the brush. The artist signed his name on the vase. See how the scenery blocks part of the view, adding to the casual feel. You can see the rough, smeary brushstrokes. Notice how the dancers turn away, as if oblivious to the artist's gaze. Notice the jarring clash between the orangey-red sky and blue-black water. See how the figure's head is shaped like a skull. The distant people contrast with the figure and make him appear more isolated. The bridge slices sharply across the scene, trapping the figure in a narrow, uncomfortable space. Strange, swirling lines suggest the echoes of this terrifying noise. Close up, you can see how Klimt scraped decorative swirls and curls on top of the gold. The lines catch the light in different ways, adding to the magical effect. The man wears an ivy wreath, and the woman has flowers in her hair. Notice the contrasting patterns on the couple's clothes: black-and-white blocks on the man's; bright circles of flowers on the woman's. The woman is also wrapped in a long, embroidered cloak or veil, which cascades down her back. The bottom of it is transparent, but you can see the lines of embroidery draped over her legs. The house is now a centre devoted to the painting. Notice how the man and woman block our way, and the windows of the house are covered. This is a closed-off, private world. There is a hint of threat in the pitchfork. Look out for echoes of its shape in the lines of the man's overalls and on his chin. The woman's hair is tied severly back, but a loose curl suggests she has a gentler side. The simple title (just a number) carefully avoids suggesting any particular object or meaning for the picture. Look out for colourful bursts of red, yellow and green beneath the black and white. See how the lack of any single focus makes your eyes keep moving over the picture surface. Look out for different kinds of marks, from big splodges and bold lines to thin streaks and delicate spatters. Notice how few colours there are; the number was restricted by the printing process. Look out for the way patches of colour overlap or even miss the edges of shapes. The print is part of a series of ten, showing Marilyn in varying colours.
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