Getting Inspiration: National Gallery of Art

My wife Alice and I went down to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. yesterday. Alice always wants to be sure to visit here favorite painting by Vermeer of a woman weighing pearls. Love the way the diagonal that runs through the painting is echoed by the angle of Alice's hair falling over her shoulder. It seems to link her to the careful balancing of the scales going on in the painting. 

19th century artists took delight in studying the sky as in the above landscape by Caspar David Friedrich. There are hardly any works by this mysterious German romantic in the U.S. I love the way the sky seems to come down and wrap its cool light around the distant mountain.

Speaking of light from the sky, here's a Sanford Gifford oil where the sun struggles to burn through a silvery haze. It's a painting where the main story is the land's pinks and oranges elegantly dancing with the cool gray colors of the atmosphere. 

Gifford's paintings are part of the long tradition of artists seeing the landscape as a vehicle for creating a telling emotional expression. Here's the National Gallery's Rembrandt from 1648, The Mill, where he casts a poetic solemn stillness over the ebbing of the day's light. 

All was not always so peaceful in 17th century Holland. Here is Ships in Distress off a Rocky Coast by the wonderfully named Rudolf Backhuysen. This stormy sea oil below may seem a little overwrought to some contemporary eyes, but it is a masterful contrasting of warm yellows against cool silver grays. 

Since being the Artist In Residence this year at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY I've been studying the watercolors of the 20th century American watercolorist Charles Burchfield. You could say I have Burchfield on the brain. Look at the silver gray and yellow color palette of the background in Backhuysen's tempest. Burchfield so often would base his paintings around a similar palette as in his snow scene below. This last one isn't at the National Gallery, but wouldn't it be fun to see it hanging next to their Backhuysen.

Here I am just back from visiting the museum painting on the big canvas in my studio. It's based on a small oil I made on location in the bedroom in Edward Hopper's studio in Truro, MA. The view  looks into Hopper's painting room. That's the easel Hopper used to paint some of his world famous oils in the distance.


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