Art,  Museums

New York City — 4 Incredible Art Museums

View of Midtown Manhattan from the Roof Garden (open May-October, weather permitting) atop the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Joanna de Silva, 1792 by William Wood

The METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART in NEW YORK

“You’ll probably need 3-5 hours just to see the permanent collection” at the Met, according to Go City, the largest multi-attraction pass company in the world. This is horrible advice. To make matters worse, Go City highlights “some of the best and most famous” areas at the Met Museum for you to walk through and suggests you start with Greek and Roman Art. Wrong!

A Road in Louveciennes, 1870 by Auguste Renoir

We decided to set the record straight. How long does it take to appreciate the encyclopedic collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York? The correct answer is 3 to 5 days and, while the museum’s Greek and Roman galleries were expanded to 60,000 square feet (6,000 square meters) 15 years ago to display the majority of the antiquities collection, you should travel to Europe to enjoy the highest-quality objects from this period.

At The Metropolitan Museum of Art (colloquially “the Met”) we advise you to begin with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art.

Poppy Fields Near Argenteuil, 1875 by Claude Monet
The Seine at Bougival, 1876 by Alfred Sisley
Portrait of a Woman, 1885 by Henri Fantin-Latour

In the Impressionist galleries at the Met you will find paintings by Boudin, Jongkind, Daubigny and Rico y Ortega — painters who, in the 1860s, exerted a powerful influence on many of the young artists who would emerge in the following decade to lead a revolutionary movement in art. Curators at the Met include realist still-life paintings and a portrait (above) by Henri Fantin-Latour in these rooms, even though Fantin-Latour was not an Impressionist.

It is laudable, and helpful for art lovers, when art institutions exhibit seminal works by the likes of Édouard Manet and Fantin-Latour alongside the practitioners of the style we recognize today as the Classic phase of Impressionism. Even though their bodies of work lie on the periphery of Impressionism, their interest in the effects of light and choice of subject matter achieved, in spirit, nearly identical goals as Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Pissarro, Cassatt (below), Degas and Morisot.

Porte de la Reine at Aigues-Mortes, 1867 by Jean-Frédéric Bazille
The Brioche, 1870 by Édouard Manet
Madame Manet, 1880 by Édouard Manet
Still Life with Apples and Pitcher, 1872 by Camille Pissarro
Jalais Hill, Pontoise, 1867 by Camille Pissarro
Tea, 1872 by James Tissot
The Wisteria Dining Room, 1910-14 by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer
3 Paintings of Alfred Sisley
View of Marly-le-Roi from Coeur-Volant, 1876 by Alfred Sisley
The Englishman at the Moulin Rouge, 1892 by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Apple Blossoms, 1873 by Charles-François Daubigny
On the Seine, 1869 by Martín Rico y Ortega
Three Jockeys, 1900 by Edgar Degas

Degas & the generation of artists that followed Courbet & Manet

Degas demanded a lot from himself as a painter, and he was disciplined — more than one-half of his output involved women and the opera. The ease with which he experimented with color and movement, combined with his regimented skills at observation, bring to mind the romanticism of Delacroix and the classicism of Ingres.

The Dance Class, 1974

Gustave Courbet was perhaps the grandfather of Impressionism when he declared that his intention as a painter had been “to represent the customs, the ideas, the appearance of my own era according to my own ideas.” As the leaders of the French avant-garde 20 years after Courbet, the core members of the Impressionist movement including Edgar Degas set out to paint light (and life) as it actually appeared, rather than as artists were taught to interpret it solely from the confines of a school or a studio.

L’Origine du monde, 1866 by Gustave Courbet {Musee d’Orsay, Paris}

If Édouard Manet was the father of Impressionism, it was because Manet broke with convention in subject and style by focusing on contemporary life.

The example set by Manet allowed younger artists such as Degas and Monet to strike out in an independent direction, to break precedents — and, like Courbet, to commit themselves to the pursuit of contemporary realism. For Degas, this meant to venture beyond the precise gestures of the ballerina in order to capture the subconscious movements of the laundress, the cafe singer and the milliner in the modern urban life of Paris during the 1870s and 1880s, and to represent with genuineness the moods of these ordinary people.

The Artist’s Cousin (probably Mrs. Wiliam Bell), 1873
At the Milliner’s, 1882 by Edgar Degas

The Met possesses the best Claude Monet Collection in New York

Regatta at Sainte-Adresse, 1867 by Claude Monet

In 1867, painting a pure landscape or seascape was considered by the official Ecole des Beaux-Arts to be beneath the dignity of a serious artist. That did not stop the 27-year-old Claude Monet from writing to his friend Bazille that he was working on about 20 such canvases while on the Normandy coast during the summer. “Among the seascapes, I am doing the regattas of Le Havre with many figures on the beach and the outer harbor covered with small sails,” he wrote. The variety of blue and green shadows in Monet’s paintings from 1865 onward indicate the artist’s fascination with atmospheric conditions affecting light and color — a marked contrast from the formulaic and idealized approach to nature followed by painters trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in France.

The Bodmer Oak, Fontainebleau Forest, 1865

Van Gogh preferred Monet’s painting of Sunflowers to his own

Bouquet of Sunflowers, 1881 by Claude Monet

In Van Gogh’s 1888 letter to his brother, Vincent wrote, “Gauguin was telling me the other day that he had seen a picture by Claude Monet of sunflowers in a large Japanese vase, very fine, but — he likes mine better. I do not agree.” This 1881 painting of sunflowers (above) by Monet was included in the 7th Impressionist exhibition (held in 1882), and in 1886 it was one of the first Impressionist paintings to be exhibited in the USA. Today, there are more paintings by Monet in the United States than in any other country, and the Met owns at least 40 canvases from all periods of Monet’s long career, 30 of which are normally on display.

La Grenouillère, 1869
Water Lilies, 1916-19
Chrysanthemums, 1882
The Manneporte, 1883 (above right)
The Manneporte Near Etretat, 1886
The Path through the Irises, 1914-17
Water Lilies, 1919 by Claude Monet
Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory, 1891 {unfinished} by Paul Cézanne

The Road from Post-Impressionism to Modernism at the Met

A Farm in Brittany, 1894 by Paul Gauguin
Two Tahitian Women, 1899 (above left) & La Orana Maria, 1891 by Paul Gauguin
Still Life with Teapot and Fruit, 1896 by Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin had a huge influence on the development of modern art in the beginning of the 20th century. While his sculpture and paintings were included in four of the eight Impressionist exhibitions, Gauguin ultimately rejected Impressionism and Pointillism for lacking symbolic depth.

Gauguin’s oeuvre encompasses a number of influential styles. He was a leader of the Pont-Aven School, known for its bold use of color and Symbolist subject matter, and Gauguin’s art is also associated with Cloisonnism, Synthetism, and the indigenous influences and symbols from the islands of Martinique in the Caribbean and Tahiti in the Pacific. The nine weeks Gauguin and van Gogh spent together painting in Arles are famous (and infamous) in the history of art; however, Gauguin’s theory of “painting from the imagination” was ill-suited for van Gogh, who drew inspiration chiefly from nature. Gauguin inspired Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and the great artists known as the Nabis group, including Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Felix Vallotton and Maurice Denis; whereas, the legacy of Vincent van Gogh profoundly affected German and Austrian modernism, and inspired Expressionism around the world.

Oleanders, 1888 by Vincent van Gogh
Roses, 1890
The Flowering Orchard, 1888
Irises, 1890
Sunflowers, 1887
Olive Trees, 1889
L’Arlésienne, 1888 by Vincent van Gogh
Circus Sideshow, 1888 by Georges Seurat
Study for “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884” by Georges Seurat

Art Lovers’ TIP: If you want to see the large-scale oil painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” by Seurat, and learn about the Van Gogh exhibition which was on view at the Art Institute of Chicago during the summer of 2023, please read our article entitled “Chicago — See the Most Extraordinary Art & Architecture in the USA.”

The Dining Room at Vernonnet, 1916 by Pierre Bonnard
Fishing Boats, Collioure, 1905 by André Derain
View of the Old Port, Saint-Tropez, 1911 by Pierre Bonnard
Three Holy Women at the Tomb, modeled 1896, carved before 1918 by George Minne
In Fosset, Twilight, 1890-95 by Fernand Khnopff
Hortensia, 1884 by Fernand Khnopff
The Three Sisters, 1896 by Leon Frederic
The Empire Sofa, 1904 by Vilhelm Hammershøi
Mäda Primavesi, 1912 by Gustav Klimt
Autumn Landscape, 1923-24 by Louis Comfort Tiffany
Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851 by Emanuel Leutze

After you take in the wonderfully broad interpretation of European Post-Impressionism at the Met, perhaps you will venture into the lovely American Wing, the impressive Egyptian and Asian galleries, the rooms devoted to modern American art after 1950, or the exceptional Michael Rockefeller Wing’s collection of arts from Africa, Oceania & the Americas. The Period Rooms from Europe and the Costume Institute are also noteworthy.

The American Wing
Facade (1822-24) of the United States Branch Bank of Wall Street
The Astor Chinese Garden Court allows all of us to embrace the traditional concept of yin & yang
Pianoforte {the oldest surviving piano}, 1720 Florence, Italy
Bacchus, 1670 by Filippo Parodi
Dishes by Theodore Deck, ca. 1870-90 & Art Nouveau Fireplace Surround {Muller Brothers}, 1900
Oil on canvas (above left) from 1971 by Clyfford Still
Picasso’s Guitar & Clarinet on a Mantelpiece, 1915 & Still Life with a Guitar, 1913 (above right) by Juan Gris
Animated Landscape, 1927 by Joan Miro
Blue Panel II, 1977 by Ellsworth Kelly
Untitled, 1978 by Norman Lewis
Take Off, 1956 by Helen Frankenthaler
Whirlirama, 1970 by Sam Gilliam
America Today, 1930-31 by Thomas Hart Benton
Iberic, 1949 by Carmen Herrera (above) & Lady of the Lake, 1936 by Horace Pippin (below)
Woman’s Head, 1912 {limestone} by Amedeo Modigliani & Autumn Rhythm, 1950 (below) by Jackson Pollock
Christ’s Descent into Hell, circa 1525 by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch

European Paintings 1300 — 1800

The Actor, 1904-05 by Pablo Picasso & The Vision of Saint John, circa 1608 by El Greco

45 galleries devoted to European Paintings have reopened after a 5-year renovation, which added new skylights above the chronological display of over 700 works of art created between 1300 and 1800. The re-installation at the top of the Great Hall staircase with much improved quality of light enhances our appreciation of the largest collection of 17th-century Dutch art in the Western Hemisphere, as well as the most outstanding holdings of El Greco and Goya outside Spain, and includes some surprising, innovative pairings with paintings by Cézanne, Elaine de Kooning, Picasso, Beckmann and Kerry James Marshall, among others.

Untitled (Studio), 2014 by Kerry James Marshall
Agnus Dei, circa 1635 by Francisco de Zurbaran
Juan de Pareja, 1650 by Diego Velazquez
Detail from Untitled (Studio), 2014 by Kerry James Marshall
View of Toledo, circa 1599 by El Greco
Saint Benedict, circa 1640 by Francisco de Zurbaran
The Virgin Annunciate, circa 1500 {limestone} by Jean Guillaumet
The Immaculate Conception, 1627 by Guido Reni
Venus and the Lute Player, circa 1565 by Titian and Workshop
Venus and Cupid, circa 1520 by Lorenzo Lotto
Madonna and Child with Two Angels, circa 1480 by Cosimo Rosselli
A detail (above) from The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, 1545 by Jacopo Tintoretto
Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Reviving the Birds, 1530 by Garofalo

Dutch Masterpieces at the Met

Lot and His Daughters, circa 1613 by Peter Paul Rubens
Bearded Man with a Velvet Cap, 1645 by Govert Flinck

The Met possesses unusually strong holdings of Netherlandish painting, and you can enjoy its comprehensive holdings of canvases by Rembrandt and Vermeer, among many other fine painters.

Portrait of a Woman, 1520 by Quinten Massys
The Penitence of Saint Jerome, circa 1515 {triptych} by Joachim Patinir
The Harvesters, 1565 by Pieter Bruegel The Elder
Study Head of an Old Man with a White Beard, 1617 by Anthony van Dyck
Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, 1653 by Rembrandt

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 — 69)

Herman Doomer, 1640 by Rembrandt
Self-Portrait, 1660 by Rembrandt
Portrait of a Man, 1632 by Rembrandt
Man in a Turban, 1632 by Rembrandt

Johannes Vermeer (1632 — 75)

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, 1662 by Vermeer
Young Woman with a Lute, 1662-63
Allegory of the Catholic Faith, 1670-72 by Johannes Vermeer

Exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met is closed on Wednesdays. Entry to special exhibitions on view at the Met Museum are included with the price of admission.

Through September 2, 2024, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is presenting “SLEEPING BEAUTIES — Reawakening Fashion,” a large show featuring over 200 garments spanning four centuries.

Evening Dress, 1938 by Madeleine Vionnet
Marni’s 2024 cotton canvas Dress designed by Francesco Risso with digitally printed polychrome flowers
Blue Moire Silk Taffeta Ensemble by Olivier Theyskens, 2000
Josephine Baker, circa 1925 by Adolf de Meyer

The current show entitled THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE — on view through July 28, 2024 — contrasts the depiction of Black life by artists working in Harlem beginning in the 1920s with the portrayal of the international African diaspora by their European counterparts.

Girl in a Green Cap, 1930 by Laura Wheeler Waring
Scene from the film Zouzou (1934) featuring Josephine Baker
Beale Street Blues, 1943 by Palmer Hayden
Girl in a Red Dress, 1934 by Charles Henry Alston
Yellow Roses, undated by Laura Wheeler Waring
Alain L. Locke, 1925 by Winold Reiss
Self-Portrait, 1941 by Samuel Joseph Brown, Jr.
Girl with Pomegranate, 1940 by Laura Wheeler Waring
Aspects of Negro Life: From Slavery Through Reconstruction, 1934 by Aaron Douglas

Previous Special Exhibitions

Painter & printmaker Howard Hodgkin (1932 — 2017) assembled this painting/drawing collection spanning the late 1500s to middle 1800s
Elephant with Keeper, circa 1660
Majaraja, circa 1870 (far left) & In Mirza’s Room, 1995-98 by Howard Hodgkin (background)
Majaraja Smoking a Hookah, circa 1685
Majaraja Raj Singh in a Garden Arcade, circa 1710

INDIAN SKIES, Hodgkin’s Collection of Indian Court Paintings from the Mughal, Deccani, Rajput & Pahari Courts, Closed June 9, 2024

Durbar of Akbar Shah II, circa 1820

For additional detailed images from current and past exhibitions at the Met, please read our article “New York City — Fashionable Exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum.” There, you will also find interesting paintings by Andre Derain (below left) and Henri Matisse (below right) that were on view at the Met until January 2024 as part of the exhibit “Vertigo of Color: Matisse, Derain and the Origins of Fauvism.”

While the Met hosts blockbuster exhibits such as “KARL LAGERFELD — A Line of Beauty” (held in the spring of 2023), it also presents intimate shows featuring seminal pieces of art from the finest international collections.

Highlights from a 2023 exhibit dedicated to Vincent van Gogh’s paintings created in the South of France appear below, followed by images of the Temple of Dendur, an Egyptian structure commissioned in 23 BCE which was rescued from flooding during the construction of the Aswan High Dam between 1960 and 1970 and installed permanently inside the Met in 1978.

The Road to Tarascon, 1888 by Vincent van Gogh
The Starry Night, 1889

VAN GOGH’s CYPRESSES

Through August 27, 2023, the Met showed a tightly-conceived thematic exhibit of “Van Gogh’s Cypresses.” Some 40 works of art, including “The Starry Night” (above) from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, illuminated Vincent van Gogh’s fascination with the distinctive evergreen trees that sparked his creativity during his two years in the South of France.

Wheat Field with Cypresses, 1889
Landscape from Saint-Rémy, 1889
Trees in the Garden of the Asylum, 1889
Drawbridge, 1888
Orchard Bordered by Cypresses, 1888
Stairs in the Garden of the Asylum, 1889
A Walk at Twilight, 1890
Farmhouse Among Olive Trees, 1889
Garden with Flowers, 1888
Field with Poppies, 1889
Cypresses and Two Women, 1890
Olive Trees on a Hillside, 1889
Still Life of Oranges and Lemons with Blue Gloves, 1889
Path in the Park at Arles, 1888
Garden at Arles, 1888
Orchard Bordered by Cypress Trees, 1888
Reminiscence of Brabant, 1890
Orchard with Peach Trees and Cypresses, 1888
Landscape Under Turbulent Skies, 1889
Garden with Weeping Willow, 1888
A Wheatfield, with Cypresses, 1889 by Vincent van Gogh
The Great Hall inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Lachrymae, 1894-95 by Frederic Leighton
The Temple of Dendur, completed in 10 B.C., in the Egyptian galleries
Temple of Dendur
Cubiculum (bedroom) from a Roman Villa, 50 B.C.
Bronze Chariot Inlaid with Ivory, Etruscan 6th century B.C.
Reception Room, Damascus, 1707, Syria
Ottoman Carpets
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT — The Met is open until 9:00 (21:00) on Friday & Saturday Evenings
American Wing
Furniture & Architecture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

The 18th-century Neapolitan Baroque Creche at the base of the Met’s Christmas Tree
New York: Fifth Avenue entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

ART LOVERS TIP: Admission to the Met is currently $30 for adults, $22 for seniors 65 years of age and older, and $17 for students. However, New York State residents with valid identification can bring in guests without reservations on a “pay what you wish” basis, meaning the amount you pay for admission is up to you if you enter with someone who lives in New York State! Students from Connecticut, New Jersey and New York also pay what they wish. Children under 12 enter for free.

Fifth Avenue on the East Side of New York
Table for Ladies, 1930 by Edward Hopper (top), Boat Pond at East 72nd St. in Central Park (left) & Radio City Music Hall on 6th Avenue in New York (right)
SSO, 1963 by Allan D’Arcangelo

The FRICK COLLECTION in NEW YORK

Louise, Princesse de Broglie {Comtesse d’Haussonville}, 1845  by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

New York offers something special for each visitor. If the first-class presentation of art on a large scale at the Met is not your cup of tea, then consider the Frick Collection. The first-rate collection of old master paintings at the Frick is without equal in the United States. Henry Clay Frick’s residence at 1 East 70th Street opened to the public as a small museum in 1935. Although this historic home is temporarily closed due to renovation and expansion, Frick’s collection of paintings from the Renaissance to the early 20th century is currently on display at 945 Madison Avenue at East 75th Street, Thursday through Sunday from 10:00 until 5:45 in the afternoon.

Italian Masters

The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, 1308-11 by Duccio di Buoninsegna
St. John the Evangelist, 1454-69 by Piero della Francesca, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
St. Francis in the Desert, 1476-78 by Giovanni Bellini
Portrait of a Man in a Red Hat, 1510 by Titian
Pietro Aretino, 1537 by Titian

The Finest Netherlandish Paintings in New York

The Virgin and Child with St. Barbara, St. Elizabeth, and Jan Vos, 1441-1443 by Jan van Eyck
Portrait of a Man, 1470-75 by Hans Memling
Sir Thomas More, 1527 by Hans Holbein the Younger
Frans Snyders, 1620 by Anthony van Dyck
Nicolaes Ruts, 1631 by Rembrandt
The Polish Rider, 1655 by Rembrandt
Girl Interrupted at Her Music, 1658–59 by Johannes Vermeer
Officer and Laughing Girl, 1657 by Johannes Vermeer
Mistress and Maid, 1666−67 by Johannes Vermeer

British Art

Sarah, Lady Innes, 1757 by Thomas Gainsborough
Fishing Boats Entering Calais Harbor, 1803 by J. M. William Turner
Julia, Lady Peel, 1827 by Thomas Lawrence

Painters in Spain & France

Purification of the Temple, 1600 by El Greco
The Pond, 1868-1870 by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Vétheuil in Winter, 1878 by Claude Monet
La Promenade, 1875 by Auguste Renoir

All of the decorative objects, furniture and canvases at the Frick Collection are of the highest quality, and slightly more than half of the paintings were chosen by Henry Frick himself before his death in 1919. It would be impossible for us to focus our attention on one work of art from this preeminent small museum; however, we do have two favorites: Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert and Johannes Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid.

With five Vermeers in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and three more at The Frick, you have the opportunity to appreciate so many of these rare paintings within a 10-block radius. Moreover, Mistress and Maid is one of the most interesting Vermeers, and the fact that it was the last painting that Henry Frick added to his collection demonstrates his growth and sophistication as a collector. You should also seek out the art of Piero della Francesca — of the seven paintings by this artist in the United States, you will find four at The Frick — as well as Fragonard’s series entitled The Progress of Love. While these Fragonards are usually installed in a Rococo drawing room inside the Frick mansion (with the attendant panels hanging over doors and next to windows), you now have the exceptional opportunity to view the 14 paintings that comprise The Progress of Love individually and up-close at the Frick Madison.

Interior Courtyard inside the Frick mansion at 1 East 70th Street

The MUSEUM OF MODERN ART in NEW YORK

We at ArtLoversTravel have a love/hate relationship with New York’s Museum of Modern Art (colloquially, “MoMA”). We have included MoMA among the top three museums to visit in NYC because it is the world’s most influential institution devoted to modern art, and comparable museums envy the breadth of MoMA’s collection. In addition, the Museum of Modern Art is extremely popular, consistently ranking among the 15 most visited art museums in the world (with over 1,150,000 visitors in 2021, despite the pandemic). To draw a comparison, the Met received nearly 2,000,000 patrons during the same year, and the third most popular venue for art in New York was the Whitney Museum of American Art with about 500,000 visitors annually.

Dynamism of a Soccer Player, 1913 by Umberto Boccioni

The Cons & the Pros

One disadvantage of owning the most impressive collection of modern and contemporary art is the fact that only about 10% of the Museum of Modern Art’s collection is on display at any one time. We have ambivalent feelings about MoMA’s constant acquisition of so many masterpieces when 90% of that art will end up housed in temperature-controlled storage for a seemingly endless number of years. MoMA normally shows about 24 Picassos, for example, even though MoMA owns 1,221 works of art by Pablo Picasso.

We also have mixed feelings about how this museum curates its holdings and, in general, the gallery space at MoMA, which at times has the ambiance of a crowded mall. Of the six departments at this museum, we find that the two departments with the best curators — “Architecture and Design” and “Drawings and Prints” — are given the least amount of space. The other four departments are Film, Photography, Painting & Sculpture, and Media & Performance. In fairness, many museums confront similar problems. The Louvre shows 8% of its collection, the Guggenheim 3%. Of course, there are success stories, which MoMA would be wise to contemplate. Vienna’s Albertina Museum (one of our favorites) possesses millions of works on paper with the space to show “less than 1% — maybe even 0.1% — of our collection” of drawings, according to Christian Benedik. The Albertina’s original owners, however, mandated that a facsimile of every graphic work of art be readily available for viewing by the public. Historically, MoMA’s solution has been to expand its space at 11 West 53rd Street for the presentation of modern art, while reserving its location in Queens (MoMA PS1) for the sole purpose of exhibiting contemporary art. In order to show more of its art, perhaps it is time for MoMA to open satellite galleries in the USA, especially in culturally underserved communities, and abroad.

Still Life, circa 1905 by Henri Matisse {National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.}
Bridge over the Riou, 1906 by André Derain
Dance (I), 1909 by Henri Matisse
Still Life (Table with Bowl of Fruit), 1939 by Pierre Bonnard

MoMA at Its Best

Whether you are a novice or an art aficionado, the Museum of Modern Art in New York is the perfect place to appreciate the development of modern Western art by admiring one masterpiece after another — and we do mean “one.” If you want to see the art of Edgar Degas “in depth,” go first to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At MoMA we saw only one painting by Degas on public display and yet, through MoMA’s seamless chronological presentation, it was visually quite easy to see how Degas’ experimentation with color intensely influenced the palette of Paul Gauguin, and then how Derain, Matisse, Bonnard and Picasso used Gauguin’s paintings as a touchstone to judge their own successes or shortcomings with color.

Washerwomen, 1888 by Paul Gauguin
The Moon and the Earth, 1893 by Paul Gauguin
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 by Pablo Picasso

Come to New York If You Wish to Gain a Better Understanding of Matisse & Picasso

Henri Matisse is known for his mastery of the expressive language of color, and Pablo Picasso is credited as the first to deconstruct form and perspective (through the Cubist movement, collage, and constructed sculpture). Yes, these two greats were in opposing camps, but not enough scholarly attention has been devoted to how they learned from and spurred on each other. After his Blue Period (1901 — 1904) and Rose Period (1904 — 1906), Picasso found inspiration in Matisse’s Fauvist experimentation, the hostility Matisse’s paintings received at the Salon d’Automne (1905) and the fiasco that resulted when “The Joy of Life” (“Le bonheur de vivre,” now in the Barnes Foundation) by Matisse was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants (1906). Critics of Matisse were concerned about the end of French painting. Paul Signac (who had purchased early works by Matisse) wrote, “Matisse, whose attempts I have liked until now, seems to me to have gone to the dogs. Upon a canvas of two-and-a-half meters, he has surrounded some strange characters with a line as thick as your thumb. Then he has covered the whole thing with flat, well-defined tints, which — however pure — seem disgusting.”

Truth be told, the non-realistic figures, complex spontaneous brushstrokes and bold colors of Fauvism were inspired by African art, and it was Matisse who showed Picasso a wooden Kongo-Vili figurine around 1906-07 which led Picasso to experience a “revelation” while viewing African art inside the ethnographic museum at the Palais du Trocadéro.

Having seen Le bonheur de vivre “Pablo Picasso, who, in an effort to outdo Matisse in shock value, immediately began work on his watershed Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (above), according to a curator at the Barnes Foundation. Be that as it may, thanks to Matisse’s inspiration it was at this time that Picasso began his African Period (1907 — 1909). Finally, from 1909 to 1912 both men realized their most radical contributions to modern art: Picasso invented Analytic Cubism, while Matisse was creating his Color-Field Revolution.

The Red Studio, 1911 by Henri Matisse, source: Steven Zucker

It is noteworthy that in the 1920s both Matisse and Picasso softened their most extreme approaches to art (portraiture, in particular) — a time when Matisse’s orientalist odalisques can be compared to Picasso’s neoclassicism, as well as Derain’s return to traditionalism during the so-called “return to order” in the art world following World War I.

Still Life after Jan Davidsz. de Heem’s “La Desserte”, 1915 by Henri Matisse

In retrospect, theirs was a fruitful rivalry. The older Matisse had motivated Picasso in 1906 to explore non-Western art and advance more radical approaches. In turn, a few years later Cubism, the first abstract movement in art, proved to be something that interested Matisse, though ultimately he rejected it. As you proceed through the Museum of Modern Art, you may fairly conclude that Matisse was inspired by Picasso to incorporate certain aspects of the deconstruction of form into his expressive style of painting that emphasized flattened forms and decorative patterns, as one can immediately recognize in “Still Life after Jan Davidsz. de Heem’s ‘La Desserte'” (above) and “The Moroccans” (below).

The Moroccans, 1915-16 by Henri Matisse
I and the Village, 1911 by Marc Chagall
The Starry Night, 1889 by Vincent van Gogh
Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat, 1909 by Oskar Kokoschka
Pharisees, 1912 by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff
The Persistence of Memory, 1931 by Salvador Dalí
Retrospective Bust of a Woman, 1933 by Salvador Dalí
Christina’s World, 1948 by Andrew Wyeth

A Protest by Women in New York

In 1983, an expansion project at MoMA more than doubled its gallery space. In June 1984, there was a protest in front of the museum by 400 women artists to bring attention to the lack of female representation in “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture,” its opening exhibition following the museum’s expansion which featured only 14 women among the 165 contributing artists. Today, the holdings at MoMA represent more than 13,000 artists — 20% female, 80% male and 3 non-binary.

Here, we have presented some of our impressions of the Museum of Modern Art in New York — its strengths and failings. We urge you to visit MoMA, and we hope you will share your experience with us and our readers.

Gaea, 1966 by Lee Krasner
Georgie Arce, 1953 by Alice Neel
Bullfight, 1960 by Elaine de Kooning
Cut-Outs from The Swimming Pool, 1952 by Henri Matisse
Vir Heroicus Sublimis, 1950-51 by Barnett Newman
Animals, 1941 by Rufino Tamayo
The Eternal City, 1934-37 by Peter Blume
Two Guns Arikara, 1973-77 by T.C. Cannon
A display organized by the Department of Architecture and Design
Night Windows, 1928 by Edward Hopper
Gas, 1940 by Edward Hopper

If you are interested in learning more about the “KARL LAGERFELD: A Line of Beauty” exhibit previously held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and additional paintings by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists (including Vincent van Gogh) on view at the Met, please pay a visit to our article entitled “New York City — Fashionable Exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum.”

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