PostcarDC 1.11: The one and only National Gallery, WEST WING

One leaves the East Wing a little on the wonderlandish side to the crossover to the dazzling array of falling water. The West wing is the older part, the more traditional. Mazelike, like all the older museums, there is enough to keep you busy for days.

Not quite the Met, nor the Philly in some ways, it still is breathtaking. I never have enough time. Although I include other shootings from other days (this visit I spent a ton of time in the East wing). The National Gallery West wing keeps itself on its toes. There are Leonardo’s and tons of Impressionists, there is furniture and photographs and space. There will be shows of drawings sometimes. Different things. Nicely put together nooks, places to stop and reflect (below left).

Or a lovely group of paintings from days long gone, when things just had to look like things (right). Every museum has memorable pieces. The Boston Fine Arts has some beautiful Sargent’s that you can’t see anywhere else. I was surprised by the wonderful Ingres in Philly. But I was impressed by the beautiful Eva Gonzales (below). In one book I read, they said that Manet made a choice to mentor Berthe Morisot, in favor of Gonzales. I do not know what that could have meant, watch how Gonzales creates strong space with the upturned umbrella. Notice how the space continues until you get that band of lightness which goes behind the figure in background. Beautifully done. The perfect lightness on lightness of the dress. And the little girl, a borrowing perhaps from the Gare Saint-Lazare painting by Manet?

There is the pre-Raphaelite show of photographs, but NO photos please. Lucky to photograph the poster for the show (below). This show has outstanding work by Julia Margaret Cameron, and surprising work by Lewis Carroll.

For more about this show which is now closed:

There is a nicely repackaged group of work from the Chester Dale collection called From Impressionism to Modernism, which reuses existing work. There is a group of paintings, most excellent and several very well known ones. 

The Degas painting of the ballerinas is wonderful (above), we see him often and many of his works are tiny. This one is quite large and wonderful for use of color and form. What refined technique in another, where everything is as restrained as Whistler. That is the intimate Madame René de Gas, which already belies asymmetry which Degas will become signature for him (below).

The shot is imperfect, but what a great moment watching this lady watching between the two ladies.

Look at that wonderful Cassatt! Miss Mary Ellison (above, detail) belies her later work in pastel, where chalk becomes pure light. Cassatt often worked in two planes, one of blended light; the other like the The Boating Part (below) where areas become subdivided and designed like Japanese prints.

Look at the face on Mary Ellison, how come I hear so much psychological crap about Lorenzo Lotto, but no one ever talks about Cassatt women? Oh, I forgot, she is a woman, they just don’t emote that depth—right?

Above clockwise: Fantin-Latour’s Portrait of Sonia,  Vincent van Gogh’s La Mousmè, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec’s Alfred de Guigne and and  George Bellow’s design intriguing Blue Morning.


I don’t know if it was Matisse who told the story or Maillol. But as a younger man, Matisse got an audience with the aged Renoir. Renoir told him to paint the backside of a woman, like you felt like you could slap it! Matisse, somewhat fertummelt quickly exited. It strike me as two prime painters could do this:  Rubens and Renoir.

When you think of the Grand Odalisque by Ingres, you get a very different picture from the Renoir one (above). Never a master of texture, in this painting Renoir differentiates beautifully skin, cloth and even takes a stab at a still life worthy of his friend, Cezanne. Earthy as her legs, lusty as her face, no man quite saw women as Renoir. For that matter, no man has quite portrayed men as he has. It is almost as if a woman painted the men. Never overly virile, not ogres towering over or over musculatured. It reminds me of the threesome on the original Hand that Rocks the Cradle, where the man came across like a woman with a beard in some shots.

The National Gallery is like, well, old. And in this oldness we see many of the concepts of what a museum used to be. It is apparent in places like the Met in NY, the BFA in Boston, the Philly Museum of Art, Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Art is a faceoff, and done with a certain reverence. It is a serious outing, no frou frou.

In one day, we covered the Museum of the American Indian, the Hirshhorn, parts of the National Gallery, and of course, the Portrait Gallery. All for free. Which I am really becoming an advocate of. Many corporations (Coke, Boeing, Lockheed, Microsoft, McDonald’s, Apple and all of the corporate entertainment industry) should be paying large cultural taxes which benefit everyone, instead of just their greedy stockholders. The days of them underwriting shows and plastering their names all over, while “extra” admissions are charged to the viewer, should end. Pronto!

For the other side of the National Gallery EAST, see:


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