Category Archives: Paintings

“Virgin and Child in a Domestic Interior” by Petrus Christus

Virgin And Child In A Domestic Interior

Photo: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Where: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.  

The setting is entirely domestic – not religious – and Joseph has assumed an uncommon position in this particular rendering of Madonna and Child.

“Joseph is subordinated in this painting and appears to be older than usual with a walking stick,” says Ian Kennedy, Louis L. and Adelaide C. Ward curator of European Painting and Sculpture for the Nelson.

Virgin and Child in a Domestic Interior was painted in the mid-fifteenth century by Flemish painter and Van Eyck student, Petrus Christus.  It’s more than 500 years old and  in excellent condition, making it one of the masterpieces of the Nelson-Atkins collection.

“The chandelier and very detailed interior are very characteristic of the Flemish and of Christus,” says Kennedy of Van Eyck’s star pupil.  “The painting is very geometric looking, and Christus is trying to get away from the influence of Van Eyck.”

The artist’s hometown of Brugges, Belgium is visible through the window and an apple on the ledge symbolizes the fall of man.  The colors are bright; the green in the bedspread is especially vibrant and Mary’s skirt is painted atypically turquoise.

“Everybody likes it,” says Kennedy.  ”It’s a picture you can keep looking at and find something new to admire each time.”

The painting — a favorite at Christmastime — can be viewed at the Nelson.


“Masks” by Emil Nolde

Masks by Emil Nolde

~photo courtesy Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Where: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.  

“A lot of people look at Masks and are unsettled by what they see,” says Jan Schall, Sanders-Sosland curator of modern and contemporary art at the Nelson.

Masks was painted in 1911 by well-known German Expressionist Emil Nolde as a reflection of his growing interest in non-Western cultures.  Studying the masks at the Berlin Museum of Ethnology, Nolde was able to capture a variety of cultures all on one canvas – carnival masks in the center and the shrunken head of a Yoruna Indian from Brazil in the lower right, among others.

But in 1937 Germany, paintings like these were labeled “degenerate” by a committee working for Third Reich minister Joseph Goebbels.  Nolde was prohibited from painting further and his artworks were seized by the Nazi party.  Museums were forced to purge these paintings, and some ultimately became part of the “Degenerate Art Exhibition” in Munich, which was meant to humiliate the artists whose works were displayed.

But there’s a happy end to this story.  The museum where Masks hung prior to its condemnation – the Folkwang Museum in Essen, Germany — reconstituted its galleries to their pre-1937 state through the graciousness of museums all over the world for a March 2011 exhibition.  Masks and Schall traveled back to Essen to (re) join the exhibition, too.

See here for more information on the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

“Water Taxi, Mount Desert” by Richard Estes

~ photo courtesy of the Kemper Museum

Where: Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri.  

Is it a painting or is it a photograph?  The giveaway is to notice that this work is by Richard Estes, a leading American artist and photorealist.

In photorealism, artists work from a photograph and then must possess the technical capability to translate that image into a painting.

Water Taxi, Mount Desert is oil on canvas and quite large – nearly 3  x 5 ½ feet. Estes paints frequently from photographs taken in Maine, where he resides part of the year.  Water and water transport are major themes of his works.

Learn more about the Kemper Museum here.

“The Sonata” by Childe Hassam

The Sonata by Childe Hassam

Photo: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Where:  The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.  

Exhausted, a young woman collapses into herself after performing Beethoven’s famously difficult and lengthy “Sonata Appassionata.” A delicate yellow rose lies atop the piano, its heady blossom also too heavy to support.

“This was a really important piece to Hassam,” says Stephanie Knappe, assistant curator of American Art for the Nelson.  “He was really attached to it, and it probably served as the model for the thirty other domestic interiors he painted with young women as subjects.”

Attached he was.  He withheld “The Sonata” when he otherwise sold virtually his entire collection, finally letting go 26 years after he painted it.  It eventually found its way into the hands of Washington D.C. collector and tastemaker Duncan Phillips of Phillips Collection fame, but a feud between the two prompted Hassam to reacquire it, anonymously, seven years later in 1928.

Hassam painted “The Sonata” in his New York studio in 1893 at a time when “art for art’s sake” was finding its way into the lexicon of art students, galleries and collectors alike.

“It celebrates beauty and calm,” says Knappe. “It imparts no moral lesson for us to follow and shows us how important the idea of beauty is to our lives.”

See here for more information on the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

“The Garden of Les Mathurins at Pontoise” by Camille Pissaro


Photo: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Where: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.  

“What interests me most is the subject,” says Simon Kelly, associate curator of European painting and sculpture of the home of Maria Deraismes, a prominent author and political figure in 1860s France who fought for women’s rights.

“The ideas she was fighting for put her at the forefront of early feminism,” he says.

Deraismes is also thought to be the woman gazing into the glass ball.  She and Pissarro were friends, and Pissarro, too, was very forward-thinking politically.  It is an unusual painting in Pissarro’s repertoire, as he is mainly known for painting the peasants and laborers of the French countryside.

The Garden of Les Mathurins at Pontoise was painted in 1876 and shown a year later at the Third Impressionist Exhibition in Paris. Importantly, Pissarro holds the distinction of being the only artist to exhibit at all eight of the Impressionist exhibitions.  More broadly, the painting is considered important for its successful use of color and light, and because it reflects Pissarro’s overt political interests.

“It’s a formal painting, but with lively brushwork and beautiful complementary colors,” says Kelly.  “It is one of a strong group of Pissarros on display right now, three of which are hanging next to each other in the same gallery,” he says.

See here for more information on the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

“Le Discret” by Joseph Ducreux

Where: Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.  

Le Discret

Photo: Spencer Museum of Art

In Joseph Ducreux’s 18th century oil painting, “Le Discret,” the subject cautions the viewer to be discreet.  Or has the subject – Ducreux himself – transgressed and wants you to keep his secret?

“This painting is extremely popular with our visitors,” says Susan Earle, the Spencer’s curator for European and American art.  “The man’s gesture exhorts us to be quiet, or, perhaps, not to tell anyone what he might be doing.  The sense that the painting speaks directly to visitors makes people respond to it immediately.”

“Le Discret” is part of a series that Ducreux created to convey different human emotions, all of them self-portraits.  He was interested in human physiognomy and how emotions could be portrayed on the face and through gesture.

“Physiognomic studies, as these were called, were popular in the late 18th century as part of a greater understanding of human expression and connections with science and the Enlightenment,” says Earle.

Ducreux was a French artist who served as a court painter to the King and Queen of England prior to the French Revolution.  Fearful for his life because of his position, he fled to London only to return to Paris a short time later where he lived out his life among the company of other artists.

Contact the Spencer for more information.

“Anne Geht Baden (Anne Goes Swimming)” by Susanne Kuhn

Photo: Kemper Museum

Where: Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri.  

An acquisition by the Kemper arrived just in time for summer.

Anne Goes Swimming by German painter Susanne Kuhn is large — more than 7 feet high and 5 feet wide – and hangs in the museum’s atrium.

The subject of the painting begins to undress in a pine forest in this surrealistic artwork.  A lake beckons behind her; stylized splashes of water sit on the painting’s surface.  Like many of Kuhn’s artworks, elements of Japanese art are also woven into the design —  a towel with a geisha motif and Japan’s “rising sun” emblem in the background.  As in this painting, most of Kuhn’s works combine elements of landscape, architecture, abstraction and reality.

Kuhn was born in 1969 in Leipzig in the former East Germany where she earned her MFA in Painting and Graphic Arts.  She came to the United States in 1995, completing postgraduate studies at the School for Visual Arts at Hunter College in New York.  She returned, ultimately, to Frieburg, Germany where she now lives and works.

Anne Goes Swimming was a gift of Dean Valentine and Amy Adelson in 2009.  It is the only publicly displayed Kuhn in a museum in the United States.

Learn more about the Kemper here.

“Dinner Conversation with Nancy” by Roger Shimomura

Where: Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.  

~ photo courtesy of the Spencer Museum

Nancy must have been some kind of woman to have inspired Roger Shimomura to have painted and named this painting for her. By all accounts, she was.

Shimomura painted “Dinner Conversation With Nancy” in 1983 as an untitled work, but later re-named it after the death of his good friend and Lawrence arts patron, Nancy Anne Zimmerman.  He donated it in her memory to the Spencer Museum of Art in 1988.

The painting portrays a jumble of images that seem to tumble together and float on top of each other.  And while there are figures peeking through in several places, there does not seem to be any ground plane or standard “figure/ground” relationship that would make the elements cohere into a narrative, or even into a readable space, says Susan Earle, Spencer curator.

“Normal concepts of space are defied,” she says.

Visitors are drawn to the painting because of the density of the images, the colors and the fact that many of the images are recognizable in pop culture, she says.

“It is a great example of the ways in which the artist works with existing styles and idioms, such as pop art from the 1960s,” says Earle.  “He incorporates elements of pop art, but also goes beyond it.”

Shimomura is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of KU’s Visual Arts Department.  His paintings and prints address sociopolitical issues of ethnicity and have often been inspired by the diaries kept by his late immigrant grandmother. He was born in Seattle, Washington and spent two early years away from his home in Minidoka, Idaho, one of 10 concentration camps for Japanese Americans during WWII.

Learn more about the Spencer Museum of Art.