Lady in Black with Spanish Scarf (O in Black with a Scarf)

Lady in Black with Spanish Scarf (O in Black with a Scarf) by Robert Henri

Can a portrait capture someone’s mind?

When this portrait was painted, Marjorie Organ Henri had been married to the artist for less than two years. “O,” as Henri called her, was a successful cartoonist for the New York Journal, and her caricatures appeared regularly in print. This portrait challenged the conventions of society portraiture; posing her against a dark background, the artist’s psychological realism presents her as independent, confident, and self-possessed—the very model of the period’s “New Woman.”

Trout Stream in the Tyrol

Trout Stream in the Tyrol by John Singer Sargent

What risks do you take to create something unique?

A friend who accompanied Sargent on three trips to the Alps and the Austrian Tyrol once described the artist’s precarious position as he painted an alpine stream: “I saw him working on a steep mountain side, the branch of a torrent rushing between his feet, one of which was set on stones piled up in the water.” Perhaps that was the artist’s perch as he painted this mountain landscape, which shows an angler prowling the bank of a wild stream, watching the water intently for his next catch.

Mrs. Robert S. Cassatt, the Artist's Mother

Mrs. Robert S. Cassatt, the Artist's Mother by Mary Cassatt

What does the artist emphasize in this painting?

Cassatt painted her mother many times throughout her career. Shown here at the age of 73, the subject is depicted in a reflective pose suggesting her vitality, tenderness, and intelligence. Short, delicate brushstrokes define her face and hands; the details of the shawl, flowers, and background are painted with broad strokes of color that contrast with the deep black of her dress. This painting might remind some viewers of Whistler’s Mother, James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s iconic portrait of 1871.

May Day, Central Park

May Day, Central Park by William James Glackens

What kind of energy does this painting capture?

Glackens was a realist at odds with artistic conventions. Here, he employed dashing brushstrokes and rich, brilliant color to capture the rowdy hustle and bustle of a springtime celebration in New York’s Central Park. Well-dressed children wrestle and play in the sunlight while, in the shade, a maypole teeters, largely ignored. The artist, who worked as a newspaper illustrator, is particularly successful in conveying the energetic play of the children in a spontaneous and vigorous style.


Innocence by George Luks

What does innocence look like?

When this painting was shown in New York City in 1916, a reviewer commented: “In work of an uninspired artist you can speak of this or that subject as a ‘type,’ but Mr. Luks does not paint types—he paints the individual. And it is not a likeness, but an ideal, as seen in Innocence.” The subject’s frank, frontal pose and the lively brushstrokes are characteristic of Luks, who was excited by the vitality of all aspects of contemporary urban life.

Elizabeth Platt Jencks

Elizabeth Platt Jencks by Thomas Wilmer Dewing

How do the people in your life inspire you?

Dewing painted this portrait of Elizabeth Platt Jencks at the artists’ colony in Cornish, New Hampshire, which he helped establish. When he began this portrait, he had just returned from traveling in Europe, where he toured galleries and shared a London studio with James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Whistler’s influence is evident in Dewing’s fluid brushstrokes and muted tonality. Jencks stands against a mottled gray ground in a firm and confident pose, beautiful and strong.

Caroline de Bassano, Marquise d'Espeuilles

Caroline de Bassano, Marquise d'Espeuilles by John Singer Sargent

Can you imagine a day in this woman’s life?

Sargent’s glittering, life-sized society portrait of Caroline de Bassano, Marquise d’Espeuilles, was designed to register her position in society as a titled aristocrat and an arbiter of decorum and taste. However, in place of the imposing setting usually referenced in grand-manner portraiture, Sargent isolated the marquise in an undefined space, perhaps in order to subvert convention and render her beauty as timeless.

A Day in July

A Day in July by Louis Ritman

What are the psychological impacts of war?

A Day in July was painted during the final year of World War I, which dramatically disrupted life in Paris and the areas surrounding Giverny, the two places Ritman split his time between. Yet this work reveals none of the turmoil and devastation of those final months of war. Rather, Ritman’s patchwork of calm, harmonious colors and dappled light convey a sense of peace and repose.

Harlem River at High Bridge

Harlem River at High Bridge by Ernest Lawson

How has industry changed the landscape of America?

In 1893 Lawson left for France to study Impressionism at its source; he hoped “to keep my individuality and at the same time get as much of the best French influence as will be consistent with it.” He usually painted en plein air, working directly on the canvas without preliminary studies, later reworking paintings in his studio. In this work, Lawson presents a study in contrasts, juxtaposing aspects of modern city life with bucolic landscape elements inspired by French Impressionism.

Winter's Festival

Willard Leroy Metcalf, Winter's Festival

What does this winter scene promise?

Some American painters of winter scenes did not regard the season as cold and unforgiving. Instead, many had positive views of the potential inherent in depicting such landscapes. Metcalf may have agreed with the American essayist Hamilton Wright Mabie, who declared that “winter is the concealment, not absence of life, and the woods are as full of potential vitality when the snow covers them as when the summer strives in vain to penetrate the depths of their foliage.”