Still Life

Still Life by Charles Sheeler

Do you ever look at familiar objects from a new angle?

The still lifes that Sheeler produced in the mid-1920s were based on a few straightforward elements, usually combining a tabletop arrangement of fruits or flowers with simple pieces of glassware or pottery. In these deceptively simple paintings, curves play against straight lines, edges and reflections intersect, and shadows are expressed by fields of jewel-like color. Sheeler carefully controlled his arrangements, choosing each piece for its ability to contribute to the overall composition.

Girl with Comb

Girl with Comb by Max Weber

What kind of space does this person occupy?

Weber painted a series of unidentified sitters set against simple backgrounds. The subject in this painting resembles the artist’s wife, Frances. She may have served as the inspiration for some of Weber’s unidentified portraits. While portraits make up a smaller portion of Weber’s body of work, these works illustrate his enduring interest in the work of artists he admired, such as Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, and Paul Cézanne, as well as his ongoing interest in folk art.

Highland Light

Highland Light by George C. Ault

Is this painting about place or shape?

Ault’s mature style focused on a Precisionist rendering of cityscapes and industrial subjects. He also produced rural views that emphasized geometric forms, such as Highland Light. In the years between the two world wars, Precisionist artists such as Ault, Charles Sheeler, and Charles Demuth balanced a common appreciation for urban views and technological development with an interest in rural America and our shared historical past.

Two Women and a Child

Two Women and a Child by Diego Rivera

Does America have a national identity?

Rivera promoted a living link between ancient and modern Mexican art. This painting recalls Olmec stone figures or Jalisco ceramics, which could have served as models for these women. With their simplicity and grandeur, the two women also resemble the nearly contemporary classical figures of Pablo Picasso. This image may have been derived from studies Rivera made at open-air markets, and the subject of mothers and children interested him throughout his career.

The Road

The Road by Xavier Martinez

Where will you go to find opportunity?

Like many San Francisco painters, Martínez lost his studio in the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires. Following this disaster, he left San Francisco for Piedmont across the bay. In The Road, he shows the hills of the East Bay in muted colors, their smooth masses resembling unformed clay. This is a new piece of the California dream, ready to be shaped by growth and development.

Still Life with Fruit and Coffeepot

Still Life with Fruit and Coffeepot by Hans Hofmann

How does this work describe the process of painting?

This work is an important example from an extended series Hofmann commenced in the mid-1930s depicting the traditional subject of the artist’s studio. However, this real-world source of inspiration is merely the pretext for his explorations of form, line, space, and color. Hofmann’s still life is fundamentally a painting about painting, and its innovative treatment of a conventional subject was an inspiration to his students—many of whom became leading figures of Abstract Expressionism.

The Summer Camp, Blue Mountain

The Summer Camp, Blue Mountain by Marsden Hartley

Have you ever had to work on something all alone?

This painting captures Hartley’s love of the landscape surrounding his home near North Lovell, Maine. He had moved to the area in the fall of 1908, working alone, enduring difficult winter conditions, and painting the seasonal changes he observed in the mountains and the Maine Woods. Hartley was encouraged to show these works to Alfred Stieglitz, who was so impressed that he exhibited them at his Gallery 291 in New York City the very next month—it was Hartley’s first significant solo exhibition.

Painting with Yellow and Green

Painting with Yellow and Green by Matta (Roberto Sebastián Antonio Echaurren Matta)

How does your mind work?

Matta’s large canvases evoke the cosmos, totems, and the human psyche. His work was, in his words, an attempt to create a “psychological morphology,” or a visible map of human consciousness. In this composition, mechanical forms float in a surreal space. The diagrammatic nature of the elements gives the impression that the painting can function as a kind of blueprint for the subconscious. This painting might also offer an example of what Matta called his “architecture of the imagination.”

From One Night to Another

From One Night to Another by Yves Tanguy

When was the last time you used your imagination?

Tanguy’s paintings depict hallucinatory, imaginary worlds and fantastic landscapes. The topography of this work, the alien terrain typical of Tanguy, invokes a world of dreams, while the smoothly applied paint contributes to a feeling of strange liquefaction. In contrast to the invented setting, the forms within this strange world are painted with a vivid clarity and realism. They appear to occupy the scene as towering monuments, casting strong shadows across the ground.

Nacht I (Night I)

Nacht I (Night I) by Albert Bloch

What makes a work of art spiritual?

Bloch typically included abstract religious imagery in his paintings. In this work, constellations of light evoke associations with the stars of heaven, the star of Bethlehem, and the falling stars of John’s apocalyptic book of Revelation. The shapes of these sparkling lights in the sky somehow feel both material and spiritual. In his poem “To My Palette,” Bloch described blue as a spiritual color, but this nocturnal vision of Munich appears, at first glance, to be firmly grounded on Earth.