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Art That Stopped Me in My Tracks

[BLOG POST 1/9/24] Recently I filled out an application for an art organization and they asked which artists have inspired me and my art work. Whereas there are MANY artists and works of art that have moved over the years but the painting above by James Tissot (French Painter 1836-1902) stopped me in my tracks as I wandered an exhibit dedicated to his paintings in the San Francisco Legion of Honor fine art museum.

I found most of his paintings to be impressive, beautiful, and even arresting but this one was my absolute favorite. Standing about 6 feet from the painting with other museum visitors walking past me I stared at this painting–it was so well painted that I could imagine the feel the fabric, it's weight and texture. As part of the exhibit they had a sample of the fabric on display behind glass but it didn't look as luxurious as the painting of it did.

If you aren't familiar with James Tissot's work check out this virtual exhibit titled, "The Art of Fashion, Flirtation and Attraction by James Tissot" by the “Joy of Museums” or “JOM” which explores and shares insights on Art, Artifacts, and History via Virtual Tours.

Another painting at the San Francisco Legion of Honor fine art museum that stopped me in my tracks that day was "Portrait of Joris de Caulerij" by Rembrandt van Rijn (aka Rembrandt). This painting was a favorite of my teacher and mentor Nancy Lucas-Williams from the Masters' Atelier of Drawing and Painting. She had a print of it hanging up in the atelier and whereas the print was nice it paled in comparison to the original painting (true of all art BTW).

Rembrandt is of course a famous painter known to many whether you are an art enthusiast or not. But until you see a painting of his face to face you may not fully realize his full abilities, skills, and talents. Joris de Caulerij, painted in 1632, felt so real 400+ years later that I felt like I could have a conversation with him across time.

Meanwhile in the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) this portrait of Léon Delafosse by John Singer Sargent (1856 –1925) pulled me in. From a distance it was looked incredibly dark and yet when seen in person there is a lot of detail in the darkness which fascinated me. How many ways can you paint shapes draped in shadows? The answer from John Singer Sargent is "a lot!". And then the contrast of how robust and young the face looks against the starkly dark background creates a very dramatic composition.

In all of the paintings mentioned so far the one thing thing they have in common that I love is that when you stand 6-8 feet away the painting looks like a photograph but when you stand just a foot away you can see the individual paint strokes, the layering of paint (not always seemlessly blended), and the details of the painting looking loose and almost abstract.

The last painting I'll mention now, although there are plenty more that have inspired me, is one of Claude Monet's Water Lilies paintings on display at the NYC Modern Museum of Art (MoMA). I was in NYC for a belly dance conference years ago and had an afternoon free so wandered through the museum. I'd seen smaller water lily paintings before and, of course lots of prints, but nothing prepared me for seeing his original large scale painting. It took up the better part of a whole wall.

I stopped in front of it and cried.

For about an hour.

People walking past looked to make sure I was OK.

I was OK but I was also completely absorbed by the dance of human emotion expressed in the painting. Every human emotion was there ranging from ecstasy to despair with perseverance, patience, and love mixed in. I could see Monet's struggle and his triumphs. And it was all topped off with beautiful, subtle, ever changing color.


Dear reader, I hope you also experience art that stops you in your tracks. It's a delightful and transformative experience. ❤️

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