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Adventures in Art

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John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778, National Gallery of Art, Ferdinand Lammot Belin Fund

A painting is quite different from television or the movies, where a plot unfolds over time. It's just one image, frozen, unmoving. Yet, sometimes artists have exciting stories to tell. 

Napoleon in his Study


Jacques-Louis David, The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812

Napoleon Bonaparte was the emperor of France in the early 1800s. Even though photography had not been invented yet, we know how Napoleon looked because many paintings and drawings of the emperor have survived.

Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle)


Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913, National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

Kandinsky wasn't trying to paint a picture of an actual sea battle. His work is abstract. It has some connection to things in the real world, but the shapes and colors have been distorted and adjusted so that the artist could convey a mood through his choice of color, brush strokes, painted lines, and shapes.

Orchid and Three Hummingbirds


Martin Johnson Heade, Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds, 1871, oil on wood, Gift of The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation

Heade enjoyed painting exotic, faraway landscapes, and he traveled a great deal throughout his career. This picture was inspired by a trip to South America.







Jarama II


Frank Stella, Jarama II, 1982, National Gallery of Art, Gift of Lila Acheson Wallace

Some artists play a game like charades with their art. Instead of just painting a picture of something that you can recognize easily, they think of a clever way to express an idea. You have to look carefully and guess what the artist was trying to say.

CATLIN's indians


George Catlin, Catlin Painting the Portrait of Mah-to-toh-pa—Mandan (detail), 1861/1869, National Gallery of Art, Paul Mellon Collection

George Catlin is best known as a painter of the American Indians. After seeing a delegation of Plains Indians in Philadelphia, he decided to dedicate his life to recording the lives and customs of Native Americans.



James Jacques Joseph Tissot, Hide and Seek, c. 1877, National Gallery of Art, Chester Dale Fund

"Ready or I come," shouts the child whose turn it is to look. Ooops! One girl has just peeked from her hiding spot. How many children do you see hiding?


Saint George and the Dragon


Rogier van der Weyden, Saint George and the Dragon, 1432-1435, National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

Brave Saint George, dressed in shiny armor, is trying to rescue a princess from a terrible dragon that is terrorizing her town. Let's find out what happens next....

Ginevra de' Benci


Leonardo da Vinci, Ginevra de' Benci, c. 1474/1478, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

Leonardo da Vinci painted this portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, a young Florentine noblewoman. Fingerprints visible on the paint surface show how the artist used his hand as well as a brush to blend colors and create soft, delicate edges.


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