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Modern Paintings: 1900 – 1950

A French window with its sill lined with flowerpots opens into a view of boats floating in a body of water in this loosely painted, vibrantly colored, stylized, vertical painting. The doors open inward, and they are painted with coral orange and cranberry red. The wall behind the door to the left is peacock blue and the wall to our right is fuchsia pink, and those colors are reflected in the opposite windows of the doors. Three flowerpots in crimson red, marmalade orange, or royal blue sit on the windowsill in front of us. Foliage in the pots is painted with short strokes of cardinal red and turquoise blue. Over the window, a two-paned transom window pierces a forest-green wall. The view through the panes has a band of salmon pink across the top and dabs of celery green and banana yellow below. The dabs and dashes of pine and lime green continue down the sides of the window and across the sill, suggesting vines growing up around the opening. A band of ultramarine blue beyond the flowerpots could be a balcony. Several rust-orange masts of ships with hulls painted with swipes of indigo blue, flamingo pink, forest green, and marigold orange float in the water beyond. The water is painted with parallel strokes in pale pink and butter yellow. The sky above is painted with thick, wavy lines of steel blue, periwinkle purple, and seafoam green. The artist signed the work in red paint in the lower right, “Henri Matisse.”

Henri Matisse, French, 1869 – 1954, Open Window, Collioure, 1905, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney 1998.74.7

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A group of three men, two children, and one woman gather in an empty, dusky rose-pink landscape under a blue, cloudy sky in this nearly square painting. Most of the people have muted, peachy skin, and the woman and the youngest boy have cream-white skin. The woman sits on the ground to our right, apart from the rest of the men and children. She wears a coral-red skirt, a beige shawl, and straw hat, and she looks into the distance to our right. The others stand in a loose semi-circle on the left half of the composition. A man wearing a multicolored, diamond-patterned costume stands with his back to us to the left. He looks to our right in profile and holds the hand of a little girl who also stands with her back to us. She wears a pink dress and white stockings, and her right hand rests on the tall handle of a white basket. A portly man wearing a scarlet-red jester’s costume and pointed hat stands opposite this pair, facing us to our right. Next to him to our right a young man wears a tan-colored leotard with a black bottom. He holds a barrel over his right shoulder and looks over to our right. The sixth person is the youngest boy, who wears a baggy blue and red outfit, and he looks toward the woman. The eyes of all the figures are deeply shadowed.

Pablo Picasso, Spanish, 1881 – 1973, Family of Saltimbanques, 1905, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 1963.10.190

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, German, 1880 – 1938, Dance Hall Bellevue, 1909/1910, oil on canvas, Ruth and Jacob Kainen Collection, Gift in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art © Ingeborg and Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern 1989.60.1

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Overlapping, geometric shapes painted in tones of tan, oatmeal, and coffee brown and outlined in black cluster along the center of this tall, vertical, abstract painting. Except for the outlines, the paint is put on in long, horizontal strokes to create patches of color. The unpainted canvas shows through in some areas, especially in the lower corners and up along the right edge. A few shapes could recall body parts, like curved shapes for breasts near the top and an angled line for an elbow. The artist signed the work with black paint at the lower center: “Picasso.”

Pablo Picasso, Spanish, 1881 – 1973, Nude Woman, 1910, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 1972.46.1

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Frantisek Kupka, Czech, 1871 – 1957, Localization of Graphic Motifs II, 1912/1913, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund and Gift of Jan and Meda Mladek 1984.51.1

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Black lines and one small, black triangular shape stand out against patches of color, in indigo and sky blue, pumpkin orange, butter yellow, emerald green, and ruby red, against a white background in this vertical, abstract painting. The paint seems thinly applied, resembling watercolor. Near the lower right corner, the black shape is roughly triangular and has five curving, parallel lines emanating from the bottom. Given the title of this painting, Improvisation 31, Sea Battle, the black lines could represent tall masts and outlines of sails amid areas of vibrant color that make up a boat and water around it.

Wassily Kandinsky, Russian, 1866 – 1944, Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund 1978.48.1

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A baby nestles in a mass of frilly white fabric atop a colorful patchwork, perhaps a pile of quilts, against a sage and spring-green background in this square painting. The baby’s face and right hand peeks out from the mountain of fabric at the top center of the composition. The infant has ash-white skin with pink cheeks and lips, and looks down toward us with large dark eyes. The pile of fabric creates a mosaic-like mix of pattern and color with vibrant royal and baby blue, sage green, turquoise, butter yellow, and shell and salmon pink. Some patterns are outlined in black while brushstrokes swirl together in other areas. The background is mottled with cool mint and asparagus-green strokes against pale beige.

Gustav Klimt, Austrian, 1862 – 1918, Baby (Cradle), 1917/1918, oil on canvas, Gift of Otto and Franciska Kallir with the help of the Carol and Edwin Gaines Fullinwider Fund 1978.41.1

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This abstract, geometric painting has been tipped on one corner to create a diamond form rather than a square. The surface of the canvas is crisscrossed by an irregular grid of black lines running vertically and horizontally like offset ladders. The black lines create squares and rectangles of different sizes, and the width of the lines vary slightly. One complete square sits at the center of the composition and is painted white. Other rectangles are incomplete, their corners sliced by the edge of the canvas, and each is a different shade of white with hints of pale blue and gray. The black grid creates triangular forms where it meets the angled edge of the canvas in some places, and some of these are filled with flat areas of color. A tomato-red triangle is placed to the left of the top center point, and a vibrant yellow triangle is to the left of the lower center point. A black triangle is next to it at the bottom center, and a cobalt-blue triangle is situated just below the right point. The painting is signed with the artist’s initials at the lower center: “PM.”

Piet Mondrian, Dutch, 1872 – 1944,Tableau No. IV; Lozenge Composition with Red, Gray, Blue, Yellow, and Black, c. 1924/1925, oil on canvas, Gift of Herbert and Nannette Rothschild 1971.51.1

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Two angular, cream-white buildings flanking a central, stylized tree are surrounded by brown soil, small animals, and farmhouse objects like watering cans and buckets beneath a clear, azure-blue sky in this square landscape painting. We look straight onto the buildings and slightly down onto the earth in front of us. About a third of the way up the composition, the horizon is lined with trees and mountains in the deep distance. The long, spindly branches of the central tree nearly reach the top edge of the painting and abstracted, sickle-shaped leaves are silhouetted against the sky so no leaves overlap. The far edge of the whitewashed structure to our left is cropped. The façade is pierced by two small rectangular windows and an arched hatch at the top under a winch. The back end of a horse is visible through an open door at the bottom center. Horizontal bands in front of the building suggest furrows in plowed earth, and a single stalk of corn grows up into the scene, seeming close to us. A pen protected by netting stretches out in front of the second structure, to our right of center. That wood-frame building has a triangular peaked roof, and the left half is open, like a lean-to. A goat, rooster, birds, and several rabbits occupy the pen. Watering cans, buckets and pails, a hoe, newspaper, lizard, and snail are spaced around the buildings. A tiny stylized person, perhaps a baby, appears in the distance between the buildings near a well where a woman works. A covered wagon, a round mill, trees, and plants fill the rest of the space between the buildings. A disk-like moon hangs in the sky to the right of the tree. The artist signed and dated the lower left corner,

Joan Miró, Spanish, 1893 – 1983,The Farm, 1921-1922, oil on canvas, Gift of Mary Hemingway 1987.18.1

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Joaquín Torres-García, Uruguayan, 1874 – 1949, Untitled Composition, 1929, oil on canvas, Gift of Victoria and Roger Sant 2010.15.1

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An abstracted painting of a roughly oval-shaped jack-in-the-pulpit flower fills this vertical composition with cool, saturated blues, grays, and greens. A royal-blue elongated, rounded core at the bottom center is surrounded by a pale gray flame-like shape. Petals flare outward and up around the core to reach toward the sides and top of the canvas. A thin white line extends upward from the top center of the core to meet the pointed tip of the unfurling, innermost midnight-blue petal. Layers of green, reminiscent of leaves, curl outward around the top half of the flower. Pale blue in each of the four corners creates the impression of a background behind the flower, and fades to white at the top corners.

Georgia O'Keeffe, American, 1887 – 1986, Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV, 1930, oil on canvas, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Bequest of Georgia O'Keeffe 1987.58.3

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This nearly square painting shows an industrial area with buildings, storage silos, a smokestack, and railroad tracks. A mound of brown dirt or other material is in shadow in the lower left corner of the painting. Next to the mound, railroad tracks extend diagonally from the lower center of the painting into the distance to our right. The tracks end at a white building with staggered gray rooflines to our right in the distance. A tall terracotta-red smokestack rises high beyond the white building, smoke pouring out of its top and blending into the clouds above. Just beyond the mound of dirt, piles of white material, perhaps in unseen bins, line the railroad track to our left and lead back to a row ten interconnected, coral-orange silos. The horizon comes about halfway up the painting, and it is lined with a row of long white and gray warehouses. The artist signed and dated the work with brown paint in the lower right corner: “Sheeler 31.”

Charles Sheeler, American, 1883 – 1965, Classic Landscape, 1931, oil on canvas, Collection of Barney A. Ebsworth 2000.39.2

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An interior window framed by brown curtains shows a view into a landscape with grass, shrubs, trees, and a dirt path beneath a blue sky with white clouds in this vertical painting. Upon closer inspection, the three legs of a wooden easel, the clip holding a canvas at the top, and a white, stapled edge draws our attention to the fact that a painted canvas rests directly in front of the window. 

René Magritte, Belgian, 1898 – 1967, La condition humaine, 1933, oil on canvas, Gift of the Collectors Committee 1987.55.1

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This abstract, square painting is filled with geometric shapes of flat color outlined in black. The largest shape is a white square in the center, which is overlapped or further divided into more rectangles in white, sea glass green, or pale pink. Some of the corners of the internal shapes are marked with a circle. A rounded black form, roughly the shape of a bulbous, lowercase h, sits to our left of center against the white square. A bright yellow disk with a crimson-red dot at its center is on the back end of the form. At the bottom right of the white square, there is a tall, blood-red rectangle with an inset, cup-like, steel-gray form at its top. Above the white square are narrow bands of white and soft purple, and below are fields of steel gray and white. A vertical band of buttercup yellow runs up along the top two-thirds of the right edge. The bottom left corner of this yellow shape is cut in with a ruby-red triangle. A collection of smaller, narrow shapes sits to our left of the white square. These include a canary-yellow disk over a tall, white triangle, and sea glass-green rectangle with two black, coffee bean-like forms, a black trapezoid, a topaz-blue square, and two white forms that could be stylized profiles with prominent noses. A band of crimson red flanked by a border of blue above and yellow below runs off the left edge. The field behind this jumble of shapes is pale, blush pink.

Arshile Gorky, American, born Armenia, 1904 – 1948, Organization, 1933-1936, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund © 1997 The Estate of Arshile Gorky / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 1979.13.3

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A long, butter-yellow rectangle is stacked over a papaya-orange square, and both float against a honey-yellow field in this abstract, vertical painting. The honey-yellow background creates a narrow border around and between the shapes. The brushstrokes throughout have soft, indistinct edges, which creates a blurred effect. At the top, the butter-yellow rectangle extends nearly the width of the painting, and takes up the top third of the composition. A band of canary yellow floats at the center within this rectangle. A tall, narrow band of pale petal pink spans the height of the composition to our left alongside both shapes. The orange square takes up almost all of the bottom two-thirds of the painting. A few vertical lines in cream white are painted within the square, near the left edge. A band of the same papaya-orange is bordered by a slightly darker shade to create a long, narrow rectangle about halfway down the square.

Mark Rothko, American, born Russia, 1903 – 1970, No. 8, 1949, oil and mixed media on canvas, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. Copyright © 1997 Christopher Rothko and Kate Rothko Prizel 1986.43.147

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Densely spaced lines and splatters in black, white, pale salmon pink, teal, and steel gray crisscross a rectangular cream-colored canvas in this abstract horizontal painting. The lines move in every direction. Most are straight but some curve slightly. The density eases a bit near the edges. Two sets of ghostly white handprints are visible at the upper corners. The artist signed and dated the painting in black paint in the lower left corner: “Jackson Pollock ’50.”

Jackson Pollock, American, 1912 – 1956, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), 1950, oil, enamel and aluminum on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund 1976.37.1

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