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Reflections on the Collection: The Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professors at the National Gallery of Art

In this series of short presentations, Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professors share their personal insights into the National Gallery of Art’s permanent collection, taking a closer look at their favorite works inside gallery spaces.

The Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professorship was created in 2002 to bring to the National Gallery of Art and the Center for a period of months a colleague of international reputation whose presence inspires collaboration in research efforts across the Gallery, forging new relationships. Each of these distinguished visitors contributes to the passing on of knowledge and experience to an emerging generation of scholars, curators, and conservation scientists through meetings, both formal and informal, designed by the Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor and the Center in collaboration with National Gallery staff. For more information on the Safra professorship, see the Center publication on its first 12 years (PDF 7.2MB).

To our left, a young woman sits facing us on a low stone wall at the base of vertical, black bars of an iron fence and a young girl stands facing away from us to our right in this horizontal painting. Both have pale white skin. The woman looks directly at us with dark eyes as she holds an open book, a closed red fan, and a sleeping brown and white puppy in her lap. Her long auburn hair falls down over her shoulders. Her navy-blue dress is accented with white piping on the skirt, collar, and sleeves, and has three large, white buttons down the front and her black hat is adorned with two red poppies and a daisy. The girl wears a sleeveless white, knee-length dress belted with a marine-blue sash tied in a large bow at her back. The girl’s tawny-blond hair is pulled up and tied with a black ribbon. She raises her left hand to grasp the bar of the fence she faces. A bunch of uneaten green grapes lies on the low wall to our right. A plume of steam fills much of the space beyond the black fence, which spans the width of the painting and extends off the top edge. A few details are discernable beyond the fence, including a stone-gray building with two wooden doors to our left and a bridge along the right edge.

David Bomford on Édouard Manet’s The Railway (1873)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2018

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(Recorded on April 10, 2018)

Giovanni d'Alemagna, Saint Apollonia Destroys a Pagan Idol, c. 1442/1445c. 1442/1445

Thomas Kren on Giovanni d’Alemagna’s Saint Apollonia Destroys a Pagan Idol (c. 1442/1445)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2016

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(Recorded on May 17, 2016)
 

A woman with pale white skin holds a baby in the crook of her left arm, on our right, against a gold background in this vertical, arched wooden panel. The woman, the Virgin Mary, is shown from the waist up with her body angled slightly to our right. She wears a deep blue mantle that drapes over her head and shoulders, and across her body. The garment has a gold border and celery green lining where it turns over at her wrists and chest. There is a gold starburst-like symbol on her right shoulder, our left, and she holds a stylized rose with her right hand. The infant Christ is nude except for a translucent white cloth, also edged with a gold border, wrapped around his waist and legs. His face and body look more like a small man than a baby, but there are baby-like rolls at his wrists. He has blond wavy hair. He grips the forefinger of the hand his mother uses to hold him with his left hand, and he reaches for the rose with his right. The gold background is punched to create halos around each figure’s head and decorative bands at the perimeter of the curving, arched top.

Cecilia Frosinini on Giotto’s Madonna and Child (c. 1310/1315)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2013

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(Recorded on November 3, 2015)

From a distance, we look slightly down into a lush park filled pairs and groups of elegantly dressed, light-skinned adults and children frolicking and socializing in this vertical painting. The color palette is dominated by celery and olive greens and tawny, soft browns. An aquamarine sky filled with towering white clouds and soaring trees fills the upper three quarters of this painting. People gather in small groups around a fountain to our left, a balustraded terrace at the center, and a dining table enclosed by tall trellises to our right. On the terrace, a blindfolded woman in a butter yellow ball gown stretches out her arms over several people leaning away from her. The people in this game with her and the others seated and standing around the dining table along with those walking and reclining in pairs around the landscape wear warm crimson, rose pink, goldenrod yellow, baby blue, or teal. The women’s long dresses have ruffled sleeves that come to their elbows and the men wear jackets over creamy white shirts, and some wear white stockings with knee-length britches. The base of the fountain to our left is carved with statues around the base. A jet of water sprays up from a shallow bowl above. Atop the tall terrace surrounding the dining table, a statue of a woman wearing a helmet looks down towards our left in profile. Water rushes presumably from behind or below that statue into the space beyond the terrace below.

Marc Fumaroli on Jean Honoré Fragonard’s Landscape Paintings (c. 1775/1780)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2011

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(Recorded on November 5, 2015)

 

Auguste Rodin, The Walking Man (L'Homme qui marche), model 1878-1900, cast probably 1903model 1878-1900, cast probably 1903

Antoinette Le Normand-Romain on Auguste Rodin, The Walking Man (L’Homme qui marche) (model 1878–1900, cast probably 1903)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 20162017

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(Recorded on February 27, 2017)

In this vertical portrait, an elderly woman with brown skin, wearing a blouse, apron, and skirt is painted with a limited palette of grays, browns, black, and whites. Her head, torso, and lap nearly fill the composition. She is shown straight-backed against a neutral gray background, facing and looking at us with her hands resting in her lap. Her wavy, iron-gray hair is parted in the center and pulled back from her face. Her eyebrows are slightly raised and her face is deeply lined down her cheeks and around her mouth. She wears a heart-shaped brooch with a red stone at its center at her neck and a gold band on her left ring finger. The light coming from our left casts a shadow against the wall to our right. The artist signed and dated the painting in the lower right corner: “A.J. MOTLEY. JR. 1922.”

Richard J. Powell on Archibald J. Motley Jr., Portrait of My Grandmother (1922)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2019

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(Recorded on March 20, 2019)

Winslow Homer, Boys Wading, 18731873

Kathleen A. Foster on Winslow Homer, Boys Wading (1873)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2015

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(Recorded on July 22, 2016)

Domenico Veneziano, Saint John in the Desert, c. 1445/1450c. 1445/1450

Carl Brandon Strehlke on Domenico Veneziano, Saint John in the Desert (c. 1445/1450)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2005

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(Recorded on April 5, 2016)

Leopold Flameng, Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of a Man (Le Doreur), published 1885published 1885

Stephen Bann on Léopold Flameng, Portrait of a Man (Le Doreur), after Rembrandt van Rijn (1885)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2005

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(Recorded on November 3, 2015)

This abstract square, 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, a vibrant yellow triangle appears 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.”

Nancy J. Troy on Piet Mondrian, Tableau No. IV: Lozenge Composition with Red, Gray, Blue, Yellow, and Black (c. 1924/1925)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2008

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(Recorded on November 3, 2015)

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Two Women at a Window, c. 1655/1660c. 1655/1660

Victor Stoichita on Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Two Women at a Window (c. 1655/1660)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2011

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(Recorded on November 5, 2015)

We seem to stand behind some trees on a riverbank looking across an estuary as a river winds into the distance in this horizontal landscape painting. Close to us, a cluster of three thin trees and a larger central tree are deep in shadow, which contrasts with the light-filled scene beyond. The topaz-blue river curves from the lower right corner, across the canvas, and into the distance at the center. A few spindly trees grow along the riverbank in front of a hut with a thatched roof to our right. The bank to our left is lined with reeds and tall grasses. Behind the central shadowed tree, a long, low, narrow boat is occupied by four people with white skin. To our left, a person with a dark garment and white collar reclines near a seated man wearing yellow and a feathered cap. To our right, another person reclines near the boatman who pushes the boat through the water using a long pole. The harvest yellow and sage green of the riverbanks and vegetation beyond the boats fades to hazy, pale blue mountains along the horizon line, which comes just over halfway up the composition. White clouds float across a blue sky above.

Carel van Tuyll van Serooskerken on Annibale and Agostino Carracci, River Landscapes (c. 1590/1595)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2004

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(Recorded on November 5, 2015)

John Robert Cozens, Cetara on the Gulf of Salerno, 17901790

Anna Ottani Cavina on John Robert Cozens, Cetara on the Gulf of Salerno (1790)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2014

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(Recorded on November 5, 2015)

Sculpted with rich brown wax, a young ballerina stands with her arms straight, hands clasped behind her back, and one foot in front of the other on a square wooden base. Her body is angled to our left in this photograph. Both feet are splayed outwards and her right foot is placed far in front of her left. Bangs cover her forehead, and she has a heart-shaped, upturned face with a squat nose and slightly pursed lips. Her heavy-lidded eyes are nearly closed and her hair is pulled back and tied with a wide, cream-colored ribbon. She wears a fabric costume with a sleeveless, gold-colored bodice, a gray tulle skirt, and ballet slippers. Her body is sculpted from dark brown wax and a layer of wax covers her hair, bodice, and ballet slippers.

Jacqueline Lichtenstein on Edgar Degas, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1878–1881)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2011–2012

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(Recorded on November 3, 2015)