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Reflections on the Collection

The Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professors at the National Gallery of Art

Explore iconic works in the National Gallery collection with renowned scholars from around the world. These short talks bring you up close to works in our galleries, as researchers share in-depth background and personal insights about some of their favorite works of art.

The speakers featured here came to the National Gallery as part of the Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor program, which forges connections between the museum, the Center, and emerging and established scholars.   

Does Sculpture Need a Building? Penelope Curtis on Henry Moore
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2021

To our left, a young woman sits facing us on a low stone wall at the base of the 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 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 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 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 can be made out 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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A woman climbs a ladder propped against a tall base of a white stone sculpture with a sledgehammer over one shoulder in this vertical, arched painting. The statue stands in a narrow town square hemmed in with buildings on each side. About a dozen people look on from the ground and from a balcony to our right. All the people have pale skin and wear dresses, robes, or cloaks in topaz blue, red, harvest yellow, or black. The base of the statue is twice as tall as any of the onlookers, and the statue atop is life sized. The base has eagles standing astride garlands, with flame-like leaves flaring above their heads. The statue is of a nude male with chin-length hair. He holds a gold staff in one hand and what appears to be a branch in the other. The woman climbing the ladder wears a carnation-pink dress, a gold crown, and has a gold, disk-like halo. Two more women brace the foot of the ladder, and another stands nearby. The three-story building behind them has a white façade with a carved, pink entablature across the top of the first level. More women and men gather to our right in front of a terracotta-orange building with a wide, arch opening on the ground level. Four women look down from a balcony on the second level. The face of that building is carved over the door to read, “EVSEBIV.” A tree grows beyond an enclosing wall at the far side of the square, between the buildings, beneath an azure-blue sky.

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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A woman with pale 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 is shown from the waist up with her body angled slightly to our right. She wears a dark 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 baby 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 woman's forefinger on the hand that holds his body, and he reaches for the rose she holds with his other hand. The gold background is punched to create halos around their heads and decorative bands along the inner edge 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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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 green and tawny, soft brown. An aquamarine-blue 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 gown stretches out her arms over several people leaning away from her. The people in this game with her and the others wear suits and dresses in warm crimson red, rose pink, goldenrod yellow, baby blue, or teal. The women’s long dresses have ruffled sleeves that come to their elbows. The men wear jackets over cream-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 to our left in profile. Water cascades in a waterfall on the far side of the terrace below, presumably from a second, unseen fountain.

Marc Fumaroli on Jean Honoré Fragonard’s Landscape Paintings (c. 1775/1780)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2011
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Antoinette Le Normand-Romain on Auguste Rodin’s The Walking Man (L’Homme qui marche) (model 1878–1900, cast probably 1903)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 20162017
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Shown from the knees up, a woman with brown, wrinkled skin, wearing a white blouse, apron, and black skirt is shown in front of a pale gray background in this vertical portrait painting. Straight-backed, she faces and looks 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.’s Portrait of My Grandmother (1922)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2019
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Two pale-skinned boys with their pants rolled up stand knee-deep in crystal-blue water in this horizontal watercolor on paper. Gray pebbles are scattered across a stretch of peachy-tan sand along the bottom of the sheet. Water ripples gently across a channel to a sailboat docked in front of dark gray warehouses and a brown building lining a pier. The boat is robin’s egg blue with a navy stripe across its center. In the distance to our right, two cranes for loading cargo are silhouetted against the pale blue sky that spans the top fifth of the composition. Near the beach, the two boys plant on their fists on their knees to peer down into the water. One boy stands with his back to us in the center of the composition. The other is to our left. He stoops, facing our right in profile. Both wear brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, and the boy on our left wears a vest in tones of peanut brown, cream and bright white, straw yellow, and nickel gray. Strokes of opaque white and sparkling blue sweep across the water so the texture of the paper shows through. The artist signed and dated the watercolor in the lower right: “W HOMER 1873.”

Kathleen A. Foster on Winslow Homer’s Boys Wading (1873)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2015
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A young, nude, light-skinned man stands in the center of a rocky, mountainous landscape in this square painting. The man’s muscular body faces us but he turns his head in profile to our right as he looks down at the coral-red cloth he drops onto the ground. He is cleanshaven with prominent eyebrows, a straight nose, and his lips are slightly parted. He has thick, reddish-brown hair with bangs across his forehead, and there is a red-edged, glimmering, gold, plate-like halo across the crown of his head. He leans slightly to the side as he drops the red cloth onto a white one, already on the ground. With his other hand, he holds a fawn-brown animal skin or cloth over that shoulder. The man is surrounded by tan and parchment-brown, deeply ridged, mostly barren mountains. The pointed peaks nearly reach the top of the painting. The rocky mountains are interspersed with a few dark green bushes. A light blue stream curves in a shallow S shape along the right side of the painting. Peaks in the far distance are icy blue against a sky that deepens from topaz blue along the horizon to navy blue at the top edge. Some puffy and some thin white clouds float across the sky.

Carl Brandon Strehlke on Domenico Veneziano’s Saint John in the Desert (c. 1445/1450)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2005
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Stephen Bann on Léopold Flameng’s Portrait of a Man (Le Doreur), after Rembrandt van Rijn (1885)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2005
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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.”

Nancy J. Troy on Piet Mondrian’s 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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Two women with pale skin look out at us from the other side of a rectangular window opening with a shadowy interior behind them in this vertical painting. On our right, in the lower third of the composition, one young woman leans toward us over her left arm, which rests along the window ledge. She bends her right arm and props her chin on her fist. She looks at us with dark brown eyes under dark brows. She has shiny chestnut-brown hair with a strawberry-red bow on the right side of her head, to our left. She has a straight nose, and her full pink lips curve up in a smile. She wears a gossamer-white dress with a wide neckline trimmed in dark gray, with another red bow on the front of her chest. Her voluminous sleeves are pushed back to her elbows. To our left, a second woman peeks around a partially opened shutter. She is slightly older, and she stands next to the first woman with her body facing us. She tilts her head and also gazes at us with dark eyes under dark brown brows. She has dark brown hair covered by an oyster-white shawl. She holds the shawl up with her right hand to cover the bottom half of her face. Her mouth is hidden but her eyes crinkle as if in a smile. Her left arm bends at the elbow as she grasps the open shutter. She also wears a white shirt pushed back to her elbows, and a rose-pink skirt. The frame of the window runs parallel to the sides and bottom of the canvas. The room behind them is black in shadow.

Victor Stoichita on Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s Two Women at a Window (c. 1655/1660)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2011
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We look through shadowed trees at a river winding 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 pale 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’s River Landscapes (c. 1590/1595)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2004
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Anna Ottani Cavina on John Robert Cozens’s Cetara on the Gulf of Salerno (1790)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2014
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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 outward, 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-white 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’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1878–1881)
Edmond J. Safra Visiting Professor, 2011–2012
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