Examples of Short Descriptions
Apollo and Marsyas, c. 1540
A young person with long, dark blond hair, wearing a knee-length, pale yellow toga, stands playing a violin-like instrument at the center of this long, horizontal landscape painting, with a pair of people to the left and a pair of people to the right. Most of the people have pale skin, and two of the men have slightly darker, olive-toned complexions. The person at the center, Apollo, nearly spans the height of the painting. He tips his head back and to our right, toward the instrument on his shoulder, and he looks at us with dark eyes, lips parted. With his other hand, he holds a bow to the instrument’s strings. A dark green wreath of leaves encircles his head, and a quiver of arrows are tied with a pine-green ribbon across his chest. His legs are bare and he wears sandals tied onto his feet. An archer’s bow lies on the dirt ground behind his feet. To our right, a man with a swarthy complexion and a dark beard and hair, Marsyas, sits on a rock playing a bagpipe. He faces our left in profile, looking up at Apollo, and he wears a scarlet-red robe over a royal-blue tunic. Behind him and to our right, near the edge of the panel, a blond woman wearing a rose-pink dress also plays a bagpipe as she looks down onto her reflection in a pool below, in the lower right corner of the composition. Her left foot rests on a white and gold shield, and a golden helmet sits next to her other foot. Marsyas and Apollo appear again as a pair to our left. Marsyas is now nude and tied to a tree, his body facing us, near the left edge of the panel. His mouth is open and he looks toward Apollo, who approaches from our right. Apollo grabs Marsyas’s left wrist, on our right, and holds a knife to the nude man’s upper arm. The set of bagpipes, the quiver of arrows, Marsyas’s clothing, and Apollo’s instrument are strewn on the ground around the men’s feet. The scenes take place in a rocky landscape with dark green shrubs along the bottom edge of the composition and behind the people. A river runs across the land beyond, and people walk along dirt roads in the distance. Trees, craggy cliffs, and a town in the deep distance are painted with icy blue under a blue sky.
Willem Claesz Heda
Banquet Piece with Mince Pie, 1635
A jumble of pewter plates and a pitcher, glass goblets, a gold chalice, a brass candlestick, and other vessels along with lemons, olives, and the remains of a mince pie are arranged on a cream-white tablecloth bunched on a dark green tabletop in this square still life painting. The scene is painted almost entirely in shades of cool grays, gold, brown, and white against a deep beige background. The objects span width of the canvas across its center. At the left edge of the painting, a vibrant yellow lemon has been cut so its rind curls in a spiral that hangs over the front edge of the table. Behind the lemon, a scissor-like candle snuffer is propped against the wide ledge of the tall brass candlestick, its white candle nearly burned down. A few glistening olives sit in a small pewter plate, and one olive sits on the tabletop near the lemon and candlestick. A glass goblet with a wide stem with textured knubs rests upended on an elaborately chased, gold, footed vessel that has been tipped over so its wide shallow bowl faces away from us. The tall pewter pitcher behind this is dented on its rounded body. The lidded gold chalice next to the jug is the tallest object in the painting. Next to the chalice, along the right half of the painting, is a glass oil cruet with a long, curving spout, a tall, cylindrical vessel holding a small pile of salt, and a straight-sided, low glass holding beer. In front of these objects, an untouched bread roll and knife sit on a pewter plate at the center of the composition. The remains of the mince pie with its pastry crust sit on a large pewter plate to our right. In front of it is a smaller plate holding a broken goblet and a piece of black and white paper rolled into a cone. A few empty oyster shells sit on the table to the left and right, near the lemons and mince pie. The artist signed and dated the painting along the edge of the white cloth near the lower right corner: “HEDA 1635.”
Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664
In this vertical painting, a woman stands near the corner of a dimly lit room, facing our left in profile looking down at a balance she holds suspended in her right hand over a wooden table. She wears a peacock-blue velvet jacket with a white hood and fur lining, and a voluminous mustard-yellow skirt. A window near the upper left corner is partially covered by a canary-yellow curtain. Light coming in through that window falls on the pale skin of the woman's face and hands, and highlights the white trim of her garment. Her left hand, closer to us, rests on the edge of the table near two open boxes, and a blue cloth is bunched at the back of the table to our left. Gold chains and pearl strands drape over the edge of one box. The woman stands in front of a framed painting. Much of the detail is lost in shadow but at the top center of the painting, a person surrounded by a golden halo floats in the sky with both arms raised, and is flanked by people encased within a bank of clouds. Nude people on the ground below in the painting, seen to either side of the woman, writhe, twist, and point upward.
Giovanni Paolo Pannini
Interior of Saint Peter's, Rome, c. 1754
The soaring, gilded vault of a central aisle of the inside of a church fills this horizontal painting. The ceiling of the nave curves up and away from us like a tunnel. It is lined with coffers, which have inset panels, decorated with gold. The light-filled nave angles down from the top center of the composition toward the lower left as it moves away from us. The white stone pillars supporting the barrel vault are intricately carved and decorated with pudgy, winged cherubs holding portraits of men, and aisles run parallel to the central nave to our left and right. In the side aisles, pink marble columns flank altars in chapels. At the far end of the church, the nave is interrupted where it opens into the light-filled crossing, before continuing beyond. Marking the space where the long hall of the church is intersected by a shorter arm to create a cross shape is a structure made of four twisting columns supporting a pointed canopy, all cast in bronze. Tiny men and women pray or gather in pairs and small groups along the nave. Some wear tattered clothing and others are elegantly dressed.
The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, c. 1805
A winged woman, painted with tones of pale and butter yellow, kneels on a rock and looks up at a winged, horned creature with steel-gray skin and a curling tail flying above her in this vertical, graphite and watercolor work on paper. The woman, her body facing us, takes up most of the bottom half of the composition, and the winged creature the top half. The woman’s long blond hair flies up around her upturned face like stylized rays of sunlight. Her arms are spread wide, wrists flexed so her palms face out, and her pale, apricot-colored wings curve up over her shoulders and tuck behind her in a heart shape. She rests on a crescent moon with the tips pointing upward, which, in turn, rests on a gray, squared rock. Mirroring her pose but flying so his body faces downward as his feet point away from us, the creature above the woman has a muscular, humanoid physique. His long tail curls to our left in three loops, and is shaded with pale maroon red. Ram’s horns curve up from inside a golden crown encircling the top of his head, which faces us. Upon closer inspection, several faces, drawn with graphite and filled with nickel-gray watercolor, are connected around the creature's neck and also look down in profile onto the woman. The profiles overlap and some of the heads have moss-green, curling horns. The tips of the flying creature's outstretched fingers and arms nearly touch the sides of the paper and his light, rose-colored bat-like wings extend off both sides and the top of the composition. The background behind the pair is dark gray with white zigzagging lines to the left and right of the woman. Faces also emerge from the ground, looking up from the lower right corner. The artist signed his initials in black paint near the lower left: “WB.”
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight, 1835
We hover over a flax-yellow body of water lined with ships to our left and right, which are silhouetted against a moonlit, cloud-veiled sky in this horizontal landscape painting. The horizon comes about a third of the way up the composition. The moon hangs to our left of center in the sky, its light reflecting on the clouds in a bright, hourglass shape to create a tunnel-like effect. The sea below turns from a gold color close to us to pale blue along the horizon. To our left, one ship with gray sails is cut off by the edge of the canvas and another, also with gray sails, is situated farther from us. A small, dark rowboat with two passengers moves between them. Light from the windows in buildings along the distant horizon to our left reflect in the water, and another building, a factory, spouts white flame from its chimney. More dark ships line the waterway to our right, their spiky masts black against the sky. Three flames, one orange between two pale yellow fires, flare in the darkness in front of the ship closest to us. The forms of men shoveling coal, crates, and barges are dark silhouettes against the firelight and smoke. More rowboats float among the boats in the distance. Near the lower right corner of the canvas, a broad, flat fragment of wood floats close to us. The hot orange and black on the right side of the painting contrasts with the silvery gray, light blue, and white that fills much of the rest of the composition. The painting was created with thick, blended brushstrokes throughout, giving the scene a hazy look. The texture of some of the brushstrokes is especially noticeable, as where the moon casts white light onto the water and in the clouds. The artist signed a buoy floating to our left with his initials, “JMWT.”
Buffalo Trail: The Impending Storm, 1869
The top three-quarters of this horizontal landscape painting is filled with roiling, deeply shadowed clouds that tower over a line of buffalo that cross a grassy meadow below. Small in scale, the buffalo form a line that extends away from us at a diagonal into the distance to our right. Sunlight creates a bright reflection on the stream where the frontmost buffalo walks across, but the other animals are nearly backlit in the raking light. Trees, with branches whipping in the wind, rise along the left side of the painting, and the mountainous landscape to our right is lost in darkness under heavy clouds. The clouds above lighten from navy blue in the lower right corner of the sky to slate blue and white at the center of the painting. Small patches of blue sky are visible between a few breaks in the clouds, and sunlight falls on a cliff-like mountain face in the distance beyond the trees to our left. Another bank of parchment-colored clouds in the upper left corner, closer to us, contrasts with the glimmering light highlighting some of the clouds nearby.
Morning Haze, 1888
Tall, oval forms slowly emerge against a field of softly painted white, pale sky blue, shell pink, light lilac purple, and faint yellow to become trees in a hazy, foggy field in this nearly square landscape painting. The paint is swept on in short, visible strokes. The tallest tree, reaching almost to the top of the canvas, stands to our left of center. Three shorter, bushier trees, about a quarter the height, flank the tall tree with one to our left and two closer to the right edge. Two narrow trees stand between the tallest one and the bushier pair to our right. The artist signed the work in orange paint in the lower left corner: “Claude Monet.”
Ratapoil, model 1851, cast c. 1891
This free-standing bronze sculpture shows a thin man wearing a tall, crumpled hat, an ill-fitting coat, and worn shoes, standing and leaning on a long cudgel resembling a cane. His body faces us in this photograph, and he looks over his shoulder to our right in profile. His goatee is so exaggerated that it creates a beak-like form reaching almost to his chest beneath an upward sweeping mustache that is wider than his face. He has a bull-like nose and bulging eyes, and he might be bald. The top of his tall hat seems to have been partially crushed, and it curves away from us. His double-breasted, knee-length coat has a high collar and it sweeps open over his hips. His left hand, on our right, holds the coat open so he can slip that hand into his pants pocket. He holds and leans onto the long cudgel on our left so his hips sway to our right. His long pants cover thin legs, and his toes poke through the front of his tattered shoes. The low, square base he stands on is textured as if roughly modeled before being cast. The sculpture is shown against a fog-gray background.
Both Members of This Club, 1909
From a darkened arena around a boxing ring, we look up at two bare chested men, one with pale, white skin and the other with brown skin, who lock arms in a boxing match in this horizontal painting. The brushstrokes are loose and visible throughout, making some details difficult to make out. The boxer to our left wears drooping, forest-green trunks and black shoes. He leans back on his bent right leg, closer to us, and tilts his face up. His mouth gapes open and his nose, chin, and neck are smeared with scarlet red, suggesting blood. His pale skin has a green cast, and his chest, arms, and legs are sinewy and muscular. His right arm is raised or pulled up overhead by the boxer to our right. Wearing dark briefs, the second boxer hunches over with head lowered toward the other man’s shoulder. He surges forward onto his deeply bent left knee, closer to us, pushing powerfully off his back leg. His face is lost in shadow and his body has less detail than his opponent, though light glints off his arching back to create gold highlights against his brown skin along his spine, ribs, and muscles of the shoulder. The men’s bodies nearly span the height of the canvas. The black ropes of the boxing ring pass in front of and behind the boxers, and the space around the ring in the top half of the painting is nearly black. Heads and faces of the spectators in the first few rows are lit by the main event and are crowded into the bottom third of the painting. Two spectators on our far left have climbed up and lean on and through the ropes, their mouths open. The crowd, which appears to be all lighter-skinned men and boys, are painted loosely but their mouths widen in toothy grins or are agape. The artist signed the work in yellow letters against black in the lower right corner: “Geo Bellows.”
James Van Der Zee
Portrait of a Couple, 1924
An elegantly dressed Black man and woman stand facing and looking at us, slightly smiling, in a room in this vertical photograph. The image is monochromatic like a black and white photograph but is printed in warm tones of golden and dark browns. To our left, the man has short-cropped hair and is cleanshaven. He has dark eyes, a rounded nose, and his lips are closed in a slight smile. He wears a three-piece tuxedo and holds a bowler hat and cane in his right hand, on our left. He pulls his suit jacket back to hook his opposite thumb in his vest pocket. He wears rings on each of his pinky fingers and a chain crosses his vest, tucked into the same pocket as his thumb. The woman stands with her left hand, on our right, on her hip and her other hand resting on the man’s shoulder. She has a delicate nose, and also has dark eyes and her closed lips turn up slightly at the corners. She has a cheek-length bob haircut and wears dangling earrings and a necklace with a pendant. Her ankle-length, sleeveless dress is beaded with geometric and scrolling patterns. Some of the beads and the ring she wears on the fourth finger of the hand on her hip catch and reflect the light. An upholstered chair sits to our left and a wood side table with an urn filled with flowers and a telephone stands to our right. The telephone has a conical earpiece hanging from a stand with the flaring mouthpiece. The backdrop behind the people has a painted or wallpapered section to our left and an arch leading to a curtained window to our right. Parts of the photograph are noticeably out of focus, particularly the background and flowers. The artist signed the work with white letters against the dark shadows under the seat of the chair, near the lower left corner: “VAN DER ZEE NYC 1924.”
Little Spider, c. 1940
This free-standing sculpture is made up of a sweeping, backward-facing C shape supporting a series of ten curving, interlocking, thin wires that cascade down and to our left in this photograph, each one ending in a flat, leaf-like paddle on either end. The C-shaped arm forks into three feet, on which the sculpture sits so the other branches float freely. The S-shaped arms are linked by tiny rings at the center of each arm, and they descend in size as they arc down and to our left. Each S-shaped arm has a black, roughly triangular paddle at the top; the third paddle from our right has a hole in it. The paddles at the bottom of each arm are each a different color, with ruby red to our right, then marigold orange, pine green, honey yellow, and the final four to our left are white. The size of the paddles also descend in size from our right to left. The branch connecting the S-shaped branches to the C-shaped base is curvier, and has one black paddle, the largest of all, at the bottom point.
Snow Flurries, 1953
A hill slopes gently up and away from us, and is painted with a few streaks of white amid a field of earthy ash gray, fawn and rust brown, and muted olive green in this horizontal landscape painting. The horizon comes about two-thirds of the way up the composition, and the sky above lightens from smoky gray to our left to icy white to our right. Short, vertical brushstrokes along the bottom edge of the panel create the impression of scrubby ground cover. Between two splintered, worn posts near the lower right corner, snow has fallen in two lines that suggest former wagon tracks that quickly even out, though they reemerge, also lined with snow, near the crest of this low hill. More snow is sparsely scattered across the rise of the hill. A second hill, slightly darker in color, rises to our right. Even farther away, another hill is covered in snow. The artist signed the work in black paint in the lower left corner: “Andrew Wyeth.”
Twenty-five squares are arranged in a three-dimensional grid over and within this square canvas, with five even rows across and five even rows down. The word “OBJECTIVITY” is written in blue capital letters across each of the five rows to appear five times. On each row, each square shows two letters, that is, “OB,” “JE,” “CT,” and “IV”, except for the right-most squares, which contain the last three letters, “ITY.” The five squares on the top row project out in front of the canvas. The second row down is painted on the surface of the canvas. The three rows below gradually recede farther behind the surface of the canvas as they descend. The background behind the blue letters is orange in the top row and it gradually becomes a darker red in the rows below. The face of the canvas is painted a dark khaki brown. The overall impact is that the word seems to get darker, more shadowed, and harder to read as the eye travels down the work.
Perilous Night, 1982
Three casts of human hands and forearms hang from the top edge of the right half of this horizontal abstract painting, which is divided vertically in two equal parts. The rectangular field to the left is mottled with steel and charcoal gray streaked with white and amethyst purple. The panel to the right is divided again so the top half is slightly larger than the bottom half. The bottom portion is painted with a pattern to resemble abstracted wood grain in nickel and slate gray. A stylized white cloth, perhaps a handkerchief, is painted to look as if hanging from a nail hammered into the wood paneling, to our left. The top portion seems to be layered with paintings and prints below and beneath the three arms. The three-dimensional arms hang from looped metal wires on metal hooks spaced along the top edge, coming about a quarter of the way down the overall composition. The peach-colored arms and hands are painted all over with irregular gray patches, creating a camouflage effect. They hang down so the open palms are flat against the canvas, the thumbs extended to our left. The top of the arm to our left is painted cherry red, the middle is painted canary yellow, and the right arm royal blue. The paint drips down the arms and splatters on the hands and on the faux wood panel below. Behind the hands, it appears that one of the artist’s prints hangs from two nails on the canvas, but this is also part of the painting. The illusionistic print has three horizontal bands of pine green, pumpkin orange, and violet purple crisscrossed with black lines. Seeming to hang behind it and under the right-most arm is a sheet of music overlapping another piece of paper printed with the letters “OHN C” and “THE PERILOUS.” Below, and filling the space between the illusionistic print and the wood panel, is a rectangular field of abstract gray and black swirling forms. The entire canvas is surrounded by a thin, amber-colored wood frame. A narrow wooden slat is attached with a hinge on the inner surface of the frame at the bottom right corner, so the slat runs up along and rests against the canvas near the rightmost edge of the frame. The artist signed the work with stenciled letters in pale gray in the lower right corner: “J. JOHNS ‘8.”
Kerry James Marshall
Great America, 1994
Four people with black skin are squeezed into a narrow boat on bright, turquoise-colored water that nearly fills this stylized, square painting. All four sides of the unstretched canvas are lined with six gromets spaced along each edge. The boat approaches a carnival-like tunnel near the upper right corner. Cartoon ghosts loom at the tunnel entrance and a translucent, veil-like ghost hovers over the left half of the painting. The horizon comes almost to the top of the canvas, where white clouds float against an azure-blue sky. A long, lemon-yellow line curls back and forth in a tight, curving zigzag pattern that widens out from a tiny sun setting on the horizon. A red cross on a white field floats near the upper left. At the top center, the word “WOW” appears in white letters within a crimson-red, bursting speech bubble with long trailing tendrils. Below the boat and against the water to our right, the word “FUN” has been overlaid with a white square so the tall, white letters are barely visible. The words “GREAT AMERICA” appear in a curling banner across the bottom half of the painting.
Nam June Paik
A lightweight, sheer, coral-peach robe hangs from a wooden dowel over a color television screen in this sculptural piece, which hangs against a white wall. The robe has long sleeves extending horizontally along the dowel, which extends a bit past the cuffs. The robe has a narrow, cream-white collar and ties to one side over the chest. It flares slightly below the arms, creating a bell shape. The rectangular video screen that hangs within is partially obscured, but looks like at least two people in a brightly colored setting.
We look through a tunnel lined with dozens of strings of bright white lights nestled in silver-gray slats that zoom away from us in this horizontal photograph. At the far end of the tunnel, at the center of the photograph, the alternating lines of lights and slats almost come together around a narrow, capsule-shaped area of golden yellow light. The flat ceiling curves down to meet the wall to our left. The curve continues to make a C-shape before extending straight down the remaining height of the wall, turning the profile of the open space into a backward-facing P. Some of the lights are bright, some fading, and some are off to create a loose pattern of dark squares floating in a field of light. The lights seem brighter at the far end of the tunnel. The overall impact of the view is a starburst radiating in diagonal lines, coming from a point at the center of the photograph.