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East Building Audio Tour: Featured Selections

Use your smartphone to explore a wide range of works through the voices of National Gallery of Art curators. Set your own pace by listening to as many stops as you like in the order you choose. Don't forget to bring your headphones!

To listen to information about a work of art, enter the stop number in the box below, select go, and press the play button when the stop appears. Please be mindful of other visitors and use headphones while listening to the audio tour.

  • Stop 4

    Georges Braque, Still Life: Le Jour, 1929
    Still Life: Le Jour

    Georges Braque famously worked alongside Pablo Picasso as the two artists developed the new style of cubism around 1910. This painting is typical of a later phase in Braque’s career, when he incorporated elements of cubism into still lifes and other subjects. In this work, the wood grain on the table, the design of the wallpaper in the background, and the text on the newspaper emphasize the interplay of pattern and texture.

  • Stop 5

    Amedeo Modigliani, Head of a Woman, c.1911-1912
    Head of a Woman

    This sculpture reflects Amedeo Modigliani’s distinctive stylization of figures, with the elongated features and almond-shaped eyes found in many of his paintings. Modigliani focused on sculpture from about 1909 to 1914, before his death from tuberculosis at age 35 in 1920.    

  • Stop 6

    George Bellows, New York, 1911
    New York

    Completed in February 1911, New York is a large, ambitious painting in which George Bellows captured the essence of modern life in New York City. Bellows did not intend to represent a specific, identifiable place in the city. He instead drew on several bustling commercial districts to create an imaginary composite, an impossibly crowded image that would best convey a sense of the city’s frenetic pace.

  • Stop 7

    Edward Hopper, Ground Swell, 1939
    Ground Swell

    The blue sky, sun-kissed figures, and vast rolling water of Ground Swell strike a calm note in the picture; however, details in the painting call into question this initial sense of serenity. A buoy confronts the small catboat in the middle of an otherwise empty seascape. Its purpose, to sound a warning bell in advance of unseen or imminent danger, renders its presence in the scene ominous. The cirrus clouds in the blue sky—often harbingers of approaching storms—reinforce this impression of disturbance. 

  • Stop 9

    Aaron Douglas, The Judgment Day, 1939
    The Judgment Day

    In 1927 James Weldon Johnson, a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, published his masterwork, God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. Each sermon-poem was accompanied by an illustration by Aaron Douglas, a young African American artist who had recently settled in Harlem. Several years later, Douglas began translating his illustrations into large oil paintings. The Judgment Day is the final work in a series of eight. At the center, a powerful angel Gabriel stands astride the earth and sea. With the trumpet call, the archangel summons nations of the earth to judgment. 

  • Stop 11

    Pablo Picasso, Family of Saltimbanques, 1905
    Family of Saltimbanques

    Family of Saltimbanques is the most important painting Pablo Picasso made during his early career. For him, these wandering saltimbanques (acrobats, dancers, and jesters) stood for the melancholy of the neglected underclass of artists, a kind of extended family with whom he identified. Like them, the Spanish-born Picasso was impoverished during the first years he spent in Paris striving for recognition. The brooding Harlequin—in the diamond-printed costume, at far left—bears the face of the dark, intense young artist himself.

  • Stop 13

    Henri Matisse, Open Window, Collioure, 1905
    Open Window, Collioure

    Today, Henri Matisse’s Open Window, Collioure may appear gentle and lyrical, but originally its thick brushstrokes and intense colors were seen as violent. A small but explosive work, this icon of early modernism is celebrated as one of the most important paintings of the fauve school, a group of artists who focused on freeing color and texture from strict representations of natural appearance. Open Window, Collioure represents the beginning of this new approach in Matisse’s art.

  • Stop 14

    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Two Girls under an Umbrella, 1910
    Two Girls under an Umbrella

    This work dates to early in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s prolific career, when he was a founding member of the expressionist group called Die Brücke (The Bridge) in Dresden in 1905. In this painting, Kirchner has depicted two nudes in a natural setting, rather than in the contrived space of an academic studio. This work is also an example of the artist’s use of bold, often crude, forms and vibrant color.

  • Stop 15

    Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913
    Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle)

    Wassily Kandinsky’s painting has some connection to the real world, but the details here have been distorted and adjusted to convey a mood. Although the amorphous shapes and colorful washes of paint may at first appear entirely abstract, they form a number of recognizable images. The central motif of Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle) is a pair of sailing ships locked in combat, their tall masts appearing as slender black lines. Kandinsky’s subject, found in a number of the Improvisations, was probably inspired by the apocalyptic imagery of the book of Revelations.

  • Stop 16

    Alberto Giacometti, No More Play, 1931-1932
    No More Play

    One of the great surrealist sculptors, Alberto Giacometti often incorporated themes of games and play into his early work, as with this sculpture. The form the artist used here resembles a board game with moveable pieces, yet the nature of the game is unclear. The ambiguous space and unknowable rules of the “game” represented in No More Play make this feel like an object one might encounter in a dream.    

  • Stop 17

    Marcel Duchamp, Fresh Widow, original 1920, fabricated 1964
    Fresh Widow

    Marcel Duchamp sought to challenge basic assumptions that informed traditional approaches to painting and sculpture. Fascinated by the American idea of cheap and easy reproductions, Duchamp began to appropriate found objects for his readymades, a term he borrowed from the clothing industry while living in New York. He shocked the art world by attempting to show these commonplace objects, often unaltered except for the addition of his signature, in exhibitions. The title of this work, a pun formed by dropping the letter "n" from the words "French" and "Window," refers to the double windows common in Parisian apartments as well as the women recently widowed by World War I. Duchamp himself did not make the miniature window, but rather outsourced the design to an American carpenter.

  • Stop 18

    Constantin Brancusi, Bird in Space, 1927
    Bird in Space

    While this sculpture might seem abstract, Constantin Brancusi insisted that his works revealed the inner essence of his subjects. His work drew on traditions of African sculpture and Romanian folk carving, and he turned the pedestal into an integral component of the art. Brancusi worked on the Bird in Space series for years, imagining it as an ensemble that would be his crowning achievement. Unlike other sculptors, Brancusi did not have a large workshop; rather, he worked alone with his materials, in this case carving the stone and polishing the brass.

  • Stop 19

    Tableau No. IV; Lozenge Composition with Red, Gray, Blue, Yellow, and Black

    Piet Mondrian intended his abstract paintings to express his spiritual notion that universal harmonies preside in nature. The horizontal and vertical elements of his compositions, carefully calibrated to produce a balanced asymmetry, represented forces of opposition that parallel the dynamic equilibrium at work in the natural world. Mondrian said the diamond compositions were about cutting, and indeed the sense of cropping here is emphatic. Forms are incomplete and sliced by the edge of the canvas, implying a pictorial continuum that extends beyond the physical boundary of the painting.

  • Stop 20

    Façades d'immeubles (Building Façades)

    Feeling as though painting needed to start from scratch after World War II, Jean Dubuffet turned for inspiration to the art of the untrained, particularly by children or self-taught artists, which he collected and dubbed art brut (rough or raw art). In Façades d’immeubles (Building Façades), Dubuffet showed his own art brut. Using the schoolroom technique of scratching through black paint to a previously applied colored ground, Dubuffet elaborated a view of a Parisian street as it might appear to a child. However, the carefully controlled grid and imposing, allover wall of paint testify to Dubuffet’s awareness of modernist tactics.

  • Stop 22

    Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), 1950
    Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)

    Jackson Pollock’s mural-size drip paintings met with mixed reactions when they debuted in 1948. For this painting, he laid a large canvas on the floor of his studio barn, nearly covering the space. Using house paint, oil paint, enamel, and aluminum, he dripped, poured, and flung pigment from loaded brushes and sticks while walking around it. He said that this was his way of being in his work, acting as a medium in the creative process. He “signed” the painting in the upper-left corner and at the top of the canvas with his handprints.

  • Stop 25

    Roy Lichtenstein, Look Mickey, 1961
    Look Mickey

    Look Mickey may be the first time Roy Lichtenstein transposed a scene and a style from a source of popular culture: the 1960 children’s book Donald Duck: Lost and Found. Lichtenstein subtly altered the original to turn it into a more unified image, omitting background figures, rotating the point of view by 90 degrees, organizing the colors into bands of yellow and blue, and simplifying the characters’ features. Stylistically, Lichtenstein imitated printed media—its heavy black outlines, primary colors, and, in Donald’s eyes and Mickey’s face, the ink dots of the Benday printing process then used to produce inexpensive comic books and magazines.

  • Stop 27

    Eva Hesse, Test Piece for "Contingent", 1969
    Test Piece for "Contingent"

    Eva Hesse did not want to produce what she saw as a conventionally beautiful sculpture. She rejected traditional media used for sculpture, such as metal or stone, preferring instead more flexible material such as fiber, plaster, or latex, the latter of which is used in this test piece. It was one of several studies for the final Contingent work, which is made up of eight similar banners that now hang in the National Gallery of Australia. Hesse described it as “not painting, not sculpture. . . . It is really hung painting.”

  • Stop 29

    Barnett Newman, First Station, 1958
    First Station

    One of the great figures of the abstract expressionist movement, Barnett Newman was an intellectual who developed his ideas in his painting, sculpture, and writing. In the mid-1940s he made his first works using his signature vertical elements, or “zips,” to punctuate the single-hued fields of his canvases. This painting is the first in a series of 14 paintings that Newman eventually named The Stations of the Cross (along with a coda in the form of a 15th painting, Be II). The Stations of the Cross was Newman’s most ambitious attempt to address what he called a “moral crisis” facing artists after World War II and the Holocaust: “What are we going to paint?”

  • Stop 31

    Helen Frankenthaler, Mountains and Sea, 1952
    Mountains and Sea

    Mountains and Sea is a perfect example of Helen Frankenthaler’s technique of making works by staining, a process in which she poured thinned paint onto raw, unprimed canvas. This method results in fields of transparent color that seem to float in space, with the weave of the canvas emphasizing the flatness of the image. Her arrangements of colors and shapes often evoke the natural environment, and each work creates a unique visual space and atmosphere.