East Building Audio Tour
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.
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.
- Woman in a Striped Dress
Édouard Vuillard belonged to a quasi-mystical group of young artists that arose about 1890 and called themselves Les Nabis (after the Hebrew word for prophet). The Nabis rejected impressionism and considered simple transcription of the appearance of the natural world unthinking and unartistic. Woman in a Striped Dress is one of five works Vuillard painted in 1895 for Thadée Natanson and his wife Misia Godebska. The introspective woman arranging flowers here may represent the red-haired Misia, whom Vuillard greatly admired.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- One Year the Milkweed
In One Year the Milkweed, one of several so-called color veil paintings Arshile Gorky made in 1944, films of paint have been washed unevenly across the canvas, and evocative but indistinct forms have been brushed in. The painting’s overall green and brown hues suggest a landscape, but there are no identifiable landscape forms and no spatial recession. Instead, vertical drips and the alternation of light and deep tones create a shifting, shimmering effect across the entire picture surface.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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?”