Taft Museum of Art staff share their favorites from the Museum’s permanent collection
Do you have a favorite in the Taft collection? Tweet your top pick and why you love it to @taftmuseum.
Virgin and Child, about 1490, Workshop of Benedetto Bugliono
This is my favorite because it is peaceful. First of all, the simplicity of the piece is what strikes me. The artist has achieved much with clean lines and little detail. The whiteness, the flowers, and the blue surrounding her head add to the beauty of this piece. Mary is attractive and serene. I like the fact that Baby Jesus actually looks like a baby, too, not a grown man’s head on a baby’s body!
—Patty Hassel, Director of Finance
An Extensive Valley with a Distant City, about 1662–65, Aert van der Neer
This painting fascinates me because Van der Neer creates a far wider panorama than human eyes can actually see—without turning our heads. A foreground space invites us to walk into the landscape imaginatively and then to follow fences, field boundaries, and logs into depth along many lines, drawn into an exploration of a complex and complete rural world. I love its specificity; it may have been a familiar locale for the artist.
The incredible delicacy of the painting technique makes me marvel: Van der Neer uses extremely fluid paint applied with fine-pointed brushes. Thin layers of almost translucent color create a luminous effect, as if forms are seen under a soft atmosphere. Light casts pearly reflections on the clouds and evokes the warm glow of late afternoon. Van der Neer’s observation of the clouds is masterful—it looks ahead to the 19th-century British painter John Constable—and yet I also like the old-fashioned, elegantly decorative patterning of the dark foliage of the trees silhouetted against the sky. It is the synthesis of amplitude and precision that captivates me, I think. It is as if the artist has managed to convey his own intense appreciation of the beauty of this place.
—Lynne Ambrosini, Chief Curator
Still Life with Tilted Basket of Fruit, Vase of Flowers, and Shells, about 1640–45, Balthasar van der Ast
I have always been amazed by nature’s diversity, down to its smallest manifestations. When I was growing up, I collected rocks, captured insects, and observed the life cycles of creatures in a small creek near my house. The variety of flora and fauna in Van der Ast’s still life represents the same kind of fascination on the part of the artist and Dutch culture. Looking closely at nature is a way for many people to access a kind of spiritual awe. Experiencing the natural world now, as an adult, always revives that sense of wonder I felt in my childhood.
—Tamera Lenz Muente, Assistant Curator
Robert Louis Stevenson, 1887, John Singer Sargent
This is the portrait of the author.
Fingers stretch to improbable length.
They are long enough to encompass
The travelers and adventurers
Who populate his imaginings.
He smokes in defiance of weak lungs;
A velvet smoking jacket consorts
With his scarecrow frame.
He isIlluminated and illuminating—
A lighthouse beacon amid the whorls
Of wainscot, wood grain, wicker, and fur.
This is the portrait of the author.
—Cate O’Hara, Former Associate Curator of Public Programs and Publications
Mademoiselle Jeanne Gonin, 1821, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
I really enjoy portraits. I think it’s the challenge of trying to figure out what the person is all about and what she’s wearing. Since portraits were mainly done for people who could afford them, this makes me wonder what her life was like. This painting also seems almost like a photograph to me. The level of detail in the lace of her collar, the folds and wrinkles of her sleeve, and even her fingernails, I find exquisite. To be able to paint so realistically seems an almost supernatural power. I also like that the entire focus of the painting is on her with no extraneous background objects or details.
—Pam Momper, Accounting Assistant
Portrait of Michael de Wael, about 1632–34, Frans Hals
I’ve always been struck by this fellow, also known as “my boyfriend.” (It’s okay…my husband knows about him.) With his ruddy cheeks, barely parted lips, and ever-so-slightly raised eyebrows, I think Hals’s subject knows he’s good-looking. But as you move closer, his expression begins to appear more vulnerable, less cocky. I also like the way the artist draws our eyes to his subject’s face by contrasting it with the broad-brimmed black hat and the soft white ruff. His outfit is a wonderful visual record of 17th-century men’s dress. And although he’s standing still, he seems to swagger.
—Nancy Huth, Former Curator of Education
Changing Pastures, about 1887, Antoine Mauve
—Cynthia Kearns, Director of Organizational Planning and Resources