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.
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, Associate Curator
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
Europa and the Bull, 1845, Joseph Mallord William Turner
This painting is very powerful to me. Europa and the Bull is one of a series of eleven incomplete paintings created late in Turner’s career. It is not the subject matter, but the unfinished quality that draws me in. In my training as a painter I was inspired by Turner’s work. The translucent layers of color, textured brush strokes and a dramatic sense of movement and light emanates from his canvases. Viewing the painting enables me to get a sense of his process. This painting also takes on qualities of abstraction due to its unfinished nature. The subject matter is not easy to make out at first glance. This creates a sense of whimsical mystery that I cannot resist.
— Kendall Trotter, Assistant Registrar
A Woman With a Cittern and A Singing Couple at a Table, 1667, Pieter De Hooch
At first glance, I was struck by the vivacious woman playing her cittern. The dress she’s wearing is bright and gorgeous. I enjoy iconography and hidden messages in 17th century Dutch paintings, such as the representation of the dog, symbolizing lust. Could this lady with her leg up on a stool be seductively staring at the gentleman? In turn, he seems distracted by her, so much so that his song book is halfway off the table. I can’t help but think there is a hidden affair between the man and woman and the unknown is what makes this piece so intriguing.
— Jenna Wilson, Events Manager
Changing Pastures, about 1887, Anton Mauve
We use this painting with Girl Scouts during the Painting Badge tour, and it is so fun watching the girls discover how the sheep “move” when they look at it from different angles (they also find the sheep butts funny). The girls really stop to look at the painting and give great observations about how Mauve tricks the viewer into thinking the sheep are walking a particular direction.
— Erin Holland, Manager of Youth and Family Programs
Solitude (Adam and Eve), about 1906, George Grey Barnard
As a young student who spent many days visiting the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, I developed an appreciation for figurative sculpture. George Grey Barnard’s Solitude (Adam and Eve), represents two nudes (a rare subject in the collection) that are sensual, yet thought-provoking. Drawing strong parallels to the symbolist movement and the power of ideas in art, the artist represents two figures, “a man and a woman expressing the thought that while they are one in love and spirit, they are separate souls.” The ideas help to elevate the sculpture to a level beyond its material representation. The perceived duality that is evident in the isolation of the two figures can also be viewed as a synthesis, a unity of opposites joined by love and spirit. As a result, the sculpture has a transcendent quality, combining art and ideas into what James Joyce once described in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man as an “aesthetic stasis.”
— Timothy Brown, Director of Education