Monday, January 24, 2011

What is your favorite work of art?

I have spent too much time over the past week embroiled in debates and combatting the "bitter" brigade. I want to talk about something fun for a minute. My posting about what I couldn't live without led me to books, which led me to think about my art books, and on to John Singer Sargent. Inevitably.

Did you know that Oscar Wilde modeled the character of Basil Hallward in The Picture of Dorian Gray after Sargent? No, probably not. Stuff like this enchants me, though. And of course when I get into thinking about Sargent, I sigh because the past two times I have been at the Met in New York, Madame X has been on loan or locked away in conservation.

I do love Madame X and could look at her for hours on end. But she isn't my favorite Sargent painting.

Neither is this one, although between 1987 and 1991 I used to drink coffee and eat doughnuts at 10 a.m. in Thomas Great Hall, underneath M. Carey Thomas's direct, steely gaze. They have her locked away in the Rare Book Room in the library at Bryn Mawr now. The Great Hall seems incomplete without her.

I fell in love with Lady Agnew of Lochnaw in 1990                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   when I was traipsing through the National Gallery of Scotland. She always struck me as a woman I'd like to know, on many different levels. I would make a pilgrimage to see her yearly, if not monthly, when I was in my 20's. I haven't seen her in person for probably 15 years. Too long.

Did you know that Sargent painted Tilda Swinton's ancestors, who are titled Scottish people? And very beautiful ones, unsurprisingly.

My favorite Sargent portrait, however, is his wonderfully over-the-top rendering of the actress Ellen Terry (great-aunt to Sir John Gielgud) as Lady Macbeth cum femme fatale. The dress with its iridescent beetle wings is to die for (someone actually wrote a dissertation about it), and her wild gaze and sickly pale skin are mesmerizing. Now this is a woman you shouldn't fuck with.

I would like to ask my readers to share their favorite works of art, architecture, or visual culture with me, if you're game. I really enjoy hearing about what inspires or soothes people, and why you like it (if you can figure that out).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    


Anonymous said...

I have no idea how I stumbled upon Christine Comyn's work but it was at least ten years ago. It is hard to pick a favorite as spending any amount of time looking at any of her paintings and I find a reason to love it. I just love how she blends it all together and how at times seems abstract. I just love it.


Real Daughter said...

I adore artworks by Edward Potthast & Elizabeth Nourse...both born in Cincinnati, lol.

I also love "Gibson Girl" images! I have several vintage advertising pieces and I adore them.

I also collect pictures/paintings depicting mothers & daughters (but the mother must have 3 daughters, lol) and paintings with 3 girls.

Susie said...

I can't say I have a favorite artist. My favorite kind of art are quilts, textile arts. At the moment, my favorite quilter is Bruce Seeds, his quilts are amazing. I also love browsing in Etsy, my "favorites" list there has gotten to be quite large!

You can see Bruce's amazing quilts at

Unknown said...

Oh, I could take up the whole internet talking about this. :) I love Thiebaud, his handling of paint is so masterful and his subject so banal, I find them transcendent.

I used to copy Albrecht Durer's prints, drawings what ever as a teen and have an elaborate way to write my intitials copying his. Caravaggio, obviously,but I like a lot of newer painters too. I even like Koons, pls. do not throw anything at me, I think he is hysterical and I love his irreverance because the fine art world is so full of grandieloquence, and I've told you before I used to have to do some of that craptastic writing that makes you feel so unclean afterwards.

I like Rauschenburg, I like Odd Nerdrum, Richter, Camille Claudel. I like art, I like people making crappy art even for the most part. I like that people even try to make art. It is all so freakin' awesome. :)

ms. marginalia said...

Thank you, everyone, for sharing! I checked out Comyn's paintings and thought they were gorgeous.

Linda, we all need to support local artists! Thank you for turning me on to Potthast and Nourse. How I wish I were a Gibson Girl! Oh, the power.

Susie, I am a textile woman myself. One of the chapters of my dissertation was on the impact Indian textiles had on England in the 19th century. I spent one lovely day in the Calico Museum in India, poring over the most sumptuous materials used by the Mughal Emperors. I think quilts are fantastic, as well. My aunt is a quilter, and I have a small quilt she made for me hanging over my fireplace. So as much as I wish I were grand enough to have sat for Sargent, I love art that I can actually touch. And I do wonder where Ellen Terry's Lady Macbeth costume is today.

Joy, you are a woman after my own heart. I love Thiebaud and love that SFMOMA has so many of his beautiful, cake-y paintings. Duerer, of course, and Caravaggio--it blew my mind to see the Caravaggios still in situ in Rome, in smoky little side chapels of smallish churches. Yes, Camille Claudel! Forget Rodin. Richter and Andreas Gursky. Mark loves those German photographers and painters, as do I. Wish I had been able to buy a print of Gursky's before they cost $600,000 each. Or more. Koons makes me laugh, as well. Do you remember that big Koons show at SFMOMA in 1992 or 1993? I was fascinated by his tongue-in-cheek assessment of consumer culture. I think he was still married to the Italian porn star then and had some really tasteless but amusing sculptures of her in the show. I loved his giant "Puppy" made of plants, wherever that was, although it's probably had many incarnations.