Last week I went with my mentor to the Metropolitan Museum. Since moving to New York last year, this has become my favorite museums to visit, and not just because it’s free. I don’t recommend tackling the Met in a day because there’s too much to see. That’s the beauty of it being free (don’t let them fool you with the listed ticket prices as those are only suggested donations) because there is no pressure to get to everything in a single visit.

This visit started in the modernist wing and ended with the heavy hitters: Caravaggio, Vermeer, and Velasquez. With every painting we looked at, my mentor pushed me to talk about why it worked. We dissected the formal elements of the painting — composition, color, light, brushstroke — to understand what made the painting successful. It was amazing how the psychological meaning of the painting came out of us discussing these formal aspects of the work. This really helped me think about my own compositions and that I need to put more thought into how each painting is laid out.

Last night I watched the Art21 on Kerry James Marshall and he echoed my above sentiment by saying each painting he makes references classical works in the structure. He is constantly looking at images while working on his piece. At some point it probably becomes second nature, but for now I know that I need to be more purposeful in the ways I put my images together.

Amedeo Modigliani "Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne" 1918. Oil on canvas

Amedeo Modigliani “Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne” 1918. Oil on canvas

Amedeo Modigliani, "Reclining Nude" 1917. Oil on canvas

Amedeo Modigliani, “Reclining Nude” 1917. Oil on canvas

What’s amazing about the above painting “Reclining Nude” by Modigliani is how when you’re standing in front of this work, the focus of your gaze rests on the crease at her waist which highlights the movement of her twist. The face is secondary making this a work – unlike the one above it – one in which the figure is a symbol rather than an individual. In painting, the figure is one or the other. The first image is clearly a representative of the individual and her psychology.

Looking at the formal elements of “Reclining Nude” you can see the the entire painting is working on the diagonal axis. He highlights the beginning and end of her body with a white sheet and pillow. These also work to reinforce the diagonal. That diagonal line is then repeated through the edge of the bed and the dresser behind it. Modigliani slightly throws off the perspective of the dresser in order to mimic that diagonal line and draw the eye around the canvas. The other shape that’s echoed in the work is the curve of her body. You find it in the pattern of the comforter.

I’m not going to analyze all the works we looked at, but here are some of them so you can pick them apart yourself. Nothing like seeing them in person, though, so get yourself to the Met!

Pablo Picasso "Girl in Profile" 1901. Oil on masonite.

Pablo Picasso “Girl in Profile” 1901. Oil on masonite.

Pierre Bonnard, After the Bath (1910) Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum, New York

Pierre Bonnard, After the Bath (1910) Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum, New York

 

Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632-1675). Woman with a Lute, early 1660s. Oil on canvas. 20 1/4 x 18 in. (51.4 x 45.7 cm). Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900. (25.110.24). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Johannes Vermeer (Dutch, 1632-1675). Woman with a Lute, early 1660s. Oil on canvas. 20 1/4 x 18 in. (51.4 x 45.7 cm). Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900. (25.110.24). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Amerighi da Caravaggio "The Musicians" c.1595. Oil on canvas

Amerighi da Caravaggio “The Musicians” c.1595. Oil on canvas

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