As a lover of the arts, a lover of the aesthetics of the female body and curious about the inner workings of human psyche, I most admire paintings that depict women in most intriguing moments. Of all the beautiful paintings I have encountered in my life, though, there are only few that have burnt themselves into my eyes and captured me in a way that I can only explain with emotions rather than words.
Roaming the museums of the world, I have picked my most favorite masterpieces which focus on a female protagonist.
- La Grande Odalisque
The first time I experienced a deep affection for a piece of art was when I learned about ‘La Grande Odalisque’ by Ingres. When I was only 13, seeing it in an art book in school, I considered it the embodiment of perfection. Though the woman itself appears to be, strictly speaking, deformed – the composition, the colors, the straight stare of the woman towards the viewer is so captivating that I was struck forever. When I finally visited the Louvre in Paris for the first time at the age of 16, my only goal pacing through the maze of the gallery was to finally get a glimpse of this stunning beauty. I couldn’t have cared less for the Mona Lisa, the Venus of Milo or Delacroix’ Liberty… I made my way past all these masterpieces just to see one women…And there she was, and I knew, the ‘La Grande Odalisque’ would be in my heart until the end of my days.
2. La Blanche et la Noire
A similar epiphany unravelled when I first saw Felix Vallotton’s ‘La blanche et la Noire’ (1913, oil on canvas. 114×147 cm, Winterthour). Before I even saw the naked redhead, the colors of the painting burst in my mind, exploding like fireworks through my veins and crept up through my spine to shake me with ever-awing fascination. In that moment I wanted to rip down the canvas straight from its’ frame, from the wall, stuff it into my bag, run outside and hang it up in my own living room before anyone else got the idea. I was as nervous as if I saw a dress hanging in the store in the distance; afraid I needed to hurry, or else the lady sorting through the rack next to me would pick my exact size.
This painting was the real deal. This was it.
Look at the colors, the vibrant shades of green and blue. The dark atmosphere is creeping from the frame, crawling up your skin from your feet into your eyes.
3. Phryne before the Areopagus.
Though it is not super famous, I love this painting. This work of art caught my eye when I randomly flipped through an art book in my senior year. Little did I know I would encounter it in person one day. There’s so much drama in Gérôme’s ‘Phryne before the Areopagus’; with the blue veil being ripped off the poor girls body, just to reveal the most magnificent curves underneath it. The red, the blue, the darkness. A magnificent example of quantity contrast.
The story depicted here is awesome: Good old Phryne was dragged before the council, as she was accused of impiety of the gods. Though it is not clear in what capacity, her beauty was definitely a big part in this, it is said she compared herself to the almighty goddess Aphrodite – a candle back then! However, her defender Hypereides is said to have torn off the dress of the stunning bombshell, when losing the trial seemed inevitable. Stunned by her beauty, the council set her free. How cool is that? Would that work with parking tickets today? I best not try.
4. Anita Rée’s Selfportrait, 1930
Another top-rated painting on my list of favorite masterpieces that made took my breath away was Anita Rée’s Self-portrait (Selbstbildnis, 1930, oil on canvas, 60×60,8 cm). I was sucked into the painting immediately. I felt like I was looking into a mirror. No, Anita Rée looks nothing like me, but she was able to stir up so many emotions in me, painted about 90 years ago, her power reached so far into the future that she snatched me in a glimpse. Anita, I am all yours. Mesmerizing, her stare ,as if she could look deep into my soul, and know what I’ve been through, knows my story, my worries, my happiness and all in-between. She could see how much milk I want in my cereal, and how I drink my coffee. All in one portrait.
If you haven’t seen Anita Rée’s ‘Selbstbildnis’ yet, hop on over to the Hamburger Kunsthalle, among other wonderful paintings, you can find Anita and her other lovely work ‘Feigenkaktus’ in the room
Art is amazing, art is emotions, all fulfilling and ever succumbing. I was lucky to have been able to see all of these paintings in real life, to lose myself in the gaze of the canvas, sucking me in like a Mary Poppins street chalk art.
I can’t wait to explore more museums of the world hopefully adding more works of art to my Top list.