I’ll soon be visiting the National Gallery in D.C. for the first time in at least ten years. This batch of must-see favorites are portraits of fascinating women, 15th-19th centuries.
Van der Weyden
Elegant but so distant. Part of the reason I like this one is that the shape of her face (but not her attitude) remind me very much of a friend of mine.
Rogier van der Weyden (Netherlandish, 1399/1400 – 1464 ), Portrait of a Lady, c. 1460, oil on panel. Washington, National Gallery, Andrew W. Mellon Collection
Leonardo da Vinci
I prefer this portrait to the Mona Lisa, in large part because the Mona Lisa is covered with dark varnish. (Leonardo like to experiment with varnish: it didn’t always come out well.)
Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452 – 1519 ), Ginevra de’ Benci [obverse], c. 1474/1478, oil on panel. Washington, National Gallery, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
I couldn’t figure out why she looks so familiar … I think it’s that Mona Lisa smile.
Bernardino Luini, The Magdalen, Italian, c. 1480 – 1532, c. 1525, oil on panel. Washington, National Gallery, Samuel H. Kress Collection
Anthony van Dyck
Nothing says “nobility” like a red parasol, a servant to carry it, and a life-size portrait by van Dyck. Stunning composition. I need to see this one in person again.
Sir Anthony van Dyck (Flemish, 1599 – 1641 ), Marchesa Elena Grimaldi Cattaneo, 1623, oil on canvas. Washington, National Gallery, Widener Collection
Georges de la Tour
Think of it as a study of a woman deep in thought. De la Tour loves to paint lamplight in a dark room, and I love to see the results.
Georges de La Tour (French, 1593 – 1652 ), The Repentant Magdalen, c. 1635/1640, oil on canvas. Washington, National Gallery, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
Utterly charming. You don’t see this sort of sympathic, almost casual portraits of children until the Enlightenment.
George Romney, Miss Juliana Willoughby, British, 1734 – 1802, 1781-1783, oil on canvas. Washington, National Gallery, Andrew W. Mellon Collection
Sir Henry Raeburn
She’s almost ethereal. Imagine the difference if her dress and the background were done with the precision of Ingres. Raeburn knows how to suggest rather than meticulously record – but look at the precision of the highlights on the nose, for example.
Sir Henry Raeburn, Miss Eleanor Urquhart, Scottish, 1756 – 1823, c. 1793, oil on canvas. Washington, National Gallery, Andrew W. Mellon Collection
And speaking of Ingres: this is one of his bread-and-butter works from his years in Rome, a pencil portrait of a wealthy tourist who wanted a souvenir. Note the sight-seeing attractions lightly sketched in at the lower left. In painted portraits, Ingres is famous for his extraordinary precision (you’d think you could do a thread-count on the dresses), but Mrs. Badham’s dress is sketched very loosely, which helps keep the focus on her face.
Drawings are never on view for long, for fear they’ll fade. If this one isn’t on display at the National Gallery when I visit, perhaps one of Ingres’s other sketches will be.
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780 – 1867 ), Mrs. Charles Badham, 1816, graphite on wove paper. Washington, National Gallery, The Armand Hammer Collection
A selection of portraits of men, and a few of families.
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