So here was the challenge – to list my six favourite artworks (in no particular order) and explain why I like them so much. Listing six favourite artworks wasn’t the problem (I could probably have listed a couple of dozen without much effort) but trying to explain why I like a particular artwork could be tricky. But I like a challenge, so I’m going to have a go.
Vincent van Gogh – Wheatfield with Crows
Of all van Gogh’s later paintings, this is my absolute favourite. It’s a painting of distinct contrasts, from the deep blue sky and the rich yellow wheatfield; the black crows, little more than tick-like strokes, are barely visible through the centre of the painting. Yet this painting almost vibrates with life and movement. Nobody paints like van Gogh did and I doubt that anyone ever will.
Francisco Goya – Time
There is a wicked mischief about this painting that really appeals to me, yet its subject matter is really quite sad. The essential moral of the story is that old age creeps up on all of us eventually and trying to live in the past makes you look stupid. But in Goya’s hands, you can’t help but feel sorry for the poor old dear in her best dress and finest jewels.
William Blake – Satan Rousing the Rebel Angels
Like van Gogh, nobody really drew like William Blake, and his distinctive style set him apart at a time when there was still a certain uniformity in etching. This print was designed to illustrate an edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost and shows Satan summoning his rebel army in revolution against God. But notice something? This Satan doesn’t have horns or cloven feet – he looks like the rest of us. Even in the 18th century, Blake had realised that evil can be human.
William Hogarth – Gin Lane
Talking of evil, there’s some shocking scenes in this print, from the master of the form, William Hogarth. Most notable – and obvious – is the baby falling to its death from the arms of the drunken mother in the centre foreground of the picture. Its lesser known companion is Beer Street, which shows the benefits of drinking ale at a time when gin was both cheap and plentiful. The inn featured in the background was known to have a sign up saying “Drunk for a penny. Dead drunk for tuppence. Straw free.”
Henri Fuseli – The Nightmare
In a rare example of familiarity not breeding contempt (see my post “Artworks I really don’t like” to see what I mean), I have always loved this painting even though it’s been parodied and reproduced in various ways numerous times. It is the classic “gothic” painting, from the swooning white clad female to the sneering goblin and the distinctive colours.
Monet – The Magpie
I do find some of Monet’s Giverney paintings a bit of a muchness – and some of his early Impressionistic works make me think my eyesight’s gone a bit strange – but this is a lesson in how many shades of white you can work into one picture. The magpie itself is a tiny little thing somewhere in the middle of the picture – easy to miss if you’re not careful – but the layers of snow and sky are magnificent.
Believe me when I tell you that this is only a snapshot of the kinds of things I like; it really could go on and on and on. I’m not even sure that it’s truly representative, but this is what happens when I have to limit myself to half a dozen!