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Feature Archive
May, 2001
Great Reproductions of Great Paintings
This month I'm honoring those few websites that are committed to putting really first-rate scans online. These images are as good as, and sometimes better than, you're likely to see in any printed book. I'll add one per day, so be sure to come back and see what's new.

Many of these paintings are in "landscape" format and make great wallpaper, although they might need to be cropped and/or reduced somewhat in order to look their best. (Note: Anyone can use any Web image for their computer wallpaper. As long as it's for personal use, this is not a violation of any copyright.)

Afterword: I noticed throughout the month that I was selecting a lot of 19th-century works. Specifically, 18 of 31 paintings dated between 1845 and 1909. This is probably my favorite artistic era.

1845 was roughly the birth of Modernism in art, when the power of the Academies and wealthy patrons subsided and the artist as individual took center stage. A quest for Realism reinvigorated the art world, and paved the way for subjective art styles such as Impressionism, Expressionism and Symbolism.

1909, the end of this era, saw the rise of Cubism, Dada, Futurism, and countless other experimental movements. This is the point at which Conceptual Art was born, when the concept underlying an artwork became more important than its execution - for better or for worse. Speaking personally, I respect a lot of 20th-century art, but I am not passionate about much of it.
   - JM

May 31

Flaming June

  Frederic Leighton was a British Classicist painter, a style distinct from but closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

According to ArtMagick, this huge (4' by 4') painting was put up for auction in the 1960s, but was withdrawn when it astonishingly failed to reach its $140 reserve price.
  ArtMagick is another image archive, run by Julia Kerr, with a great selection of artworks. It specializes in Pre-Raphaelite art, Symbolism, Art Nouveau and other romantic art styles. Its slogan is Click here to follow your Dreams of Decadence.

Note: Several posters of this painting are available from Allposters.com:

May 30

The Young Martyr
(A Christian Martyr
Drowned in the Tiber
During the Reign
of Diocletian)

  Paul Delaroche was a French painter who specialized in historical scenes. The Young Martyr, reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelite images of Ophelia which came slightly later, was apparently well-received: Delaroche later made an almost exact copy which now hangs in the Louvre.

Many reproductions of this painting make it hard to see the figures at the top left, or even crop them out entirely. For some reason I had always assumed it was a Roman soldier, or Diocletian himself, in the background. However, I just noticed that when zooming in (below), the figures resolve into a couple who are probably the girl's parents.
detail image
  State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia (see May 8).

Note: Two versions of The Young Martyr are currently available at Allposters.com:

May 29

The Ancient of Days

etching with
  William Blake  The Artchive (see May 1).
From The Romantic Rebellion, by Kenneth Clark:

This was the measuring, law-giving God of Genesis whom Blake regarded as the enemy of mankind... although it in fact represents Urizen the Creator.

Urizen is the embodiment of all that Blake hated - definition, restriction, measurement, materialism.

May 28

The Birth of John
the Baptist (detail)

  Domenico Ghirlandaio. This detail of a scene from the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence has long been one of my favorite web images.

The Web Gallery of Art (which offers a full version of the scene) indicates that the women on the left are members of the family which commissioned the fresco, although they are quite upstaged by the beauty and grace of the maidservant bringing in fruit and wine. The Web Gallery considers her "disharmonious", but in my eyes she is the only character with the timeless, mythic qualities one might expect from a Biblical scene.
  Carol Gerten's Fine Art (see May 3).

May 27

The Beguiling of Merlin

  Edward Burne-Jones painted this Arthurian scene of Nimue enchanting Merlin before entombing him in a cave for eternity.  The Artchive (see May 1).

A poster of The Beguiling of Merlin is available at Allposters.com:

May 26

Vanitas Still Life

  Pieter Claesz Claesz was a Dutch master of the still life.

This is an example of a Vanitas painting - a kind of moral lesson reminding the viewer of the transience of life. In addition to the skull, all the other elements of the painting - the overturned glass, the book of learning, and so on - also have a symbolic meaning.
  Web Gallery of Art (see May 19).

May 25

Right and Left

  Winslow Homer was one of the great painters of American outdoor life and one of the great painters of the sea. He combined these two passions in this painting showing a hunter (barely visible among the swells) shooting at two ducks.

At first glance it appears that the right duck has been hit. However there is no sign of blood, and whether the duck is falling or engaging in an evasive manoeuver is left somewhat ambiguous.
  National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. The NGA doesn't tend to offer the largest reproductions, but what makes up for that is the excellent detail images which are often available to illuminate various elements of a painting.

May 24

The Delphic Sibyl
(From the Sistine
Chapel Ceiling)

  Michelangelo Buonarroti. The story is that Michelangelo's rival Bramante manipulated events so that Michelangelo would receive the commission to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. His expectation was that Michelangelo, who had a superhuman reputation as a sculptor, would fail spectularly when presented with a complex painting project.

In the end, of course, Michelangelo produced a vast, magnificent fresco and built a reputation as possibly the greatest artist in history.

The Web Gallery of Art has a section devoted to the Sistine Chapel, with overviews and (at the bottom of the page) links to many detail images.
  Web Gallery of Art (see May 19).

Several posters of the Delphic Sibyl (and other details from the Sistine Chapel) can be purchased at Allposters.com:

May 23

The Bridesmaid

  John Everett Millais. I'm not a great fan of Millais - some of his stuff is just dreadful. But this simple Pre-Raphaelite portrait is utterly beautiful.  The Art Renewal Center (see May 4). It appears Iian Neill is still working very hard to expand this site - he just added 47 paintings yesterday. This site is very promising indeed.

One criticism (that he'll probably never read, but anyway) is that the galleries are not really very user friendly. There's nothing worse than having to blindly click "Next", "Next", "Next" in order to browse a site. How about an overview page for each artist, using very small thumbnails or just text links?

May 21

Fur Traders
Descending the
, 1845
  George Caleb Bingham was an uneven painter best known for a classic series of paintings of river life. Fur Traders Descending the Missouri is a great painting from a fascinating historical period.

This painting is also available as a poster from Allposters.com:
  The Metropolitan Museum of Art (see May 6).

Once again, the low-res image is mediocre, but the detail images are excellent.

May 20

Listening to the Sphinx

  Elihu Vedder was an American Symbolist painter, also associated with the Pre-Raphaelites.

Mark Tansey's amusing painting Secret of the Sphinx alludes to this work.
  Carol Gerten's Fine Art (see May 3).

May 19

The Annunciation

  Fra Angelico, one of the great painters of the Early Renaissance, painted this stunning altarpiece depicting the Archangel Gabriel appearing before the Virgin.

In the background can be seen the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden.

P.S. A poster of The Annunciation is available from Allposters.com:
  Web Gallery of Art. This is a massive Hungarian image archive created by Emil Kren and Daniel Marx. They have also added biographies of the artists and background information about hundreds and hundreds of the paintings on display.

May 18

The Shore of the
Turquoise Sea
, 1878
  Albert Bierstadt, another of the great Hudson River School painters.

The broken ship's mast in the foreground provides a bit of a moral lesson about nature's power and man's impermanence.

Some Hudson River School painters lent such majesty to the mountains and the sky that their works have been called pantheistic.
  Carol Gerten's Fine Art (see May 3).

May 17

The Horse Fair

(detail), 185355
  Rosa Bonheur was one of the great animal painters of her age.

The Horse Fair is her best-known work, and is a favorite at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Note that a poster of The Horse Fair is available from Allposters.com:
  The Metropolitan Museum of Art (see May 6).

The Horse Fair is huge, approximately 8 feet high and 16 feet wide. I haven't yet seen a satisfying reproduction of this painting on the Web - and the one at the Met's own site is no exception. In fact, I'm not sure one is possible.

But the Met's scan is worthy of inclusion here because you can zoom way in and see all of the individual details of the painting. The details are very good - sharper, for some reason, than the full view. When the original is so large and sweeping, perhaps this is the best you can hope for.

May 16

Boston Harbor

  Fitz Hugh Lane was a specialist in maritime scenes. He was one of the leading practitioners of Luminism, an offshoot of the Hudson River School in which great attention was given to capturing the light of the sky and its effect on the landscape.

This sounds very much like Impressionism, but while Impressionism was essentially a subjective style, Luminism was based on a precise and polished Realism.
  Carol Gerten's Fine Art (see May 3).

May 14

Pelt Merchant of
, 1869
  Jean-Léon Gérôme. Gérôme and Bouguereau were two of the last great painters in the tradition of the French Academy. Both lived into the 20th century, by which time it must have been apparent that the war between technique and Modernism had been utterly and irretrievably lost.

Pelt Merchant of Cairo is an example of ninteenth-century Orientalism - a wave of fascination with the perceived exoticism and sensuality of the the Middle East and Near East.
  Renaissance Cafe was Iian Neill's project before he joined the Art Renewal Center (see May 4). It's still a great resource, even if it is officially "abandoned" and suffers from many broken links.

The Renaissance Cafe has many exquisite scans of hard-to-find paintings, but the file sizes are enormous: the main image is 250K, and if you click on "Alternate reproduction" you can see an 850K scan of the same painting. Even I would argue that an 850K reproduction is overkill.

May 13

The Sower
, 1888
  Vincent van Gogh. An interesting example of van Gogh's unique vision - a yellow sky above purple fields, immense sun silhouetting a jet-black farmer.

Look at the way the detail in the farmer is brought out by the subtle highlighting of the brushstrokes. You can see how difficult this painting is to photograph by comparing this reproduction to the ones at Olga's Gallery and the Vincent van Gogh Information Gallery.
  E.G. Bührle Collection, Zurich. This site doesn't exactly have huge reproductions, but they're about as big as you can get them and still be able to see the whole painting at once. They have a nice collection of lesser-known works by many great artists.

Like the Finnish National Gallery, this site is also multilingual - available in English, French, German and Japanese(!)

May 12

Bathing Girls, Outside

  Anders Zorn. Like a number of other leading portraitists of his era - Degas, Tissot, John Singer Sargent and Cecilia Beaux come to mind - Zorn's paintings were supremely elegant, rooted in Realism but strongly influenced by Impressionism.

With Bathing Girls, Outside, the Finnish National Gallery did a fine job preserving the delicate changes in tone which differentiate the land, the water and the women. (Click on "56.9 kB" to get to the full-sized image.)
  The Finnish National Gallery, like so many museums, has a navigational structure which makes it difficult to get a coherent overview of the site. It's also somewhat bizarre that you have to click on the file size in order to get a closeup of an image.

But the most important thing is that the artworks are generally well-scanned - and I tip my hat to them for making the site available in English (as well as Finnish and Swedish).

May 10

Baldassare Castiglione

  Raphael. This painting, of the famous court advisor and author of The Book of the Courtier, Baldassare Castiglione, is a strong contender for the finest portrait ever painted.

This is only a detail image of the sitter's face, but I couldn't find another really satisfying online reproduction of this masterpiece. You can see the full painting at the Louvre Museum website.
  Artcyclopedia. Note how we always put high-res artwork on a dark-colored or even black background. Not only is this easier on the eye than bright white, but I believe that it enhances the ability of computer monitors to reproduce darker and subtler details. I've done comparison tests, and it's certainly true of my monitor, anyway.

May 9

Place de la Concorde

  Edgar Degas. Simply one of the most elegant painters of all time.

This painting of the Viscount Lepique and his daughters is a delight to contemplate. The angular pose of the father somehow makes the composition endlessly challenging.
  The Artchive (see May 1). The only problem I can find with this scan is that it's too good - it's so large that unless you have a huge monitor, you can't appreciate the painting as a whole.

May 6

Garden at

  Claude Monet. When confronted with a beautiful painting like this, it's worth reminding ourselves that Impressionism was a revolutionary movement (the name stuck after a critical attack on Monet's Impression: Sunrise), and the very composition of this painting was considered "daring" at the time.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, displays many artworks with "Flashpic" images, which allow you to zoom way in. This is a wonderful feature, although if you want to see a large mage of the work in its entirety (e.g. to use as wallpaper), you'll have to display several detail images, take screen grabs, and paste them back together in a graphics program.

May 4

Unconscious Rivals

  Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Alma-Tadema's classicism is too idealized for many tastes, but he certainly knew how to paint. I had never been struck by Unconscious Rivals until I found this scan, which lovingly reproduces a wealth of perfect details.  The Art Renewal Center. I have the info filed away somewhere, but if memory serves this is a new organization founded by traditionalist art collector Fred Ross, and the site is designed by Iian Neill (of the excellent but never-finished Renaissance Cafe website).

May 3

Portrait of a Man
  Franciabigio. A minor master in Florence, Franciabigio surpassed himself with this magnificent painting of a remarkable young man.  Carol Gerten's Fine Art. CGFA and The Artchive (below) were basically the first two sites putting great scans online, back in the days of 14.4k modems when downloading a 75 kilobyte image file was a daunting prospect (the Webmuseum dates from the same era, but almost all its images come from Mark Harden and Carol Gerten). Virtually every scan at CGFA is magnificent.

May 2

The Threatened Swan
  Jan Asselyn. A Dutch landscape painter, Asselyn's most famous work is this exceptionally vivid scene of a swan protecting its nest. The painting is said to be an allegorical call for solidarity among Dutch provinces against foreign threats ("HOLLAND" is written on one of the eggs).  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. This website has some of the largest and best reproductions of any museum. They unhelpfully go out of their way to make the bookmarking of pages impossible, so I have no choice but to link to the image directly.

May 1

Cremorne Lights

  James McNeill Whistler. Whistler's paintings are great examples of Tonalism, an American style of art superficially similar to Impressionism, but with a darker and more sombre palette.  The Artchive. Formerly "Mark Harden's texas.net Museum of Art", this was one of the earliest first-class online image archives.


Past Articles

April, 2001

      The Passion of Christ, by Joseph Phelan

March, 2001

      Edouard Manet: Public Spaces, Private Dreams, by Joseph Phelan

February, 2001

      Henry Moore and the British Museum: The Great Conversation, by Joseph Phelan

December, 2000

      Advent Calendar 2000, narrated by Joseph Phelan

November, 2000

      Article: Notorious Portraits, Part II, by John Malyon

October, 2000

      Article: Notorious Portraits, Part I, by John Malyon
      Article: The Other Michelangelo, by Joseph Phelan

September, 2000

      Article: The Art of Drawing, by Joseph Phelan

August, 2000

      Article: Poussin and the Heroic Landscape, by Joseph Phelan

July, 2000

      Article: Great Art Museums Online, by Joseph Phelan

June, 2000

      Article: Venetian Painting and the Rise of Landscape, by Joseph Phelan

May, 2000

      Article: Forbidden Visions: Mythology in Art, by Joseph Phelan

April, 2000

      Article: Themes in Art: The Passion of Christ, by Joseph Phelan
      Web site review: Christus Rex

March, 2000

      Web site review: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., by Joseph Phelan
      Online exhibit review: Inuit Art: The World Around Me, by John Malyon

February, 2000/Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Results)

January, 2000/Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Part II)

December, 1999/Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Part I)

November, 1999/The Louvre Museum

      Web site review: The Louvre

October, 1999/Impressionism

      Web site review: North Carolina Museum of Art

September, 1999/Optical Art

      Web site review: The Butler Institute of American Art

August, 1999/Animals in Art

      Web site review: National Museum of Wildlife Art
      Online exhibit review: PBS: American Visions

July, 1999/Surrealism

June, 1999/Sculpture

      Web site review: Carol Gerten's Fine Art
      Online exhibit review: Michael Lucero: Sculpture 1976-1995

May, 1999/Women in the Arts

      Web site review: National Museum of Women in the Arts
      Online exhibit review: Jenny Holzer: Please Change Beliefs

April, 1999/The Golden Age of Illustration

      Web site review: Fine Arts Museums Of San Francisco
      Online exhibit review: Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe online

March, 1999/Vincent van Gogh

      Web site review: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
      Web site review: The Vincent van Gogh Information Gallery

February, 1999/Great Art

      Web site review: The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
      Online exhibit review: John Singleton Copley: Watson and the Shark