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Feature Archive
Revelations 2003:
Favorite Online Art Museum Features

By Joseph Phelan
By tradition, year's end is the time to take stock of developments and to recognize achievements in any cultural field worth following. In the world of fine art and especially art museums, one of the biggest stories of the year was about the failure of a museum and a website. The Guggenheim Las Vegas, which opened less than two years ago with all the hoopla and ballyhoo of, well, a casino in Las Vegas, is closing down, at least temporarily, for lack of paying customers. Even worse, the 20 million dollar website Guggenheim.com disappeared without ever really opening at all (it was in preview mode for months). On the other hand, the Guggenheim New York site, while fairly modest in its ambitions, is a solid and dependable contribution to the growing list of museums that we can visit 24/7 for instruction and delight, which is what all museums should aim at before they attempt paving the road to Parnassus. That said, here is my list of exemplary online exhibits in ascending order of ambition, intelligence, beauty and achievement.

1. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Giorgio De Chirico and the Myth of Adriadne
Are you intrigued by the notion of "metaphysical" painting, or fascinated by the myth of Adriadne? Prepare to be astonished by an artist who (inspired by Fredrick Nietzsche) brought the two together. Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) was the master of the enigmatic vision of modern life, of deserted city squares filled with mysterious shadows, stopped clocks, and sleeping statues. These visions in turn have had an enormous influence on Salvador Dali and Max Ernst, as well as everything from post war European cinema to Calvin Klein ads.

In the fateful years 1912-1913, De Chirico produced a series about Adriadne - the woman who was abandoned by her lover, Theseus, on the island of Naxos after he slew the Minotaur with the aid of her thread which had helped him to navigate the labyrinth. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has brought these works together for the first time and produced this very fine online introduction to the exhibit, which will make you a fan of the maestro if you are not one already.

2. National Gallery of London: Collection at a Glance
You can study the whole history of Western European painting from Giotto to CÚzanne by walking through the rooms of the National Gallery in London. Almost every artist of note and all the national schools of painting are represented. And the National Gallery not only has work by the masters, it has some of their best work: Jan Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait, Boticelli's Venus and Mars, Leonardo's Virgin on the Rocks, Holbein's The Ambassadors, Velasquez's Rokeby Venus, Rembrandt's Self Portrait at 34 and Van Gogh's Sunflowers.

But up till now you couldn't get a very good sense of the power and the glory of these works from the website, the scans were small and of a deliberately inferior quality (to prevent unauthorized reproductions). Now the National has put high definition zoomable scans of their most famous paintings online. You can feast at your leisure on the sumptuous canvases with all the mouth-watering details (though it's a shame they had to stamp their logo all over the works, but perhaps that will change in time). With typical British understatement they haven't even announced this new feature in their press releases or noted it on the website so I think this is notice is an Artcyclopedia exclusive.

3. Baltimore Museum of Art: Painted Prints: The Revelation of Color
When most of us think of prints, we think in black and white. In so doing we are guilty of chromophobia, i.e. Western Civilization's systematic effort to marginalize color, to purge it from our culture. At least that is the premise of this exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art that presents, for the first time, over one hundred examples of German and Netherlandish prints by such masters as Albrecht Durer, Lucas Cranach and Albrecht Altdorfer in glorious color.

The exhibit closes in Baltimore on January 5 so that it can travel to St. Louis, but the online exhibit is the next best thing to seeing the show and pouring over the catalogue. And the BMA has produced a downloadable teacher's guide: six prints are introduced by a series of observation questions that focus students' attention on details they might easily overlook. The zoom feature on selected prints encourages students to explore the prints at very close range. Where else can you can enjoy some traditional art which is at the same time cutting edge?

4. Metropolitan Museum of Art: Timeline of Art History
5,000 Years of Art History has been the proudest boast of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for as long as I can remember, which means before anybody used the term "multiculturalism". In fact, the Met has always been the best American example of high multiculturalism - i.e. a temple dedicated to the best that has been thought and fashioned in human history. Its time to praise the Met's website, which is as good as it gets and which keeps raising the standard for the rest of the world's museums.

The Timeline of Art History is a "chronological, geographical, and thematic exploration" of the history of art from around the world, as illustrated especially by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection. The Museum's curatorial, conservation, and education staff - perhaps the largest single core of art experts anywhere in the world - researched and wrote the Timeline, making it an invaluable reference and research tool for students, educators, scholars, and anyone interested in the study of art history and related subjects.

5. The BBC: Painting the Weather
"For those of us who live in Europe," Neil MacGregor, former head of the National Gallery in London, observes, "particularly in Northern Europe, the weather is something of an obsession. Its unpredictable, it's constantly changing and often unpleasant. But when thinking of the history of European painting, it's surprising to realize that it isn't until 1500 that weather features in painting at all..." On the evidence of this website the weather in Northern Europe may be frequently bad but the paintings are uniformly glorious.

Painting the Weather brings together the most striking weather paintings culled from around museum collections in the United Kingdom. The website features 100 paintings by 80 artists, including Rubens and Ruisdael, Constable and Turner, Monet and Van Gogh, and the Japanese print makers Hokusai, Hiroshige and Yoshitaki. Special in-depth commentaries on 15 key works by MacGregor and routes into the show by theme, artist and locations in the United Kingdom enhance your viewing pleasure. One can examine the paintings in detail with a high quality zoom and send e-cards. There are good short biographies of the artists and further information on the paintings and the galleries. Weatherman Bill Giles even offers his thoughts on the weather in selected works.

Note to my readers: if you think I missed something worthy of note online do let me know Contact me at joe.phelan@verizon.net


Past Articles

December, 2002
      Advent Calendar 2002, narrated by Joseph Phelan

November, 2002
      Portrait of the Artist as a Serial Killer, by Joseph Phelan

October, 2002
      Renoir's Travelling, Bonnard's "At Home", by Joseph Phelan

September, 2002
      The Philosopher as Hero: Raphael's The School of Athens, by Joseph Phelan

August, 2002
      The Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization

July, 2002
      Celebrating Heroes; Celebrating Benjamin West, by Joseph Phelan

June, 2002
      Chasing the Red Deer into the American Sublime (Education and the Art Museum, Part II), by Joseph Phelan

May, 2002
      Planning Your Summer Vacation, by Joseph Phelan

March, 2002
      Education and the Art Museum, Part I, by Joseph Phelan

February, 2002
      Unsung Griots of American Painting, by Joseph Phelan

January, 2002
      The British Museum COMPASS Project, interview by Joseph Phelan
      Robert Hughes, Time Magazine Art Critic: Biography and Writings
      Lifestyle: Online Casinos Finally Get Real

December, 2001
      Software review: Le Louvre: The Virtual Visit on DVD-ROM, by Joseph Phelan

November, 2001
      Tragedy and Triumph at Arles: Van Gogh and Gauguin, by Joseph Phelan

October, 2001
      Her Last Bow: Sister Wendy in America, by Joseph Phelan

September, 2001
      Love, Death and Resurrection: The Paintings of Stanley Spencer, by Joseph Phelan

August, 2001
      Who is Rodin's Thinker?, by Joseph Phelan

July, 2001
      Celebrations North and South, by Joseph Phelan

June, 2001
      Rubens and his Age, by Joseph Phelan

May, 2001
      Great Reproductions of Great Paintings

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

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