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Henri Matisse - The Dessert Harmony in Red - The Red Room 1908 Oil on Canvas 180.5x221cm The Heritage Museum

Henri Matisse referred to his painting the Harmony in Red almost dismissively, calling it a “decorative panel.” And like a piece of ornamental furniture, he scattered the massive canvas with arabesques and floral pattern — a dining room scene with no conventional focal point and a strangely flattened perspective. But the paintings hallmark flood of powerful crimson is radically different than the original painting.

Hippolyte Bayard, Cyanotype, 1842, France, Early Photography

By exposing photosensitive paper soaked in iron salts to light, Hippolyte Bayard created some of the first direct positive prints — beautiful impressions of ferns and lace laid. Sadly, Sir John Herschel invented the Cyanotype the same year, stealing yet another photography milestone from the unlucky Bayard.

Thomas Woolner - Alfred Tennyson 1856 Plaster 26x26cm Tate Britain

Thomas Woolner was the only sculptor in the idealistic boy band known as the Pre Raphellite Brotherhood. A posse of young poets and painters, The Brotherhood was obsessed with the classical verses of England’s poet laureate Lord Alfred Tennyson. Woolner was 24 when he first met his hero — and while the poet was 16 years his senior, Woolner and Tennyson became good friends. Woolner created this plaster relief when Tennyson was 47, and considered it the best portrait roundel he’d made — though Tennyson’s wife requested he shorten the poet’s nose.

Heironymus Bosch - The Garden of Earthly Delights 1503–1504 2.20x3.9m Museo Nacional Del Prado

A window into Hell.

The Alterpiece Tryptich was an old idea by the time that Heironymus Bosch got ahold of it. Three painted panels in an elaborate frame, often telling a story from right to left. Giotto's Stefaneschi Triptych for St. Peter's cathedral is a good example of what a tryptich should look like — Christ, serene, surrounded by adoring disciples. But Bosch had a different story to tell. The Garden of Earthly Delights is a folding tryptich, the left and right panels fold inwards, and when closed is shows a meditative image of the world during its creation, painted in the gray-green grisaille common to Netherlandish triptychs of the time. A moment of solemnity before the leaping madness inside is revealed. 

Giuseppe Arcimboldo - Spring - La Primavera 1563 Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando

Historians used to wonder if Giuseppe Arcimboldo was a madman, assembling human faces from vegetables and flowers. But Arcimboldo was just wildly creative. Spring is from his Four Seasons collection — a suite of paintings showcasing the literal fruits of the prosperous reign of Emperor Maximilian II. The Emperor loved the work so much, he had Arcimboldo reproduce the paintings multiple times, so he could send them to his friends and family. 

In 1305, Pope Clement V moved the home of the Roman Catholic Church from Rome, to Avignon in France — a controversial move that eventually caused a split in the church known as the Western Schism.

Every class has its clown. Joseph Ducreux worked alongside the great Neoclassical French painters like Vigée Le Brun, and Jacques-Louis David, but his work sparks with humor and weird energy. His self-portrait from 1793 is still phresh enough to generate its own meme — ‘Gentlemen, who hath released the hounds?’ 

A five-headed god may be a disorienting concept to western viewers, so let's break it down. Meet Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. Shiva is one of the three supreme Hindu gods, the Trimūrti. In this bust, each of Shiva's heads is a metaphor, representing one of his five aspects: Sadyojāta is fearsome face, Vāmadeva the face of healing, Aghora the face of knowledge, Tatpuruṣa the face of soul and meditation, and Īśāna is the face of the cosmos. 

Why Not Sneeze, Rose Sélavy? was an elaborate prank by Marcel Duchamp. An assisted readymade — a found object 'enhanced' by the artist, in this case by filling a birdcage with 152 marble 'sugar cubes,' a thermometer and cuttlefishbone. The sculpture's title references Rose Sélavy, Duchamp's drag queen alter ego, for seemlingly no reason, but the purpose of the object was helpfully clarified by Duchamp's friend and fellow Dadist André Breton:

"I have in mind the occasion when Marcel Duchamp got hold of some friends to show them a cage which seemed to have no birds in it, but to be half-full of lumps of sugar. He asked them to lift the cage and they were surprised at its heaviness. What they had taken for lumps of sugar were really small lumps of marble which at great expense Duchamp had had sawn up specially for the purpose. The trick in my opinion is no worse than any other, and I would even say that it is worth nearly all the tricks of art put together."

Marcel Duchamp's readymades were sculptural assemblages of found objects, often created as jokes, visual puns, or as with the 'Bicycle Wheel' — for the simple pleasure of the juxtaposition. Duchamp described the wheel, saying: "I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace." He apparently enjoyed the wheel enough to remake it several times, and although the original is now lost, his later versions can be viewed at the MOMA in New York, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The photo above is of Duchamp's third Bicycle Wheel, made in 1951.