Ars longa, vita brevis

My all-time favourite small show is currently at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The exhibit called Into the Woods consists of two works – The Jack Pine and The West Wind – both by Tom Thomson. These are paintings that can accurately be described using that overworked word, iconic. There’s a large seat where two people can sit and admire for hours on end what to my mind are the best canvases ever produced by a Canadian artist. I successfully avoided looking closely at Michael Belmore’s Breadth, his version of a roadkill fawn, that lies nearby.

Works of art can inspire and transport. They are mighty and meditative. There is no experience equal to looking at the real thing. Why people bother to take photos is beyond me. Why museums allow photos is an even bigger question.

The two Thomsons got me thinking about my favourite paintings so I made a list. Here’s my top ten from around the world.

1. The Peasant Wedding by Pieter Bruegel the Elder at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

2. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-August Renoir, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

3. Les Nymphéas (The Waterlilies) by Claude Monet, L’Orangerie, Paris.

4. Deposition from the Cross by Jacopo Pontormo, Church of Santa Felicita, Florence.

5. The Night Watch by Rembrandt van Rijn, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

6. Irises by Vincent van Gogh, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

7. Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch by Sir Henry Raeburn, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

8. Officer and Laughing Girl by Johannes Vermeer, The Frick Collection, New York.

9. Untitled 1952 by Jean Paul Riopelle, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

10. Madame X by John Singer Sargent, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


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