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    Galleries 51-79: Goya, Constable, Whistler

Galleries 51 through 59 include works from Europe and England from Vermeer’s time (circa 1630) through the 18th century, organized by region and artist rather than by year. Spanish art, including works by Goya, are in Gallery 52; French artists are in galleries 53-56. British landscapes, including those by J.M.W. Turner and John Constable, are in Gallery 57; portraits are in Gallery 58.

Gallery 59 is a transition from British portrait artists to American, around the time of the American Revolution. Two early portraits by Rhode Islander Gilbert Stuart are here: The Skater (Portrait of William Grant) and Sir Joshua Reynolds. The Skater launched Stuart’s career as a portrait artist. He went on to paint more than a thousand subjects, including U.S. Presidents Washington through John Quincy Adams. An unfinished Stuart work of Washington is the basis for George’s image on the back of the U.S. $1 bill; you can view the painting at the National Portrait Gallery nearby.

If you’re a fan of American landscapes, and the Hudson River School style in particular, you’ll want to see Gallery 60’s four-panel installation The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole, the school’s founder. In this series, Cole expressed human life as a solitary boat trip down a river. The calm river of youth, lined with green trees and lush landscapes, give way to storms and rapids of manhood, and the desolate surroundings of old age. (The Gallery should serve free drinks to anyone over 40 viewing this set.) More Hudson River School artists, including Cole, A.B. Durand, and Albert Bierstadt, are in Gallery 64, and in Lobby C off the East Garden Court.

Unofficial Tip: If you’re a fan of Hudson River School artists, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art has a slightly better collection than NGA, including many works by Albert Bierstadt.

If you’ve got the time, stop off in Gallery 69 to see two wildly different approaches to portrait paintings, by Americans James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. Sargent was considered the best portrait painter of his era, and these four examples are a good representation of his skill. In Ellen Peabody Endicott, Sargent paints a proud woman in opulent, detailed black and white dress, set against a rich red background. You can imagine any of these being displayed proudly in the subject’s homes.

Contrast Sargent’s style with that of Whistler, in which one color usually dominates the canvas. The upper two-thirds of Symphony in White No. 1: The White Girl, for example is essentially different shades of white surrounding the girl’s face. (It’s done to great effect, though.) His Gold and Brown: Self Portrait is an ode to earth tones; and when viewed with the greys in the George W. Vanderbilt, it makes you wonder if Whistler could have used more coffee with his breakfasts.

Other Lands at National Gallery of Art