Gallery Tour



Welcome to the Normalville art gallery, where we've collected over two centuries of great art for your viewing pleasure and intellectual stimulation. While our collection is small, and evenly distributed on the walls of this square room, it is varied, and we've taken care to make sure it covers many styles and media in stimulating juxtaposition. You'll notice, for example, that the two reclining nudes are diagonally opposite each other, and that all the walls but one contain at least one work by an American artist.

This tour will take you on an eclectic journey from work to work. When I say to walk a number of works to the left or right you should of course turn corners if you have to, and any diagonals you make are meant to be perfect. Each work occupies the same amount of horizontal space, without regard for its size, with the largest work visible outside through a small window.

Let's begin on the south wall, with the oldest work in our collection. This portrait is one of many this artist painted of the President, whose popularity both during and after his term in office placed these paintings in great demand. The President faces left (in the direction of one painting on the same wall); this was intended to balance a companion portrait of his wife facing to the right. Both were acquired by the Boston Athenaeum after the artist's death.

Directly opposite this painting, on the north wall, we have a Surrealist re-visioning, if you will, of the concept of portraiture. By obscuring the subject's face in such an absurd manner, the artist provokes both laughter and discomfort. Both responses subvert the familiar formality conveyed by the subject's bowler hat and suit.

Along this wall you will see the only functional object in this collection, borrowed from the Mint Museum. A masterwork of modern industrial design, this piece was fabricated in 1946 using newly discovered plywood molding techniques. The curvature of the forms makes them ideal for practical use as well as aesthetically pleasing. Compare the modernist lines of this piece with the more traditional ones of the same type of object in the painting directly to the right.

Move three places to the left to view our next work. In reaction to the works of the impressionists, this artist pioneered a meticulously detailed technique of creating the illusion of uniform color out of many colors. This can be seen in the six open umbrellas visible in the painting, as well as the monkey in the foreground. If you change an E in this artist's last name to a T and transpose two other letters you get the last name of an artist whose work occupies the same place on another wall. But wordplay is more in the style of an earlier artist we've examined, and in our collection any work containing words (other than signatures) would appear on the wall behind you.

You may have noticed that one of our walls contains works exclusively by French artists (two of whom were, to be fair, born in other countries). The work second from the right on this wall is where we turn our attention next. A lush tropical setting surrounds a pale female figure clearly transplanted from a more formal setting; the title suggests the impetus for this transformation. The various exotic beasts lurking in the brush display a docility that belies their danger and mystery.

Let's move from the burgeoning jungle of this work to a starker landscape, also a motion from tropical heat to mountain cold. This black and white photo was taken on a winter afternoon; by not placing it directly next to the window, we've made it possible for you to see how the setting sun creates a strong contrast of light and shadow on the rock face. The curved line of the gibbous moon reminds the viewer of the semi-rounded form that gives this landmark its name, and contrasts with the powerful vertical lines of the cliff.

On the only other wall with a black-and-white work you'll find our next painting. The dark tones in this impressionist masterpiece evoke the romantic mood of the dancers in the background and the couples in the foreground. The gas lights of Paris in 1876 are visible at the top of the painting. This painting shares a (more than two-letter) word in its title with a painting in the opposite place on its respective wall.

Let's look now at the painting directly to the right of one of our paintings of a couple standing next to each other. This is the second-oldest work in the gallery. This artist once said paint should be as smooth 'as the skin of an onion', yet he was often attacked for the distortions of his images. Critics said, for example, that the abnormally long back of this odalisque must have had three extra vertebrae. But the peacock feathers in the brush she holds are remarkably precise.

On the wall to your right there is only one piece we have yet to examine, a Dutch illustration. This visual puzzle and optical illusion uses two-dimensional drawing to create what appear to be three-dimensional hands on the page. It shares a sense of symmetry with the works on either side of it.

On another wall is perhaps our most playful work, this one by a German artist who is often considered French. With 26 black hats to choose from here, there's a perfect one for any occasion. Connected with bold color segments (echoing the primary colors in the work diagonally opposite) into organically phallic forms, they are both irrational and formal, mechanically drawn but erotic.

A single primary color figures prominently in our largest work, viewable through our gallery's only window. Outside, on the plaza, you can see a monumental piece, temporarily transplanted from its home on Broadway in New York City. This cube's sharp edges (softened by the hole in the center) and its geometric shape keep the viewer at a distance, while standing on one corner gives this otherwise harsh piece a playful quality not in keeping with its enormous size.

Were you to stand immediately outside the window and look back into the room, you would not be able to see this next work. As the subjects of arguably the most famous painting in American art, this farm couple has been widely parodied, but it is the architecture of the background that gives the work its name.

Occupying the same place on their respective walls are two of the three paintings in our collection with fruit in them. Let's look at the one we haven't seen yet. Painted in 1896, when the artist lived in the Marquesas Islands, this painting emulates Cezanne, who is perhaps better known for this type of subject matter. Note the varieties of blue used to shadow both the teapot and the cloth beneath it. Placing the two paintings or collages in this room that depict only inanimate objects as their subject side by side calls attention to the contrast between the artists' styles, while highlighting the similarities in the colors of the fruit here and the abstract forms of the painting to its right.

Turn around and walk to the painting diagonally opposite: hung three spaces to the left of the work of a fellow post-Impressionist, this painting shows the artist himself in the background, walking next to his taller cousin. The strong diagonals of the banister and floorboards move towards the viewer, while the ghostly-green face of dancer May Milton seems to hang in the right foreground.

Next to the window you'll find the artist in our collection known by the shortest name. Here we see a single art deco figure, her gesture and attire echoing the figure in the painting directly to the left. The letter she represents appears twice in this artist's real name.

We'll end with the most recent work in our collection: the bold lines and primary colors of this faceless pair of embracing figures are characteristic of this contemporary artist. The radiant marks seemingly emanating from the figures recall those of his earliest subway "tag".

We hope you've enjoyed this gallery tour. The gallery depends on your contributions for support, so please donate generously. And be sure to stop by the gift shop on the way out. Thank you for visiting the Normalville Art Gallery.