A Few of Our Favorite Things

The depths of the frigid Cleveland winter are upon us, and sometimes it feels like there is no way out. Between the snow-covered car, the makeshift Eskimo ensemble, and the bruises from a not-so-graceful fall in the slippery parking lot, we’ve given up on trying to find the bright side. In fact, we haven’t seen the bright side since October.

Although it would be so easy to completely succumb to the doldrums of winter in Cleveland, we’re not a town known for giving up. So to rescue us from despair, we’ve decided to turn to artists of a different type, musical theatre’s Rogers and Hammerstein. It is in their song, so cheerfully sung by Julia Andrews, that they wrote “When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad.” In our case the frost is biting and the wind is stinging, but the general sentiment is the same. Our favorite things? Well that’s easy, art and lots of it.

With this as inspiration,  we compiled a list of the top pieces viewed on both the Cleveland Museum of Art collection online (access here) and the ArtLens app (download here) in 2014, and added a few other favorites. It’s not raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, it’s better. Spanning decades and continents and varying from surrealist to neoclassical to impressionist, each piece gives us a reason to not feel so bad. Visit our permanent collection and see for yourself.

Water Lilies (Agapanthus), c.1915-1926. Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926). Oil on canvas, Framed - h:205.00 w:430.50 d:6.00 cm (h:80 11/16 w:169 7/16 d:2 5/16 inches).  Unframed - h:201.30 w:425.80 cm (h:79 1/4 w:167 5/8 inches). John L. Severance Fund and an anonymous gift 1960.81.

Monet spent the last thirty years of his life painting the lily pond at his home in Giverny, a small town on the river Seine, just north of Paris. While his initial exploration of the water lily theme (1902-8) produced smaller works more descriptive of a garden setting, the later paintings focus on the water's shimmering surface, indicating the surrounding trees and lush bank only through reflections. Here reflection and reality merge in strokes of blue, violet, and green. Fronds of water plants sway underwater and passing clouds are reflected above.

Twilight in the Wilderness, 1860. Frederic Edwin Church (American, 1826-1900). Oil on canvas, Framed - h:124.00 w:185.00 d:13.00 cm (h:48 13/16 w:72 13/16 d:5 1/16 inches. Unframed - h:101.60 w:162.60 cm (h:40 w:64 inches). Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund 1965.233.

In his New York studio, Church painted this spectacular view of a blazing sunset over wilderness near Mount Katahdin in Maine, which he had sketched during a visit nearly two years earlier. Although Church often extolled the grandeur of pristine American landscape in his work, this painting appears to have additional overtones. Created on the eve of the Civil War, the painting's subject can be interpreted as symbolically evoking the coming conflagration.

Cupid and Psyche, 1817. Jacques Louis David (French, 1748-1825). Oil on canvas, Framed - h:221.00 w:282.00 d:10.00 cm (h:87 w:111 d:3 7/8 inches). Unframed - h:184.20 w:241.60 cm (h:72 1/2 w:95 1/16 inches). Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1962.37.

David used the story of Cupid and Psyche to explore the conflict between idealized love and physical reality. Cupid, lover of the beautiful mortal Psyche, visited her nightly on the condition that she not know his identity. Cupid was usually depicted as an ideal adolescent, but here David presents him as an ungainly teenager smirking at his sexual conquest. David took inspiration from a number of ancient texts, including an obscure, recently published Greek poem by Moschus that describes Cupid as a mean-spirited brat with dark skin, flashing eyes, and curly hair.

Gray and Gold, 1942. John Rogers Cox (American, 1915-1990). Oil on canvas, Framed - h:116.00 w:152.00 d:12.50 cm (h:45 5/8 w:59 13/16 d:4 7/8 inches). Unframed - h:91.50 w:151.80 cm (h:36 w:59 3/4 inches). Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund 1943.60.

Cox painted Gray and Gold shortly after the United States joined the Second World War, and its image of amber waves of grain threatened by ominous storm clouds likely has symbolic overtones. The painting's foreground features an intersection of two dirt lanes, as well as a telephone pole emblazoned with political campaign posters. The artist seems to imply that American democracy is at a crossroads during this time of combat against the spread of fascism in Europe and Asia. Interestingly the work was inspired by the landscape around Cox's hometown of Terre Haute, Indiana, a location nicknamed "The Crossroads of America" due to the junction of major north-south and east-west national highways within its city limits.

Fight between a Tiger and a Buffalo, 1908. Henri Rousseau (French, 1844-1910). Oil on fabric, Framed - h:183.00 w:203.00 d:4.50 cm (h:72 w:79 7/8 d:1 3/4 inches). Unframed - h:170.00 w:189.50 cm (h:66 7/8 w:74 9/16 inches). Gift of the Hanna Fund 1949.186.

Having never ventured outside France, Rousseau derived his jungle scenes from reading travel books and visiting the Paris botanical garden. He placed this imaginary scene of a tiger attacking a buffalo within a fantastic jungle environment in which botanical accuracy was of little importance (note the bananas growing upside down). Here, sharply outlined hothouse plants are enlarged to fearsome proportions.

The Holy Family on the Steps, 1648. Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594-1665). Oil on canvas, Framed - h:103.50 w:135.25 d:13.33 cm (h:40 11/16 w:53 3/16 d:5 3/16 inches). Unframed - h:73.30 w:105.80 cm (h:28 13/16 w:41 5/8 inches). Former - h:72.30 w:104.00 cm (h:28 7/16 w:40 15/16 inches). Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1981.18

The simplicity of this composition is deceptive; it is a complex meditation on the Holy Family’s role in the redemption of humanity. At the center, Mary presents the Christ child to the world. At the left, Saint Elizabeth leans forward to foretell his eventual death, while her son, Saint John the Baptist, offers Jesus an apple, signifying humanity’s fall from grace in the garden of Eden. Saint Joseph, at the right, received new emphasis in the 1600s as an important model for men-especially fathers. His compass, a sign of his occupation as a carpenter, also symbolizes God the Father.

Guest Author

Julie Van Vliet

The Cleveland Museum of Art

Julie Van Vliet is a progressive communications professional who has worked both in the United States and abroad. She is currently based in Cleveland, Ohio where she is also a Cleveland Museum of Art Volunteer in the Communications and Marketing department.

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