National Gallery opens exhibit featuring five centuries of art

The National Gallery of Art has collected a smorgasbord of paintings for its newest exhibition, Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, which opens October 1.

The 140 works in Art for the Nation are arranged chronologically, beginning with Nuremberg’s The Raising of the Cross (circa 1480-1490) to Sol LeWitt’s Wavy Brushstrokes (1996). This vast array of compositions is ideal for the first-time museum-goer because it presents a broad scope of art. European and American artists from the past five centuries are featured with particular emphasis on Renaissance art, 17th-century Dutch art and 19th-century American and French paintings.

The National Gallery began acquiring works in1991, and the exhibition reflects on the achievements of the curators during throughout the decade.

The exhibit offers a good variety of artwork, as the mediums of painting, print, drawing, sculpture and photography represent 120 artists. The exhibit includes the works of acclaimed master artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrant van Rijn, Jean-Honore Fragonard, Thomas Cole, Julia Margaret Cameron, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh. Lesser-known artists also find their way on exhibit walls.

Henri Matisse’s Open Window Collioure (1905) stands out as one of the collection’s outstanding works. Often studied in survey courses, Matisse is regarded as a leader of the Fauves, an artistic movement from 1905-1908 that flouted conventional rules for drawing and painting. Matisse and his followers were labeled Fauves, or wild beasts, because of the primitive savagery of their style. This label was later adopted by the movement. Core to their belief was the notion that color could be used as a means of expression rather than description. Open Window immediately catches the eye with its bold colors that make the piece deeply emotional and striking.

Jasper Johns’ Perilous Night (1982) is one of the exhibit’s must-see paintings. The Gallery’s only painting by Johns, Perilous Night is a provocative composition with eclectic elements. Johns, an American painter influenced by Marcel Duchamp, has been heralded as one of the most important contributors to American Pop Art. Like Duchamp, Johns seems to revel in questioning traditional perceptions on what art is, incorporating three-dimensional torn limbs on one side of his composition, and random scribblings on the other. Even after careful inspection of the work, it is hard to know what it is about.

Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century has public appeal. With so many different artists and so many different kinds of mediums presented, there is something there for everyone.

The National Gallery of Art is located on Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. Art for the Nation opens Oct. 1. Admission is free.

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