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Mike Allen

Professor Wadsworth
Early 20th Century Art
20 April 2016
Museum of Fine Arts Visit Essay
I went into Boston a few weeks back to visit some friends, and while there I took
the opportunity to visit the Museum of Fine Arts. It has been the better part of a decade
since my last visit, so I found myself almost completely lost in the labyrinthine
infrastructure. I stumbled through countless rooms with art ranging from Ancient Egypt,
Medieval Religious Icons, to the nineteenth century Romantics, all the way up to the
present day. Sporadically I came across a variety of artworks from the time period our
class focuses on. Among the ones I have chosen here to write about are El Fuego (1938)
by Jose Clement Orozco, Ravine (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh, Double Portrait (1946) by
Max Beckmann, Two Nudes (Lovers) (1913) by Oskar Kokoschka, and The Daughters of
Edward Darley Boit by John Singer Sargent. These paintings are the ones that stuck out
to me the strongest on my visit.
El Fuego may be, simply put, the coolest of the paintings I saw at the MFA. It
caught my eye with its bold brush strokes, and the bright orange contrasted nicely with
the smoky black background. I think at least one reason that El Fuego was of interest to
me is due to its content. It is a portrait of a man on fire. This imagery was at once
striking, but I also found it reminiscent of the superhero The Human Torch from the
Fantastic Four. Like The Human Torch, the figure in El Fuego does not seem to be
harmed by the fire, in fact the fire seems to come from within. I am unsure if the fire is

warmth and it is a sign of passion, or if it is symbolic of a heavenly wrath. For there


appears to be something deity like in the way the subject is placed above the viewer, and
its gaze is turned away in disinterest with us. It is above us, which leads me to believe
that it is not meant as a hellish creature, as the description offered at the museum insists,
but perhaps instead a purifying angel. Orozcos low angle, and strong compositional
flare give the painting a sense of dynamism, as if the viewer is in motion and only
catching a brief glimpse of the creature. It is dreamlike in content, but I hesitate to
simply label El Fuego as a surrealist work. In fact it seems to take inspiration from both
surrealism and romanticism, with perhaps a touch of post-impressionism.
Ravine by Van Gogh is a painting that I may have missed at first, for it was in a
room with some Monets that had initially caught my eyes. After a moment my friend
who I was visiting the museum with pulled me over to see Ravine. He told me he really
liked the painting because Van Gogh painted it soon after he was admitted to an asylum,
and it shows the deteriorating state of his mind. I found the painting, which at first I was
not exactly blown away by, had grown on me since my visit. I have fallen in love with
the swirling shrubbery of the hillside, and the way that the two robed figures seem to
meld into the stony path. I feel like Van Goghs world is one thats constantly in motion,
or at the very least buzzes with an energy underneath it. The sky here almost appears as
if a pond with ripples from a stone being skipped across it. Ravine is a fascinating
expression of the world around us.
Double Portrait by Max Beckmann was probably my favorite painting I saw
during my visit to the MFA. It made me recall the German Impressionists we studied
earlier in the semester, whose very distinct style I found most fascinating. I love the

uneasy off balance features of the two men, the strong angular diagonal lines with their
thick black outlines make the painting feel like a strong statement. The single candle that
lights the faces of the two men is a dash of pale orange in a typhoon of purples, blues,
greens, and reddish-browns. The shifty gaze of the men betrays an inner paranoia or
suspicion that is reflected in the style of the painting. This painting made me feel a
visceral fascination upon seeing it and this feeling sticks with me even now as I look at
the photo I took of it upon my visit.
Two Nudes (lovers) by Oskar Kokoschka was such an interesting sight to behold.
I had just exited a temporary Picasso exhibit when I came across it. What caught me was
the expressions on the face of the lovers. Neither of them look happy. The incredible
brushwork gives off a splash of colors that presents us with a forested scene in which the
two embrace. It is a strong moment, almost as if the two are disconnected while holding
each other. The subject on the right seems to look past the other, and the other seems to
be saddened by this dismissal. The stance of their feet almost seems as if the pair are in
the midst of a dance, one that is slow and downbeat, but graceful nonetheless.
The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit by John Singer Sargent is an iconic
American painting and I could write an entire essay on it without even coming close to
doing it justice, but here I will try. In this painting there exists a fascinating interplay
between the brightened foreground and the darker background. I find it interesting and a
little unsettling the way three of the four daughters stare out of the frame to the viewer.
What I find most curious about this painting is the daughter who does not look at us, the
one we only see in profile. It captures my imagination as to what would make the other
girls looks towards us when she does not. I like how the vases and other furniture in the

room dwarf the girls, reinforcing their youth and sense of place in the adult world that
surrounds them.
These assorted paintings left a strong mark on me, both for their form and content.
My trip to the MFA is my first in a long time, but after experiencing it I am likely to go
again soon. I look forward to seeing exhibits I may have missed, and applying my new
art knowledge to them. As I walked through the museum I was in awe of how these
pieces of art from different times and places did so much to paint a mural of what it is to
be human. If I find myself with time to kill in Boston, perhaps I will go visit my new
friends El Fuego and Double Portrait at the MFA.