Sunday, 3 July 2016

Unfinished Paintings Left to Imagination

Jan van Eyck's St Barbara is very detailed as a sketch
Yesterday before going to see The Met exhibit "Manus x Machina", we went to visit the new Met Breuer, which occupies the building where The Whitney used to be, on 75th Street and Madison Avenue.

The Met Breuer houses modern and contemporary art, and for its inaugural exhibition, the museum had an interesting show called "Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible", on until September 4.

Leonardo's beautiful rendering of a woman
It's an interesting exhibition -- giving visitors a chance to look at paintings or works that aren't finished and try to figure out what the artists' intentions were.

There are 197 works on show, which is a lot to go through, but many of them are interesting and range from Leonardo da Vinci to Rembrandt to Manet, and Andy Warhol.

We were immediately mesmerized by Jan van Eyck's St Barbara made in 1437. The painting is hardly completed and yet the sketch is so detailed that it is beautiful in itself.

Nearby is Leonardo da Vinci's Head and Shoulders of a Woman (La Scapigliata), where the artist has drawn a graceful face of the woman with untamed locks that are not clearly executed, but leaves this to the viewers' imagination.

Just the face and lapdog missing here...
While many have the face or subject clearly defined and painted, leaving the background unfinished, the opposite is true of Anton Raphael Mengs' portrait Mariana de Silva y Sarmiento, Duquesa de Huescar.

Everything from the neck down is painted perfectly, but her face is rubbed out and even her lapdog is left blank. It's kind of disturbing not to be able to see her face, but interesting how the artist approached the painting and wasn't able to complete it.

There's a painting by Gustav Klimt, a posthumous portrait of Ria Munk III, who committed suicide after her fiance called off their engagement. Apparently he worked on her portrait twice before and the family wasn't happy with it and this was the third attempt, but Klimt died before he could finish it.

One has a good idea of what the painting would look completed, with the sumptuous and vivid colours coming through the canvas.

Klimt's beautiful portrait half finished
Paintings by JMW Turner are also in the show, a series of canvases that showcase his signature impressionist style, but they are so blurred that they don't even have any clues of where the painting is set.

On the second floor, the modern art is harder to figure out if it is "finished" or not. Most amusing is Andy Warhol's Do it Yourself (Violin), a paint-by-numbers canvas with only some parts coloured in.

We were pretty tired by the time we got to the second floor; thankfully there were fewer pieces there, but we were pretty brain dead by then.

Nevertheless we quite enjoyed the show. It turns out museums like The Metropolitan receive many works that are unfinished and this is a good opportunity for the museum to showcase these pieces to visitors, who rarely get to see them.

Andy Warhol's paint-by-numbers cheeky painting
They give some insight into the artists' intentions as well as technical artistic methods. Hopefully more curators will consider including these kinds of works when profiling artists or themes to give more depth to the exhibition.

Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible
Until September 4
The Met Breuer
945 Madison Avenue
New York

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