The Italian Collection
NOMA’s Italian painting collection from the early Renaissance through the 18th Century is particularly distinguished. A group of panel paintings in tempera with gilded backgrounds, some as early as the 1300s, includes Bartolomeo Vivarini’s altarpiece of the Coronation of the Virgin.
Although oil painting was invented in the north of Europe, it was the Venetian painters who first understood the potential of this new technique for brilliance of color, light and texture. Portraits by Lorenzo Lotto and Tiepolo show off this virtuosity with oil paint, as well as an insight into the subjects of the portraits that carries across the centuries.
From Genoa comes Luca Cambiaso’s sumptuous treatment of the female nude in the Allegory of Venus and Earthly Vanity. The melodrama of Death Comes to the Banquet Table by Giovanni Martinelli is heightened by the sharp contours and clarity of form that were typical of Florentine painting of the 17th Century.
The French Collection
NOMA’s emphasis on the French painting collection reflects the traditional taste of New Orleans which was originally a French city. Landscape paintings, from the sublime sunset of Claude Lorrain’s Ideal View of Tivoli to the fashionable Park of St. Cloud by Hubert Robert, has been an abiding interest of French artists. Charming rococo scenes by François Boucher and Charles Joseph Natoire are visitor favorites.
By far the largest and grandest painting in these galleries is Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Lebrun’s Portrait of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, which was commissioned by the King’s younger brother, the Comte d’Artois. Marie’s husband, King Louis XVI, is resplendent in Antoine-François Callet’s portrait documenting the last years of the ancien régime.
NOMA is fortunate to have an important oil sketch for Baron Gros’s most famous painting, Pest House at Jaffa, which depicts a controversial episode of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign. Always aware of the propagandistic power of his image, Napoleon reportedly insisted that the artist present him in a more heroic pose in the final version.
French fascination with an exotic vision of North Africa is represented in genre paintings of chess players and snake charmers by Gérôme. His contemporary colleague William-Adolphe Bouguereau was immensely popular for works like Whisperings of Love in which is one of NOMA’s most popular paintings.
Impressionism to 1945
NOMA has a personal tie with Impressionist art, especially because of Edgar Degas’ family connections with the city. Degas spent a few months his mother’s native city of New Orleans in the winter of 1872-1873. In fact, you can visit the Degas House, which is near NOMA at 2306 Esplanade Avenue. During his stay, Degas painted a portrait of his cousin Estelle Musson, who was nearly blind, as she arranged flowers in a vase. This painting is currently on display on the second floor of NOMA.
Degas’ Impressionist colleagues, including Monet, Pissarro and Renoir, are also well-represented in NOMA’s collection. Paintings by their immediate successors, such as Post-Impressionist artist Gauguin, also grace the walls of the Impressionist galleries.
In addition to the Impressionist gallery, Fauves, Expressionists, Cubists, and explorers of abstraction offer one of the most exciting aspects of the collection. Outstanding canvases by Braque and Picasso, Vlaminck, Derain, Roualt, Chagall, Kandinsky and Kirschner, are on view. Complementing these is a choice group of works by their Spanish contemporaries, Juan Gris and Joan Miró.
The Dutch and Flemish Collections
Dutch and Flemish artists were celebrated for their command of detail and faithful depiction of nature. This can be seen in Marinus van Reymerswaele’s The Lawyer’s Office, which refers to an actual lawsuit filed in 1526. The documents of this court case are recorded with amazing precision on the background wall.
Also in this vein of realism is the Serpents and Insects by Ottho Marseus van Schrieck who practiced an odd branch of still life tradition developed by Netherlandish painters; he raised the reptiles and rare insects himself in a vivarium, and copied them from life.
Though the Italian Renaissance was unfolding far away and the North had their own distinctive style, a significant number of Northern artists made the voyage across the Alps. They returned home profoundly impressed by their encounter with Michelangelo and the classical heritage, as can be seen in Maerten van Heemskerk’s Apollo and the Muses.