This past week I visited MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. We went to see the famous paintings by great masters such as van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, and Modigliani. Seeing famous encaustic paintings and sculptures at the galleries was surprisingly an afterthought.
Famous Encaustic paintings we saw at New York Galleries
[click on the thumbnails to view larger images]
Two encaustic paintings by Jasper Johns were on display at MOMA.
“One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag,” Johns has said of this work, “and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” Those materials included three canvases that he mounted on plywood, strips of newspaper, and encaustic paint—a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has formed a surface of lumps and smears. The newspaper scraps visible beneath the stripes and forty-eight stars lend this icon historical specificity. The American flag is something “the mind already knows,” Johns has said, but its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection. A critic of the time encapsulated this painting’s ambivalence, asking, “Is this a flag or a painting?”
“In the mid-1950s Johns incorporated symbols such as numbers, flags, maps, and targets into his paintings. Here, he transforms the familiar image of a target into a tangible object by building up the surface with wax encaustic. As a result, the concentric circles have become less precise and more tactile. Above the target Johns has added four cropped and eyeless faces, plaster casts taken from a single model over a period of several months. Their sculptural presence reinforces the objectness of the painting, particularly as the faces may be shut away in their niches behind a hinged wooden door.”
White Flag (1955) The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has works by Jasper Johns on display. There we saw White Flag (1955) and a number of his prints.
I’ve been considering sculptural encaustic wondering how far I can build up a piece so I was thrilled to see this piece in person and to realize that MOMA has classified it as a sculpture.
Standing in front of this painting I had a delightful conversation with a woman about encaustic. She asked me, “What is encaustic?” She then asked if it is archival and I was able to tell her that downstairs in the Museum are encaustic funeral panels from the first century A.D.
Ancient Encaustic Paintings | Fayum Mummy Portraits
Probably the most famous encaustic paintings are the Fayum Funeral Portraits. I had read about them so I was pleased to see some in the museum. The panels are so well-preserved. This mummy is intact with the panel inserted over the face.
Mummy with an Inserted Panel Portrait of a Youth from 1st Century A.D.
“Other famous artists who had tried their hand in encaustic are Pablo Picasso, James Ensor, Robert Delaunay, Antoine Pevsner, and Pedro Pruna.” [source]
Just walking around galleries studying these famous encaustic paintings and reading the accompanying text can be an art education.
- MOMA – Jasper Johns Encaustic
- MOMA – Lynda Benglis Embryo II
- Metropolitan Museum of Art – Martin Kline
- Metropolitan Museum of Art – Encaustic Funeral Panels
Have you seen famous encaustic paintings?
I saw these paintings in New York City, where have you seen encaustic art?
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