National Gallery of Art - West Building / by Todd Henson

A statue of Mercury atop a fountain at the center of the West Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Today I’m going to depart a bit from nature and outdoor photography. Earlier this year my brother and I visited the West Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The museum contains such a large number of works of art, I could spend the entire day in that one museum and feel I still hadn’t seen everything. And with so many other museums close by there’s that itch to keep moving, to see more. I don’t get out to museums often enough.

Viewing artwork and a visitor through an entryway. The painting on the left is Saint Benedict Orders Saint Maurus to the Rescue of Saint Placidus by Fra Filippo Lippi. On the right is The Healing of Palladia by Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian by Fra Angelico. In the center is The Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi.

Through the archway is a painting by Leonardo de Vinci called Ginevra de' Benci. I love the layout of the museum, how archways become frames into works of art.

I think seeing all this artwork can help inspire creativity. You see how other people have interpreted their world, or expressed their emotions. I’m mostly a photographer, but I love seeing paintings from such a diverse group of painters, so many different styles and subjects. I don’t necessarily enjoy all the paintings, but there’s alway something there to learn from. Seeing how different artists handled light and perspective. A docent showed us one painting where the artist was able to beautifully capture perspective. As you walked along the painting it was almost as if the perspective changed. Fantastic.

A visitor viewing Leonardo da Vinci's Ginevra de' Benci. On the left is Madonna and Child by Sandro Botticelli. On the right is The Adoration of the Child by Filippino Lippi. Again, I love the layout of the museum. I consider that artwork, as well.

The museum is also full of statues and other objects, something I don’t think you can really appreciate except in person. You might be able to view a painting online since a painting is mostly a two dimentional form of art, though there can be some limited three dimensionality with the volume of paint the artist applies to different areas. But with statues you can’t beat seeing them in person. I love photos of statues, and I love making photos of statues. But you really do have to see them to fully appreciate them, the play of light and shadow, the form and texture.

Another example of framing the artwork using the museum archways. Here a visitor studies Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) by Francisco Antonio Gijon. I like how the visitor has his leg out, just as Saint John, and how they both seem to lean in the same direction.

This is another photo of Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) by Francisco Antonio Gijon, but this time without the viewer. Here you can see the entire statue, but I prefer the image with the viewer.

Looking through the photos I made at the museum I realize I’m also drawn to how the museum chooses to display the artwork. There is an art to display. And of course, it’s always fun trying to capture people while they view the artwork. And finally, there is the architecture of the museum, itself. The craftsman that built it were themselves artists.

I love the enormous variety of objects in the museum. Here is the Ciborium for the Sacrament by Desiderio da Settignano.

Winged Victory by Antonio Canova is a magnificent piece beautifully lit such that shadows of the statue float on the wall just behind it. Amazing.

Take some time and visit a museum once in a while. It’s well worth it.

The West Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. This view is from across Madison Drive.