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The 100 best paintings in New York

Leading artists, gallery owners, curators and critics pick the best paintings to be seen in NYC. Have you seen them all?

By Time Out New York contributors |
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Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1906, detail
Photograph: Neue Galerie New York/Estates of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Ask just about anyone to name an artistic medium, and they'd probably answer "painting," and with good reason: Paintings make up the backbone of major museum collections around the world. That includes here in NYC, of course, where institutions such as the Frick, the Guggenheim, the Met, MoMA and the Whitney possess some of the finest paintings from all periods of art history.  In total, they probably run into a thousands, but we began to wonder what would happen if someone had to pick, say, the best 100 paintings in NYC? Well we decided to find out, and to help make the selections, Time Out New York gathered a jury of 34 art-world professionals—artists, critics, journalists, curators and gallery dealers—and got them to vote on their picks. After careful tabulation, the results came in. Were your favorites among the chosen? Find out in our ranked list of the 100 best paintings in NYC.

Written by Jennifer Coates, Heather Corcoran, Anne Doran, Howard Halle, Merrily Kerr, Barbara Pollock, Drew Toal and Joseph Wolin.

Browse the best paintings in New York

100
162.1934
Photograph: Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art

The Persistence of Memory (1931), Salvador Dalí

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Dalí described his meticulously rendered works as “hand-painted dream photographs,” and certainly, the melted watches that make their appearance in this Surrealist masterpiece have become familiar symbols of that moment when reverie seems to uncannily invade the everyday. The coast of the artist’s native Catalonia serves as the backdrop for this landscape of time, in which infinity and decay are held in equipoise. As for the odd, rubbery creature in the center of the composition, it’s the artist himself, or rather his profile, stretched and flattened like Silly Putty.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art; NY. © 2015 Salvador Dalí; Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / ARS; New York

99
Roy Lichtenstein, Drowning Girl, 1963
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/omino 71; The Museum of Modern Art; New York

Drowning Girl (1963), Roy Lichtenstein

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Lichtenstein’s Pop icon is at once a coolly ironic deconstruction of pulp melodrama and a formally dynamic—even moving—composition, thanks largely to the interplay of the subject’s hair (swept into a perfect Mad Men–era coif) and the waves (which seem to have wandered in from a Hokusai print) threatening her. The image, a crop from a panel in an early-’60s comic book titled Run for Love!, shows that Lichtenstein is in full command of his style, employing not only his well-known Ben-Day dots but also bold black lines corralling areas of deep blue. A complete stunner.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art; NY. © 2015 Salvador Dalí; Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / ARS; New York

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Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY, anco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/ARS

Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940), Frida Kahlo

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

This gender-bending self-portrait by the celebrated Mexican artist and feminist icon was occasioned by her divorce from Diego Rivera, the muralist notable not only for his own artistic genius but for his philandering ways. Kahlo had apparently enough of the latter but, as the painting indicates, she couldn’t quite quit Rivera. She pictures herself in a chair, hair shorn, with her signature peasant blouse and skirt replaced by Rivera’s clothes, effectively transforming herself into her ex-husband’s likeness. Unsurprisingly, Kahlo remarried Rivera the following year, so this weirdly compelling painting could also be described as a monument to codependency.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art; NY. © 2015 Salvador Dalí; Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / ARS; New York

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Wrist Corsage (1996), Lisa Yuskavage
Photograph: Courtesy MoMA/ © 2015 Lisa Yuskavage

Wrist Corsage (1996), Lisa Yuskavage

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Part of a generation of Yale painters to embrace the figure, Yuskavage focuses on exaggerated nudes that question ideals about the female body. In this piece, a pneumatic nude of Kardashian proportion provides a stark contrast to a young girl in the photograph pinned to the wall.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy MoMA/ © 2015 Lisa Yuskavage

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96
Still Life with Plums (1730), Jean-Simeon Chardin
Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

Still Life with Plums (1730), Jean-Simeon Chardin

Where can I see it?: The Frick Collection

This painting is a classic example of Chardin’s almost architectural compositions that depict objects from everyday middle-class life. He eschewed the pervading Rococo style of his time in favor of simplicity and humble directness. This work permeates with spirituality and subtle meaning rather than spelling out grand religious narratives.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

95
Jacob’s Ladder (1957), Helen Frankenthaler
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of Hyman N. Glickstein © 2015 Helen Frankenthaler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jacob’s Ladder (1957), Helen Frankenthaler

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

In the vibrant New York art scene of the 1950s, Frankenthaler developed her own brand of Abstract Expressionism, working on unprimed canvas placed directly on the floor and diluting her pigments with turpentine so they soaked directly into the canvas rather then rested upon it.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of Hyman N. Glickstein © 2015 Helen Frankenthaler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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94
Bashi-Bazouk (1868–69), Jean-Léon Gérôme
Photograph: Trujillo; Juan

Bashi-Bazouk (1868–69), Jean-Léon Gérôme

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the second half of the 19th century, Gérôme was a holdout from the academic style amid the emergence of the Impressionist avant-garde. He is best known for his historic and Orientalist subjects, like this lushly rendered painting of an unpaid Ottoman mercenary or “bashi-bazouk,” which translates to “crazy head.”—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Trujillo; Juan

93
The Toilers of the Sea (1880–1885), Albert Pinkham Ryder
Photograph: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York; George A. Hearn Fund; 1915

The Toilers of the Sea (1880–1885), Albert Pinkham Ryder

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

With his use of tonalism to evoke emotion in his otherworldly land and seascapes, Ryder was an idiosyncratic American artist who foreshadowed modernist ideas. In this piece, the ochre glow of the full moon casts its dramatic light across a stormy sea and the simplistic suggestion of a boat.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York; George A. Hearn Fund; 1915

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92
Prelude to Farewell (1981), Romare Bearden
Photograph: Gift of Altria Group; Inc./Studio Museum

Prelude to Farewell (1981), Romare Bearden

Where can I see it?: Studio Museum in Harlem

Bearden’s collages blend elements of Dadaist photomontage with the planes of Cubism, iconography from Southern American folk art and African traditions, not to mention the energy of jazz and city life. A cultural commenter as well as an artist, he created a new, symbol-laden language for depicting black life in 20th-century America.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Gift of Altria Group; Inc./Studio Museum

91
The City Rises (1910), Umberto Boccioni
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund

The City Rises (1910), Umberto Boccioni

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

This is the first major futurist work by Boccioni. Depicting a power plant in construction, he has abandoned naturalism to express technology through electrified paint handling. Man and mythical oversized animal work together in flux and dynamic energy to build the city: the utopian ideal of futurists before World War I.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund

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90
The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939), Florine Stettheimer
Photograph: Courtesy © Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Cathedrals of Wall Street (1939), Florine Stettheimer

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This painting celebrates the New York World’s Fair and the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration. At the start of World War II, the U.S. economy experienced a bump, a reason behind Stettheimer’s over-the-top patriotism. Inserting herself into the party, politicians and financiers, text and image, artist and subject cavort in a fantastical arrangement.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Courtesy © Metropolitan Museum of Art

89
Children Meeting (1978), Elizabeth Murray
Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art; New York/The Murray-Holman Family Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS); New York

Children Meeting (1978), Elizabeth Murray

Where can I see it?: Whitney Museum of American Art

In her abstract works, Murray explored the evocative power of pure color and form unencumbered by concerns about representation. And in this piece, energetic shapes and hues straight out of the visual vocabulary of comic books suggest the playful exuberance of childhood.—Heather Corcoran 

Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art; New York/The Murray-Holman Family Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS); New York

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State Park (1946), Jared French
Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art; New York/Sheldan Collins

State Park (1946), Jared French

Where can I see it?: Whitney Museum of American Art

French was a practitioner of Magical Realism, a midcentury offshoot of Surrealism that eschewed discordant motifs for plausible depictions of reality that were nonetheless pervaded by a sense of the uncanny or of something not quite right. Rendered in egg tempera, State Park is exemplary in this regard, with its mannequinlike figures frozen in profile on a seaside boardwalk. The overtanned lifeguard on the far right—with his upraised phallic baton—and the paler older gent on his left—who, depicted at a much smaller scale, seems to be boxing the former’s genitals—are particularly noteworthy for their throbbing if conflicted homoeroticism. (French, an upstate native, was gay, and his work stands in sharp contrast to the exuberant if jaded paintings of Paul Cadmus, a former lover and lifelong friend.)—Howard Halle 

Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art; New York/Sheldan Collins

87
Black Lines (1913), Vasily Kandinsky
Photograph: Kristopher McKay

Black Lines (1913), Vasily Kandinsky

Where can I see it?: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

No one with any assurance can point to the first truly abstract painting in art history, but this one comes pretty close. It is, oddly, the result of deliberately slow product rollout, at least according to the Guggenheim. It turns out that well before he created this canvas, Kandinsky knew precisely where he wanted to go with respect to abstract, or non-objective, art, but he was concerned with public reaction. So in the paintings leading up to this one, he maintained tenuous connections to representation, before finally dispensing with them altogether here.—Howard Halle 

Photograph: Kristopher McKay

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86
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Woman with a Parrot (1866), Gustav Courbet

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Courbet’s painting of a reclining woman caused a scandal when it debuted at the Salon of 1866, with critics decrying the woman’s pose and wild hair. But Courbet’s realistic treatment of the subject won the approval of the Academy, and his work also inspired innovators of later movements, including Manet and Cézanne.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Gift of Erwin Davis

85
The Artist and His Mother (1926–36), Arshile Gorky
Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art; New York/ARS

The Artist and His Mother (1926–36), Arshile Gorky

Where can I see it?: Whitney Museum of American Art

Gorky is a foundational figure of Abstract Expressionism—the link between European Surrealism and the rambunctious group of Americans who seized the reins of modern art and never looked back. But at its heart, his work is an art of memory, conditioned by his experience as a teenager who came to the United States in 1920 to escape the genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turks in his native Armenia. Although his father made it to this country a dozen years earlier, he left behind a son and a wife; the latter died of starvation. The trauma clung to Gorky for the rest of his life (which ended in suicide), and this painting, based on a family photo, is redolent of the past and the impossibility of escaping it.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art; New York/ARS

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84
Juan de Pareja (1650), Velzquez
Photograph: Courtesy Purchase; Fletcher and Rogers Funds; and Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967); by exchange; supplemented by gifts from friends of the Museum; 1971

Juan de Pareja (1650), Velazquez

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Velazquez’s portrait of his slave—that’s right, he owned the guy—is striking today, not only because it’s a rare Old Master depiction of a person of color, but also because of what it suggests about their relationship. De Pareja was of Moorish descent; a trained painter, he was Velazquez’s assistant. The steady gaze with which he holds the viewer, and his general comportment-—which could almost be called noble—indicates a partnership of equals, though his old, patched clothing says otherwise. He eventually set De Pareja free, though the latter would remain with his former master until the artist’s death. That choice only underscores the ambiguity surrounding this painting.—Howard Halle 

Photograph: Courtesy Purchase; Fletcher and Rogers Funds; and Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967); by exchange; supplemented by gifts from friends of the Museum; 1971

83
Odol (1924), Stuart Davis
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Mary Sisler Bequest (by exchange) and purchase

Odol (1924), Stuart Davis

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Throughout his career, Davis bridged the realism of Robert Henri and the Ashcan School to more modern impulses including Postimpressionism and Cubism. Inspired by the American city, Davis’s paintings of everyday objects, like this stylized bottle of mouthwash, presaged Pop Art by four decades.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Mary Sisler Bequest (by exchange) and purchase

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82
Pandora (1914), Odilon Redon
Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Alexander M. Bing

Pandora (1914), Odilon Redon

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

For his take on Pandora, Symbolist painter Redon chose to portray the mythical woman on the verge of opening her container of evils, a frozen moment of idyll before its horrors are released—depicted here as a beautiful garden scene.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Alexander M. Bing

81
Venus and Adonis (1553–1554), Titian
Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Jules Bache Collection

Venus and Adonis (1553–1554), Titian

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This scene from Ovid’s Metamorphosis is one revisited numerous times by the Italian Renaissance painter known for his loose brushwork and vibrant colorism. Part of his series of “poesies” (poetry paintings), here he depicts Venus trying to hold back her beloved Adonis, modeling her bare back on a Roman relief sculpture.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Jules Bache Collection

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80
The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain (1308-1311), Duccio di Buoninsegna
Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain (1308–1311), Duccio di Buoninsegna

Where can I see it?: The Frick Collection

This panel illustrating the life of Christ was part of a large altarpiece in Siena called The Maesta. The kingdoms of the world offered by the Devil are diminutive compared to the oversize figures. Known for his complex compositions and soft handling of flesh, Duccio is considered the father of Sienese painting and by extension Western Art.—Jennifer Coates 

Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

79
Oedipus and the Sphinx (1864), Gustave Moreau
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Bequest of William H. Herriman

Oedipus and the Sphinx (1864), Gustave Moreau

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Moreau was the breakout star of the Salon of 1864 with his interpretation of Oedipus meeting the Sphinx on the road to Delphi. The artist rejected the naturalistic style prevalent in the day, looking instead to earlier works by artists like Ingres and adding elements of what would become known as Symbolism.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Bequest of William H. Herriman

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78
The Subway (1950), George Tooker
Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Juliana Force Purchase Award 50.23 © Estate of George Tooker, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

The Subway (1950), George Tooker

Where can I see it?: Whitney Museum of American Art

An intimate of Paul Cadmus and Jared French, George Tooker was, like French, a Magical Realist who employed the technically demanding medium of egg tempera. He was also gay, though his work, in capturing a postwar sense of alienation and unease, veered more toward Thanatos than Eros. This painting is Tooker’s best known, and its depiction of straphangers moving somnambulantly through a carceral realm of tiled hallways and staircases suggests an odd cocktail of Piero della Francesca and M.C. Escher. A classic of its genre.—Howard Halle 

Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Juliana Force Purchase Award 50.23 © Estate of George Tooker, Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

77
’61 Pontiac (1968–69), Robert Bechtle
Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Richard and Dorothy Rodgers Fund 70.16 © Robert Bechtle

’61 Pontiac (1968–69), Robert Bechtle

Where can I see it?: Whitney Museum of American Art

Bay Area painter Robert Bechtle could be described as the great luminist of midcentury suburban America. His work revels in the light bouncing off that most conspicuous symbol of the era’s prosperity: the family car. However, his paintings have never been characterized by the sharply delineated, dazzling reflections that are such a feature of ’70s Photorealism, a genre he has been often—and wrongly—associated with. Rather color, as in this self-portrait of the artist with his family, seems to emanate from the surface of the canvas—most notably in the creamy tones of the station wagon that stands just behind the young couple and their small children, unifying them with the composition. As in the best of the Dutch still-life tradition, ’61 Pontiac is a scene in which the matter-of-fact becomes transcendent.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Richard and Dorothy Rodgers Fund 70.16 © Robert Bechtle

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76
The Judgment of Paris (1528), Lucas Cranach the Elder
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund

The Judgment of Paris (1528), Lucas Cranach the Elder

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cranach the Elder was an enthusiastic supporter of Martin Luther, but Protestant rectitude did not preclude him from painting female nudes. In fact, he limned nine versions of The Judgment of Paris. The story relates history’s first beauty pageant, with a golden apple figuring as the prize contested by Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. Asked to be judge, Zeus, knowing a no-win situation when he saw one, dumps the job on Paris, Prince of Troy. In Cranach’s rendering, a crystal globe substitutes for the golden apple, while a tree on the left offers a nice compositional counterpoint to the three goddesses clustered on the right. They look so much alike, one can surmise that they’re the same model—suggesting that Cranach’s naked aim is an examination of female anatomy, front, rear and side.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund

75
Portrait of the Boy Eutyches (100–150)
Photograph: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York; Gift of Edward S. Harkness; 1918

Portrait of the Boy Eutyches (100–150)

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This painting of a young Egyptian lad is what is known as a Faiyum portrait, named for an oasis south of modern Cairo. Created using an encaustic technique of mixing pigments with beeswax that produces radiant colors akin to oil paint, these portraits of the dead were placed over the faces of mummies.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York; Gift of Edward S. Harkness; 1918

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74
Photograph: Neue Galerie New York/Estates of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1906), Gustav Klimt

Where can I see it?: Neue Galerie

A striking example of Klimt’s golden period, this elaborate Judgendstil portrait of a Viennese society lady was once the most expensive painting in the world. It is the Neue Galerie’s crown jewel—museum director Renée Price has likened its importance to the institution to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Neue Galerie New York/Estates of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer

73
Lodovico Capponi (1550–1555), Agnolo Bronzino
Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

Lodovico Capponi (1550–1555), Agnolo Bronzino

Where can I see it?: The Frick Collection

Medici court painter Bronzino captured this young nobleman in the elegant Mannerist style, easily seen in the figure’s gracefully elongated fingers and small head. The carefully rendered details capture the fashion of the day, yet Bronzino leaves nary a trace of his brushstrokes in the illusionistic folds of fabric.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

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Woman Ironing, La Repasseuse (1904), Pablo Picasso
Photograph: Courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Photo: Kristopher McKay © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

Woman Ironing, La Repasseuse (1904), Pablo Picasso

Where can I see it?: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

This image from Picasso’s blue period—named for both the color and the mood of his work—shows a favorite subject of the time, the downtrodden worker. She appears nearly weightless in a lengthened Mannerist style, and stylized in a way that hints at the artist’s later experiments with abstraction.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Photo: Kristopher McKay © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

71
Woman with Yellow Hair (1931), Pablo Picasso
Photograph: Courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser 78.2514 © 2007 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Woman with Yellow Hair (1931), Pablo Picasso

Where can I see it?: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Picasso was fond of depicting Marie-Thérèse Walter while she slept, because he thought it captured her in her most vulnerable, intimate state. Here, she lays her head on an arm that looks like a fleshy, sensual extension of her flaxen locks.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser 78.2514 © 2007 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Seated Bather (1930), Pablo Picasso
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Kent Baldner

Seated Bather (1930), Pablo Picasso

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

By the end of the 1920s, Picasso, perhaps in an effort to keep up with the times, began to assimilate aspects of Surrealism into his own work—particularly the biomorphic shapes found in the work of Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí and the much younger Yves Tanguy. Another thing Picasso adopted was the air of Freudian menace that suffused much of the Surrealists’ work, especially the sense that newly emancipated women were getting hard to handle. Seated Bather expresses some of this sentiment with its bony vision of a monstrous nude by the seashore, whose head consists of a strange critter, leaning forward with its claws held together to create a vagina dentata.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Kent Baldner

69
Still Life with Bouquet of Tulips, a Rose, Clover and Cyclamen in a Green Glass Bottle (1609), Ambrosius Bosschaert

Still Life with Bouquet of Tulips, a Rose, Clover and Cyclamen in a Green Glass Bottle (1609), Ambrosius Bosschaert

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rare bulbs from different countries and different seasons were used as subjects for Bosschaert’s flower portraits. A subgenre within early-17th-century Dutch still lifes, these fashionable paintings represented a national obsession with cultivated, expensive flora, in which, as it is here, artists would refer to both botanical texts and religious symbology to construct hyper-real arrangements that appealed to an elite audience.—Jennifer Coates

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The Mountain (1936–37), Balthus
Photograph: Alfonso Vicente / Alamy

The Mountain (1936–37), Balthus

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This large canvas—it measures 12 feet across—shows an alpine landscape with figures seemingly unaware of each other, absorbed in their own leisurely activities. The mountain here is not a symbol of Romantic escape but a waiting area before a disaster, as Balthus nods to the foreboding of interwar Europe.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Alfonso Vicente / Alamy

67
The Fortune Teller (circa 1630), Georges de La Tour
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund

The Fortune Teller (circa 1630), Georges de La Tour

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In its style and lowlife subject matter, The Fortune Teller is deeply indebted to the work of Caravaggio, but as one of art history’s great crowd-pleasers, it’s worth including here. A young dandy is having his palm read by the old woman on the right while his pocket is being picked by the comely woman on the left. We can just make out the drawstring of his purse as it’s being teased out of his pantaloons by her skillful fingers. To his immediate right, another young woman uses a knife to cut off a gold locket or medallion at the end of a ridiculously long chain. The second female thief’s expression is particularly priceless: a sidelong glance set in an otherwise stony countenance.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund

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Portrait of a Cardinal (circa 1600), El Greco
Photograph: Courtesy H. O. Havemeyer Collection

Portrait of a Cardinal (circa 1600), El Greco

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This landmark of European portraiture shows a man encased in finery, with fingers tensely curled, gaze slightly askance and a piece of paper at his feet. The cardinal appears imprisoned in his costume. Possibly the grand inquisitor, he is the subject of deep psychological inquisition himself, as El Greco’s pictorial decisions allow insight into both the sitter and the times.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Courtesy H. O. Havemeyer Collection

65
Portrait of Sir Thomas More (1527), Hans Holbein the Younger
Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

Portrait of Sir Thomas More (1527), Hans Holbein the Younger

Where can I see it?: The Frick Collection

The Northern Renaissance artist was new to London when he befriended the powerful More. In his portrayal of the scholar and statesman, Holbein captures his subject’s gravitas, while delighting the eye with illusionistic details, like the sumptuous red-velvet of his sleeve.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

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Music, Pink and Blue No. 2 (1918), Georgia O’Keeffe
Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Emily Fisher Landau in honor of Tom Armstrong 91.90 © 2015 O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), N.Y.

Music, Pink and Blue No. 2 (1918), Georgia O’Keeffe

Where can I see it?: Whitney Museum of American Art

In her abstraction O’Keeffe sought to capture the intangible essence of music and nature, each with its ability to evoke emotion and sensation nonverbally. She was none too pleased, however, when critics focused on what they saw (understandably) as sexual connotations in this colorful work.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Emily Fisher Landau in honor of Tom Armstrong 91.90 © 2015 O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), N.Y.

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Morning in the Village after Snowstorm (1912), Kazimir Malevich
Photograph: Courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Morning in the Village after Snowstorm (1912), Kazimir Malevich

Where can I see it?: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

While not as radical as Malevich’s later Suprematist compositions (like Black Square), Morning in the Village is arguably the most beautiful and sublime of the vaunted Russian avant-gardist’s works. In this timeless scene, a country hamlet stirs itself after a blizzard, its streets and rooftops blanketed by a purifying white that erupts in prismatic shards of blue and red touched with accents of yellow, black and gray. At once formal and hallucinogenic, it rivals the work of Bruegel as a panegyric to peasant life.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

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Heater (1964), Vija Celmins
Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee 95.19 © Vija Celmins, Courtesy of McKee Gallery, N.Y.

Heater (1964), Vija Celmins

Where can I see it?: Whitney Museum of American Art

Like Gerhard Richter, Vija Celmins developed a deadpan style of Photorealist painting that goes beyond photography and even realism. Her subjects may ostensibly be seascapes, spiderwebs and star-filled skies, but what her work really seems to capture is the act of perception itself, that instant when mind and eye combine to make sense of the world. Heater comes from Celmins’s earliest series of paintings, which featured objects lying around her studio. Its most evident characteristic is the stark contrast between the mesmerizing orange glow of electric coils and the grayish tone of the rest of the painting. It’s almost as if the whole point of the exercise is to note, obviously, that this is what a heater does—it heats.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee 95.19 © Vija Celmins, Courtesy of McKee Gallery, N.Y.

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Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962), Andy Warhol
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of Philip Johnson. © 2015 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962), Andy Warhol

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

No Warhol demonstrates the artist’s worship of glamour better than this painting, created the year Monroe died in an apparent suicide. It is the altarpiece in Andy’s Pop Art church of celebrity. But by the same token, the work also speaks to Warhol’s background as an observant Catholic; it wouldn’t look all that out of place at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, where Warhol regularly attended mass (sans wig). The image is based on a publicity still for the film Niagara, in which Monroe played opposite Joseph Cotton as an unhappily married woman, plotting the murder of her husband.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of Philip Johnson. © 2015 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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60
Early Sunday Morning (1930), Edward Hopper
Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 31.426 © Whitney Museum, N.Y.

Early Sunday Morning (1930), Edward Hopper

Where can I see it?: Whitney Museum of American Art

One of the most iconic works by one of New York’s most iconic artists, this piece was described by the man himself as “almost a literal translation of Seventh Avenue.” Though Hopper was a realist, he often pared down his subjects, simplifying them to their essential forms organized by strong geometry.—Heather Corcoran

Photograph: Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 31.426 © Whitney Museum, N.Y.

59
Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942–43), Piet Mondrian
Photograph: Peter Horree / Alamy

Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942–43), Piet Mondrian

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Mondrian came to New York in 1940, fleeing the Nazi invasion of his native Holland. He died here four years later, and though he probably didn’t know it at the time, his brief sojourn would have a lasting, if delayed, impact on American art. Though AbEx put the U.S. on the map, Minimalism was to become our most enduring stylistic export, and its rigorous, reductive geometry owed a lot to Mondrian’s De Stijl aesthetic. Broadway Boogie Woogie, his second-to-last painting, is a love letter to his adopted home, inspired by jazz and the energy of the Gotham’s streets—a strangely prescient, if abstract, portrait of the city as the center of a nascent superpower.-—Howard Halle

Photograph: Peter Horree / Alamy

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58
The Progress of Love (1772), Jean Honore Fragonard
Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

The Progress of Love (1772), Jean Honore Fragonard

Where can I see it?: The Frick Collection

This enveloping room of Fragonard’s paintings about love is furnished and decorated in the Rococo style. In this cycle, he chronicles the pursuit of the object of desire through courtship, to marriage, to remembrance of earlier intensity. Bystanders within the paintings such as sculptures and animals reinforce his message and enhance the emotional thrust.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

57
Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918), Kazimir Malevich
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. 1935 Acquisition confirmed in 1999 by agreement with the Estate of Kazimir Malevich and made possible with funds from the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange)

Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918), Kazimir Malevich

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Though it was painted nearly a century ago, this painting’s radical nature continues to astonish. Malevich’s aim wasn’t pure reductivism, though. Inspired by Russia’s icon tradition, the early Soviet avant-gardist believed that the Russian Revolution had ushered in a new age in which materialism would give way to spirituality. He called his philosophy Suprematism, and White on White serves as the supreme manifestation of the artist reaching for transcendence.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. 1935 Acquisition confirmed in 1999 by agreement with the Estate of Kazimir Malevich and made possible with funds from the Mrs. John Hay Whitney Bequest (by exchange)

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56
Sunflowers (1887), Vincent van Gogh
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund

Sunflowers (1887), Vincent van Gogh

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Painted in Paris shortly after Van Gogh met Paul Gauguin—the artist gave it to his friend as a gift—this version from the “Sunflowers” series is a precursor to his ecstatic paintings of sunflowers in vases. The high-summer, bright yellow palette of those famous paintings is tempered here into darker hues, as the flowers lay cut and withering but equally rife with the painter’s intensity.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund

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Soap Bubbles (1733–34), Jean-Baptiste-Simon Chardin
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Wentworth Fund

Soap Bubbles (1733–34), Jean-Baptiste-Simon Chardin

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Chardin was something of an anomaly among mid-18th-century French artists: He was largely self-taught at a time when academic training was de rigueur, created modest still lifes and domestic scenes when grand history paintings were in demand, and eschewed the florid pirouettes of the period’s Rococo for a sober style reminiscent of 17th-century Dutch art. For years, he avoided figure studies because he thought he wasn’t very good at them; Soap Bubbles, one of his first, proved him wrong. He depicts children at play, a subject he returned to probably because he shared youngsters’ wonder at contemplating the world. But their innocent frolic is weighed down by a suggestion of life’s transience, found in the eponymous orb trembling at the tip of the boy’s pipe.—Howard Halle 

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Wentworth Fund

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54
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Harvesters, 1565
Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Harvesters (1565), Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bruegel’s fanfare for the common man is considered one of the defining works of Western art, but it wasn’t always so. Sought out by patrons in his own lifetime, Bruegel emphasized the ordinary in a way that made him seem old-fashioned in the years following his death; his reputation remained in eclipse until 20th-century tastes revived his quotidian subject matter and vast, cinematic vistas. This composition was one of six created on the theme of the seasons. The time is probably early September: A group of peasants on the left cut and bundle ripened wheat, while the ones on the right take their midday meal. It was extraordinary for a time when landscapes served mostly as backdrops for religious paintings. Instead, Bruegel articulates a humanistic vision in which the ordinary outshines the divine.—Howard Halle 

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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M’Amenez-y (1920), Francis Picabia
Photograph: Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art; NY. © 2015 Salvador Dalí; Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / ARS; New York

M’Amenez-y (1920), Francis Picabia

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Picabia was Modernism’s original bad boy, a writer as well as a painter who, along with Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, helped to spread the Dada contagion from Europe to New York City. A self-described “pickpocket” and “imbecile,” Picabia was a consummate anti-artist whose love of language, especially puns, and disregard for artistic convention are on full display in this painting: It includes snarky observations about artistic craft (the phrase along the top edge translates as “portrait with castor oil,” a comparison of the foul-tasting laxative with the linseed oil used by painters), plus the machine imagery that characterized the artist’s Dadaist phase.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art; NY. © 2015 Salvador Dalí; Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / ARS; New York

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52
Christina’s World (1948), Andrew Wyeth
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY

Christina’s World (1948), Andrew Wyeth

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Depending on whom you ask, Andrew Wyeth is either one of America’s greatest artists or a master of kitsch, and Christina’s World—a portrait of Christina Olsen, Wyeth’s disabled neighbor in Maine—is a tour de force of realist painting or an exercise in glib sentimentality. Either way, Wyeth stubbornly bucked the avant-garde tastes of his day, which helped cement him as a renegade.—Anne Doran  

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY

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Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962), Andy Warhol
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. © 2015 Andy Warhol Foundation / ARS, NY / TM Licensed by Campbell's Soup Co. All rights reserved.

Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962), Andy Warhol

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

In 1960, Andy Warhol, then a successful illustrator, began to make paintings based on advertising and comic-book images. Two years later he produced this group of canvases, which depicts all 32 varieties of soup available at that time from the Campbell Soup Company. Each canvas was silkscreened with the same basic image, to which Warhol added the name of the individual flavor by hand. The work’s nonpainterly style, bold colors and commercial subject matter came to define Pop Art.—Anne Doran 

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. © 2015 Andy Warhol Foundation / ARS, NY / TM Licensed by Campbell's Soup Co. All rights reserved.

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50
Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (1653), Rembrandt
Photograph: Courtesy special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum

Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (1653), Rembrandt

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Aristotle with a Bust of Homer is one of the greatest paintings by one the greatest artists in history, and shows the greatest hallmark of Rembrandt’s style: the interplay of light and dark. Then there is Rembrandt’s uncanny ability to evoke the innermost thoughts of his subjects through the play of facial expression, or the fall of light across someone’s features. These qualities are put in the service of a debate, which the artist may be having with himself: What has more value, integrity and the life of the mind, or the material rewards of success? The latter is represented by the gold chain with a medallion featuring Aristotle’s pupil Alexander the Great. It resembles the kind of awards given as an honorarium by a patron to an artist for services rendered. As for the former, it’s symbolized by the bust of Homer on which Aristotle rests his hand—it’s as if by doing so, he can divine an answer to the question.—Howard Halle 

Photograph: Courtesy special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum

49
Jan 4, 1970 (1970), On Kawara
Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

Jan 4, 1970 (1970), On Kawara

Where can I see it?: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

In the course of a career-long project to make visible the passage of time, conceptual artist On Kawara sent out telegrams to friends and acquaintances announcing “I am still alive” and postcards recording what time he had gotten up that day. Between 1966 and 2013, a year before his death, Kawara also produced almost 3,000 paintings very like this one, each describing nothing but the date on which it was made.—Anne Doran 

Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

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48
Crack Is Wack (1986), Keith Haring
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/superk8nyc

Crack Is Wack (1986), Keith Haring

Where can I see it?: East 128th Street and Harlem River Drive

New York City graffiti artist Keith Haring (1958–1990) painted this mural at the height of the crack epidemic of the 1980s. It is one of many images by Haring—who died at age 31 of complications of AIDS—that used his pictogramlike drawing style and cast of radiant babies, barking dogs, and dancing figures to draw attention to the political and social causes of his time.—Anne Doran 

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/superk8nyc

47
Untitled (1959), Lee Bontecou
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arnold H. Maremont © 2015 Lee Bontecou

Untitled (1959), Lee Bontecou

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Both fierce and seductive, this wall sculpture resembles the view from inside a satellite. Bontecou was merely 28 years old when she made this construction, the first in her famed series of wall-mounted steel-and-canvas sculptures. She incorporated soiled canvas from conveyor belts, thrown away from a laundry below the artist’s East Village apartment, and by doing so created a crazy quilt of industrial detritus.—Barbara Pollack 

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arnold H. Maremont © 2015 Lee Bontecou

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46
Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes (1545–50), Tintoretto
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Francis L. Leland Fund

Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes (1545–50), Tintoretto

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Venetian painter Tintoretto turns the story of Christ feeding the masses into a raging party among his city’s wealthy in this large-scale painting. The Bible describes two accounts of Jesus turning a few loaves of bread and a handful of fishes into a banquet, and here, Tintoretto depicts the miracle as told in John 6:1–14. Rather than surrounded by the suffering poor, however, the Savior is flanked by well-heeled fashionistas who could probably benefit from diets. Tintoretto was kind of the Jeff Koons of his day, and this painting, like many of his larger works, was probably finished by his studio assistants rather than the master himself.—Barbara Pollack 

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Francis L. Leland Fund

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Flag (1954–55), Jasper Johns
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/brendanlynch

Flag (1954–55), Jasper Johns

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

While the image of the Stars and Stripes appears elsewhere in American art, no one transcribed the subject as literally as Johns did here: The canvas is the same shape and size as a typical flag, all but eradicating the distinction between the object and its representation. Of course, that isn’t entirely the case. Created with encaustic (pigment mixed into melted wax), Flag, with its drips and smears seemingly frozen into place, is indubitably painted, and one can easily see a collage of newspaper strips running beneath the colors. Still, it serves as a banner for an artist who fired some of the first shots against Abstract Expressionism, the dominant style at the time, helping to usher in a new era of American art defined by Pop Art and Minimalism.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/brendanlynch

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44
October 18, 1977 (1988), Gerhard Richter
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, gift of Philip Johnson, and acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest (all by exchange); Enid A. Haupt Fund; Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Bequest Fund; and gift of

October 18, 1977 (1988), Gerhard Richter

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Gerhard Richter’s five-decades-plus exploration of painting’s continued possibilities has included both abstraction and realist work based on found images. The 15 paintings in this series all derive from photographs of members of the German radical-left terrorist group, the Red Army Faction, three of whom were found dead in their prison cells on, you guessed it, October 18, 1977.—Anne Doran 

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, gift of Philip Johnson, and acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest (all by exchange); Enid A. Haupt Fund; Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Bequest Fund; and gift of

43
Tennis at Newport (1919), George Bellows
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot

Tennis at Newport (1919), George Bellows

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Known more for his brawny depictions of boxing matches, Ashcan School painter George Bellows sometimes turned his attention to the leisure activities of the rich and famous. Here, the annual tennis tournament at the gold coast of Newport, Rhode Island, is his ostensible subject. But, while one player in proper whites reaches high in the air in the foreground, Bellows’s interest is not in the game but in the wealthy fans lingering on the grass, festooned in gowns and carrying parasols. It’s a scene he would have known well. An avid sportsman, recruited by baseball scouts before devoting himself to art, Bellows was something of a whiz with a rackeet.—Barbara Pollack 

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot

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42
The Rose Marble Table (1916), Henri Matisse
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund. © 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Rose Marble Table (1916), Henri Matisse

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

With its implausibly tilted tabletop holding a basket and three apples, this painting shows Matisse’s interest in playing with perspective. Finished in 1916, The Rose Marble Table was noted by Modernist critic Clement Greenberg for its cool, “prost-prismatic” color as opposed to the vibrant “hot” hues of the artist’s earlier Fauvist period.—Heather Corcoran 

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund. © 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Gertrude Stein (1905–06), Pablo Picasso
Photograph: M.Flynn / Alamy

Gertrude Stein (1905–06), Pablo Picasso

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This image of the legendary American expat writer represents the young Picasso’s great turn of fortune. From her very first meeting with Picasso, Stein, who came from a wealthy Pennsylvania family of German Jews, was absolutely certain that he was the greatest artist of his age. She saw in him a kindred spirit—a revolutionary figure whose genius was bound to be recognized. More than a likeness of crucial benefactor, Stein’s portrait signals the beginning of Picasso’s transition toward the stylistic breakthrough that would cement his place in art history.—Howard Halle 

Photograph: M.Flynn / Alamy

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40
The Golden Age (1605) Joachim Wtewael
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection; Edward J. Gallagher Jr. Bequest; Lila Acheson Wallace Gift; special funds; and Gift of George Blumenthal; Bequest of Lillian S. Timken; The Collectio

The Golden Age (1605), Joachim Wtewael

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

With fig leaves and drapery coyly disguising the more erotic elements of this scene, Joachim Wtewael looks back on the Garden of Eden as an idyllic time when mankind lived unfettered by laws and government. Often considered the premier example of Netherland Mannerism—and made at a time when many of the artists’ peers were already moving on to realism—the painting was inspired by the opening pages of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which describes Eden as “spring everlasting” where mankind lived in harmony with all creation. But it’s easy to imagine the artist also relishing a time when the conventions of painting could be improvised and reinterpreted, allowing him space for unfettered imagination.—Barbara Pollack 

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection; Edward J. Gallagher Jr. Bequest; Lila Acheson Wallace Gift; special funds; and Gift of George Blumenthal; Bequest of Lillian S. Timken; The Collectio

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Beginning (1949), Max Beckmann
Photograph: Tracey Whitefoot / Alamy

Beginning (1949), Max Beckmann

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Labeled a degenerate artist by the Nazi party, Max Beckmann fled Germany in 1937. This autobiographical work, executed a year before the artist’s death, is based on memories of his real and dream life as a child growing up in Liepzig. These memories, however, seem to be colored by the adult Beckmann’s sharp-eyed and unromantic view of humankind.—Anne Doran 

Photograph: Tracey Whitefoot / Alamy

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38
Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950–51), Barnett Newmane
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Heller. © 2015 Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950–51), Barnett Newmane

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Measuring 18 feet long and eight feet high, this canvas was meant to overwhelm the viewer’s senses, and indeed, it does just that, especially if you view the painting as the artist intended: up close with your nose practically in it. Unlike other AbEx classics, Vir Heroicus Sublimis (the title is Latin for “man, heroic and sublime”) isn’t about the artist’s emotions captured in a gesture—it’s painted uniformly—but rather about the viewer’s emotional response while confronting it.—Howard Halle 

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Heller. © 2015 Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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The Bather (1885), Paul Cézanne
Photograph: Courtesy Museum of Modern Art, NY. Lillie P. Bliss Collection

The Bather (1885), Paul Cézanne

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Cézanne was that most contradictory type of modern artist: a radical conservative who pushed the envelope of late-19th-century painting, while also trying to maintain ties to art-historical tradition. The Bather is exemplary in this regard, a balancing act between timeless subject matter and avant-garde technique. With his flaccid musculature and awkward posture, the eponymous figure is both monumental and yet decidedly unheroic, and Cézanne describes him in a flurry of brushstrokes that threaten to meld into the background.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy Museum of Modern Art, NY. Lillie P. Bliss Collection

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36
The Lovers (1928), René Magritte
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of Richard S. Zeisler. © 2015 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Lovers (1928), René Magritte

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

The Belgian Surrealist’s painting of a kissing couple whose heads are each wrapped in a fabric shroud has become a cliché of the Surrealist image. Nevertheless, it retains its creepiness, especially if one knows that the artist’s mother drowned herself when the artist was 14 and that he saw her pulled from the water with her wet nightgown wrapped around her face. Again, creepy.—Anne Doran 

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of Richard S. Zeisler. © 2015 C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Portrait of a Young Man (1530), Bronzino
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; H. O. Havemeyer Collection

Portrait of a Young Man (1530), Bronzino

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Both painter and painting were exemplars of Mannerism, the movement that messed with the Renaissance conventions of naturalism and ideal proportion. The impossibly large if delicate hands of the sitter, for instance, are meant as both a joke and a way of echoing the figure’s languid pose. He’s about as realistic as a male model in a heavily photoshopped fashion spread, but that was the point: Court life in Bronzino’s day was a kind of performance art, which required hiding one’s true self behind a behavioral mask. This idea is reflected not only in the sitter’s indecipherable expression, but also in the surreal, facelike flourishes hidden in the furniture and in the fabric of his pantaloons.—Howard Halle 

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; H. O. Havemeyer Collection

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34
The Starry Night (1889), Vincent van Gogh
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest

The Starry Night (1889), Vincent van Gogh

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

One of the Dutch Postimpressionist’s most beloved works, this nocturne contrasts a sky filled with blazing stars, a line of rollicking hills and a wind-tossed cypress tree with the quiet order of a sleeping village. Although Van Gogh was deeply religious, The Starry Night is an almost atavistic celebration of nature’s power.—Anne Doran

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest

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Number 1A (1948), Jackson Pollock
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. © 2015 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Number 1A (1948), Jackson Pollock

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Although many a Jackson Pollock has provoked the comment “Anyone can do that!” this complex composition demonstrates how much went into any one of his signature drip paintings. This is the first work in which the Abstract Expressionist completely abandoned the easel, laying the canvas on the floor of his studio, throwing oil paint on top of pools of industrial house paint. For those aching for the holy grail of the “artist’s touch,” Pollock provides some smeared handprints in the upper right corner. Number 1A shocked collectors when it was first exhibited and found no buyers, until it was purchased two years later by MoMA.—Barbara Pollack

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. © 2015 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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32
The Course of Empire: Destruction (1836), Thomas Cole
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund; 1956

The Course of Empire: Destruction (1836), Thomas Cole

Where can I see it?: New-York Historical Society

A founding father of the Hudson River School, English-born Thomas Cole is best known for his depictions of the American wilderness. Reflecting Americans’ concerns of the period that empire would inevitably lead to dissolution, Cole’s “Empire” series of five paintings charts the rise and fall of an imaginary civilization. In this, the fourth work in the cycle, a city burns and a bridge collapses under the weight of battling armies.—Anne Doran

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund; 1956

31
The Piano Lesson (1916), Henri Matisse
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund © 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Piano Lesson (1916), Henri Matisse

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

One of Matisse’s most radically modern images, this painting shows his son Pierre practicing the piano by an open window, surrounded by his father’s art. Applying Cubism to his own ends, Matisse has reduced the scene to a nearly abstract collection of interlocking geometric shapes, while, at the same time, injecting into it emotion, color and pattern.—Anne Doran

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund © 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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30
Woman I (1950–52), Willem de Kooning
Photograph: Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, NY. © 2015 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Woman I (1950–52), Willem de Kooning

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Picasso’s women, Hollywood starlets and goddesses from ancient cultures have been given credit for inspiring AbEx giant Willem de Kooning’s timeless, fraught evocation of womanhood. Motherly yet monstrous, she’s prompted volumes of critical response both positive and negative. De Kooning himself struggled so much with the painting that he took it out of his studio—and only reconsidered it in light of praise by critic Meyer Schapiro.—Merrily Kerr

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. © 2015 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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A Peaceable Kingdom (1833–34), Edward Hicks
Artwork: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

A Peaceable Kingdom (1833–34), Edward Hicks

Where can I see it?: Brooklyn Museum

A sign painter–turned–Quaker minister and artist, Edward Hicks painted dozens of versions of this iconic celebration of peaceful coexistence. Inspired by a Biblical passage foretelling a time when the wolf, the lamb, the leopard and the goat will live in harmony, Hicks extended the détente to Native Americans and settlers with a version of William Penn making a treaty in the background. Hicks’s pop-eyed lion and leopard don’t look convinced by the new order, but the artist’s folk-art style and hopeful ideology charm, nevertheless.—Merrily Kerr

Artwork: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

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28
Two Sisters (1944), John Graham
Artwork: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum; Dick S. Ramsay Fund

Two Sisters (1944), John Graham

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Born Ivan Dombrowski in Ukraine, Graham was a key figure in the New York art world in the years leading up to the emergence of both Abstract Expressionism and NYC’s status as the art capital of the world. Two Sisters is undoubtedly his masterpiece, an odd amalgam of classical and modern. There are echoes of Picasso and Matisse in the work, along with premonitions of AbEx in a flurry of blue brushstrokes between the sitters, which seems to have wandered in from another painting. Strangest of all are the cross-eyed expressions worn by the sisters, a motif Graham often employed.—Howard Halle

Artwork: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum; Dick S. Ramsay Fund

27
The Terrace at Vernonnet (1939), Pierre Bonnard
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund; 1956

The Terrace at Vernonnet (1939), Pierre Bonnard

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Although his bold color and friendships linked him to the Impressionists, Pierre Bonnard painted indoors, away from direct observation of nature and open to the transformative effects of his imagination. The orange-hued terrace floor that seems to rise up and purple-toned tree trunk that rests on the surface of the canvas disrupt space, both exciting and soothing the senses with simultaneously vibrant and cool colors.—Merrily Kerr

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund; 1956

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The Crucifixion; the Last Judgment (1430), Jan van Eyck
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Fletcher Fund; 1933

The Crucifixion; the Last Judgment (1430), Jan van Eyck

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Look closely at Jan van Eyck’s exquisitely detailed devotional painting and you’ll see yourself standing witness, or so the tiny reflection on a shiny copper shield on the backside of a Roman solider suggests. A solitary man in a blue turban meets our gaze and seems to ask, “Where do you want to be?” This masterpiece of Northern Renaissance realism lays down the starkest of choices: an orderly choir of worshipers above, or a hideous assortment of ghouls and suffering damned below.—Merrily Kerr

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Fletcher Fund; 1933

25
The Vision of St John (1609–14), El Greco
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund; 1956

The Vision of St John (1609–14), El Greco

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

All heaven breaks loose in El Greco’s dramatic rendering of John’s revelation as tumbling putti deliver robes to saints slain for their faith. Never more relevant than now, when passive and active martyrdom is front-page news, the painting’s expressive distortions, vivid color and roiling skies forgo the idea of peace in the next life. Inspiration to Picasso (who riffed on it in his famous brothel scene, Les Demoiselles) and 20th-century modernists, the work still offers a blast of visionary discomfort.—Merrily Kerr

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund; 1956

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Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga (circa 1790s), Francisco Goya
Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund; 1956

Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga (circa 1790s), Francisco Goya

Where can I see it?:  The Cloisters

Our notions about kids needing to be, you know, kids are fairly recent; they were once seen as tiny adults. Goya straddles the line in this portrait of the young son of an aristocratic banking family, who is winsomely adorbs but stiff as a little doll in his terrific red jumpsuit. (All children should wear a lace-edged silk sash!) His pets carry symbolic weight, bookending him between the innocence of caged finches and the rapaciousness of the cats who hungrily eye the magpie he holds on a leash. The artist must have known how beloved Manuel would become, as he signed the work on the calling card in the magpie’s beak.—Joseph Wolin

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Rogers Fund; 1956

23
Monet’s Salle à Manger Jaune (2012), Mickalene Thomas
Photograph: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum, A. Augustus Healy Fund, 2012.73a-b. © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong

Monet’s Salle à Manger Jaune (2012), Mickalene Thomas

Where can I see it?: Brooklyn Museum

Borrowing from 19th- and 20th-century Western art, African-American artist Mickalene Thomas adapts pictoral tropes to bold, rhinestone-encrusted enamel-and-acrylic depiction of luxe interiors and colorful landscapes in this portrayal of Claude Monet’s house, where Mickalene resided in 2011.—Anne Doran

Photograph: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum, A. Augustus Healy Fund, 2012.73a-b. © Mickalene Thomas. Courtesy Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong

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22
Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps (2005), Kehinde Wiley
Photograph: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum, Collection of Suzi and Andrew B. Cohen , L2005.6. © Kehinde Wiley. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps (2005), Kehinde Wiley

Where can I see it?: Brooklyn Museum

In his celebratory portraits of ordinary black men and women, Kehinde Wiley redresses a Western cultural history that does not acknowledge their experience. His subjects—generally strangers encountered on the street—are depicted in poses they’ve chosen from Old Masters paintings, typically against ornate backgrounds. Here Wiley appropriates Jacques Louis David’s Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Grand-Saint-Bernard (1800–01), substituting the figure of Napoleon for one of a man in camouflage and Timberlands.—Anne Doran

Photograph: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum, Collection of Suzi and Andrew B. Cohen , L2005.6. © Kehinde Wiley. Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

21
Blatt (1969), Lynda Benglis
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of the Fuhrman Family Foundation through the Modern Women's Fund

Blatt (1969), Lynda Benglis

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

By pouring Day-Glo pigments mixed with latex on the floor to make this sculpture, the solidity of traditional pictures appears to melt. Instead of using liquid to make an image, Benglis allowed the medium to become a record of its own flowing impulse. The skinlike puddle and its flattened biomorphic shape and oozing nature add a bodily reference to an artwork that’s already a hybrid of Modernist abstraction, Pop Art and Minimalism.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Gift of the Fuhrman Family Foundation through the Modern Women's Fund

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20
Once Upon a Time (1989), Keith Haring
Photograph: Travis Dubreuil / Artwork: Courtesy the NYC LGBT Community Center and copyright Keith Haring Foundation

Once Upon a Time (1989), Keith Haring

Where can I see it?: The LGBT Center

Before succumbing to AIDS in 1990 when he was 31, Keith Haring painted this mural on the walls of the men’s bathroom at the LGBT Center. In his signature black linear style, replete with curlicues and radiant lines, he celebrated gay male sexuality in graphic, cartoony detail. Lines don’t adhere to fixed roles, as the insides of bodies become the outside in a frenzy of activity. Made during the height of the AIDS crisis, the fear surrounding the disease is supplanted with defiant joy.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Travis Mark / Artwork: Courtesy the NYC LGBT Community Center and copyright Keith Haring Foundation

19
Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) (1427–32)
Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) (1427–32)

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

It’s a comic-strip–like religious narrative. In the central panel, the Virgin sits reading, as yet unaware of the angel Gabriel, who has just popped into being. A miniature Christ child speeds toward her, carried on beams of light. And next door, Joseph busies himself making mousetraps.—Anne Doran

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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18
Stationary Figure (1973), Philip Guston
Photograph: Courtesy Estate of Philip Guston

Stationary Figure (1973), Philip Guston

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the late 1960s, Guston abandoned the Ab Ex that had brought him renown and began painting strange cartoonish images, inspired in part by R. Crumb. The big-eyed being in the initially derided Stationary Figure smokes in bed beneath a bare bulb and a window of black sky. The humor, absurdity and deceptively childlike rendering only add to the overriding sense of melancholy.—Joseph Wolin

Photograph: Courtesy Estate of Philip Guston

17
Heat (1919), Florine Stettheimer
Artwork: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

Heat (1919), Florine Stettheimer

Where can I see it?: Brooklyn Museum

Wealthy, eccentric and bohemian spinsters, the fabulous Stettheimer sisters hosted midtown salons that attracted the likes of fellow artists Marcel Duchamp and Georgia O’Keeffe. Florine herself painted fanciful scenes like Heat, which depicts the sisters languidly wilting at a birthday party for their mother. Quirky details, such as a kitten clawing at the artist’s wrist in the lower right or what appears to be the Brooklyn Bridge in the upper left, combine with a sure sense of the decorative to reveal a pioneering female artist blazing her own path.—Joseph Wolin

Artwork: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

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16
Painting (1946), Francis Bacon
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

Painting (1946), Francis Bacon

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

This one has the makings of a great horror movie: raw meat, sides of beef that appear crucified, guillotine-like window shades and a mysterious man in a black suit who seems little more than a set of teeth rimmed in crimson. The bilious pink palette doesn’t make things lighter either. Yet coming hard on the heels of the Blitz, Auschwitz and Hiroshima, this nightmarish image by the British artist echoes with lived terror and existential dread.—Joseph Wolin

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

15
Masks Confronting Death (1888), James Ensor
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

Masks Confronting Death (1888), James Ensor

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Ensor lived all of his life in the seaside resort town of Ostend, Belgium, where his family had a business selling souvenirs and masks—and he often used the latter in his paintings to convey the psychological states and satirize the politics, religion and culture of modern Belgian society. Here a foppish specimen is menaced by masked figures even more bizarre than itself.—Anne Doran

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

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14
Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times (1963), Andy Warhol
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times (1963), Andy Warhol

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Orange Car Crash, a repeating image of a ghastly road accident that was originally a newspaper photo, is a particularly striking example of Warhol’s deeply dark side. Part of an overall series focusing on death and disaster, the painting expresses his fascination with tabloids and smut journalism. His use of repeatedly silkscreened imagery on a half-empty diptych puts a formal distance between viewer and calamity, turning exploitation into abstraction.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

13
F-111 (1964–65), James Rosenquist
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

F-111 (1964–65), James Rosenquist

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Measuring 10 by 86 feet, F-111 is less of a painting than it is a dioramic distillation of American life at the height of the Cold War. It would have fit right in at Times Square, back before the advent of giant digital screens. The space where F-111 debuted was relatively small. It was an environment that wrapped viewers in images linking consumer culture to the military-industrial complex, with glimpses of a tire, a cake and a little girl under a massive hair dryer, all laid over the titular subject: a super expensive, swing-wing bomber.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

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Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) (1883–84), John Singer Sargent
Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) (1883–84), John Singer Sargent

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Still having her red-carpet moment after 130 years, the Parisian socialite, as painted by American expat Sargent, serves us Gilded Age glamour with a profile that just won’t quit. Sargent created this glorious life-size portrait to impress the European public. It didn’t. Despite its virtuosity, the bare shoulders and plunging décolletage proved scandalous, so Sargent put it away for three decades; when he sold it to the Met, he asked that the sitter be given a pseudonym.—Joseph Wolin

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

11
Comet (1974), Ron Gorchov
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

Comet (1974), Ron Gorchov

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

For some half a century, Ron Gorchov’s art has flown in the face of his contemporaries, most of whom insist on working with conventional two-dimensional canvases. Instead, Comet, like many of Gorchov’s sculpture-paintings, takes a vaguely saddle-like shape. While the piece’s name might evoke space and the future (we recently landed a spacecraft on a comet), it also brings to mind something ancient, something coded in our DNA from humanity’s earliest days.—Drew Toal

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

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Self-Portrait (1660), Rembrandt

Self-Portrait (1660), Rembrandt

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A master of the psychological reveal, Rembrandt was never more insightful than in the dozens of pictures he painted of himself. This canvas, made four years after he declared insolvency—although successful, he lived beyond his means—is rendered in the loose, bravura style of his later works. It shows the artist wearing a heavy coat and with a large black velvet hat settled on his head like a storm cloud. His homely face is at once anxious and rueful.—Anne Doran

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

9
Untitled (1970), Cy Twombly
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art; NY. © 2015 Salvador Dalí; Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / ARS; New York

Untitled (1970), Cy Twombly

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

Cy Twombly, who had been an army cryptologist, sat on 
the shoulders of a friend who walked from left to right to create the rows of cursive scrawls in this painting. Using crayon on gray canvas, typical of his “Blackboard” series, Twombly wrote indecipherable sentences, linking text to the painterly mark. It’s intoxicatingly heady, forgoing the social function of the written word and forcing our brains to work to find meaning.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

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8
One: Number 31 (1950), Jackson Pollock
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund (by exchange). © 2015 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

One: Number 31 (1950), Jackson Pollock

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

This enormous work—it measures roughly 9 by 13 feet—is action painting at its best. Pollock’s drips were made on the floor to become a record of his bodily movements. The artist allowed the paint to take on its own life, as he collaborated with the unruly liquid material, releasing it into tangled areas of density. The scale absorbs the viewer physically, as though by simply looking, one were participating in its continuously unfolding energy.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

7
The Red Studio (1911), Henri Matisse
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund. © 2015 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Red Studio (1911), Henri Matisse

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

This prescient painting of the artist’s studio is suffused by a dark red, which has a flattening effect and transforms the room into a field where painting takes place. The floor, walls and furniture are depicted in white outlines, like ghosts. Objects of utility are thus diminished, and those of aesthetic power are emphasized. It’s like a love letter to the studio, the site of imagination and creation—and a precursor to postwar Modernist abstraction.—Jennifer Coates

Photograph: Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art

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6
Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (1662), Johannes Vermeer
Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Marquand Collection; Gift of Henry G. Marquand; 1889

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (1662), Johannes Vermeer

Where can I see it?: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In this serene domestic scene, Vermeer achieves something astounding: representing light as a tangible substance. Some scholars have argued that he employed a camera obscura to create his masterpiece, and certainly the way the image is softly blurred resembles a photographic effect. More important, however, is the way each of the elements—the partially opened window on the left, the map on the wall, the chair positioned beneath it, the foregrounded table and the lady herself—are locked in exquisite equipoise. The woman stands with one hand resting on the window, pouring light into the room, with the other on a reflective silver pitcher. She joins the source of illumination with the object being lit, transforming a homey idyll into a state of grace.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

5
A Storm in the Rocky Mountains (1866), Albert Bierstadt
Artwork: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

A Storm in the Rocky Mountains (1866), Albert Bierstadt

Where can I see it?: Brooklyn Museum

Manifest Destiny is both an integral part of American identity and also a source of everlasting national shame. This sense is captured perfectly in Albert Bierstadt’s A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, which the artist completed three years after traveling through and sketching the eponymous terrain. Although Bierstadt took some license with the landscape—it’s not actually this Game of Thrones–y—he manages to capture the grandeur that must’ve struck Western migrants dumb as they pushed aside the Native Americans on their way to the Pacific.—Drew Toal

Artwork: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

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4
The Duchess of Alba (1797), Francisco Goya
Photograph: Courtesy the Hispanic Society of America; New York

The Duchess of Alba (1797), Francisco Goya

Where can I see it?: The Hispanic Society of America

Back before there were proper tabloids in supermarket checkout lines, it was much more difficult to track celebrity liaisons. Still, if you look closely at Goya’s The Duchess of Alba—known to her friends as Doña María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva-Álvarez de Toledo y Silva—the painting has more rumor and innuendo in it than a copy of In Touch Weekly. Recognized as a great beauty in her day, and also as one of the richest women in Spain, the duchess was a fixation for the artist. Want proof? Check out the sand at her feet. It reads solo goya. And if you look closely at the Duchess’s rings, they read alba and goya, sparking rumors about romantic ties.—Drew Toal

Photograph: Courtesy the Hispanic Society of America

3
Comtesse d’Haussonville (1845), Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

Comtesse d’Haussonville (1845), Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Where can I see it?: The Frick Collection

The Comtesse d’Haussonville, granddaughter of French intellectual Madame de Staël, was a woman (and a writer) with a deep sense of her own sensuality. Leaning suggestively in a corner of her boudoir, she appears almost surprised that the artist has burst into her chambers. In reality, Ingres spent more than three years capturing 
the intriguing expression.—Drew Toal

Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

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St. Francis in the Desert (1475–78), Giovanni Bellini
Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

St. Francis in the Desert (1475–78), Giovanni Bellini

Where can I see it?: The Frick Collection

While today Bellini is popularly known for the prosecco-based cocktail he inspired, the artist’s more important legacy is as a heavyhitting painter of Renaissance Italy. One of the most treasured Renaissance paintings residing in the U.S. is St. Francis in the Desert, in which the subject, an animal-friendly friar, is shown in the wilderness, bearing the stigmata. The landscape is filled with Franciscan symbolism and a supernatural light.—Drew Toal

Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

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Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), Pablo Picasso
Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest. © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), Pablo Picasso

Where can I see it?: Museum of Modern Art

This is the biggie—and at the time of its creation, a total rule breaker, ushering in the modern era by decisively splitting with the representational tradition of Western painting. The women of the title are actually prostitutes in a brothel. Originally the work was also going to feature the figure of a man—a medical student, apparently—making his selection for the night. Picasso decided to omit him from the final composition, leaving only Avignon in the title as a clue to his subjects: It’s the name of a street in the artist’s native Barcelona, famous for its cathouses.—Howard Halle

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art

New York's 100 best paintings by venue

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