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The 100 best paintings in New York: 40-31

Leading artists, gallery owners, curators and critics pick the best paintings to be seen in NYC

Written by
Time Out New York contributors
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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

40. 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

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

39. 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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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

38. 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

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

37. 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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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

36. 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

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

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

34. 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

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

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

32. 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

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

31. 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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