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The top 10 paintings in New York

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

By Time Out New York contributors |
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10
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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2
St. Francis in the Desert (1475–78), Giovanni Bellini

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

1
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), Pablo Picasso

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

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