Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Inevitably, a lot of people are going to be left off this list. There are just too many artists I like for me to include them all. Given that caveat, if I had to pick, my number one favorite artist is Diego Velázquez. The Waterseller of Seville and Las Meninas are two of his classic works. A lot of people like Velázquez. Sheer talent is one reason -- which you can see very well in the Waterseller, especially in the texture of the ceramic jugs and the lines and character in the face of the waterseller himself. Also, I appreciate Velázquez because of his intellectual gamesmanship, which you can see in Las Meninas. The subject of Las Meninas, when you really look at the painting, is perplexing. The English title is something like “The Maids of Honor,” who surround the Princess, so in a way it looks like the Princess is the subject of the painting. But then when you look at Velázquez on his canvas you understand that he is looking straight at you, the viewer. This sense is reinforced by the sheer size of the painting – it is 10’5” tall and 9’1” wide. There have been several interpretations of the direction of the painter’s gaze, one of which is that the reflection of the two people whom we see on the back far wall are the King and Queen, in which case Velázquez would be painting their portrait. Another assumes it is a mirror, and holds that if you plot out the angle of the reflection in the mirror, it could not have been the King and Queen who were being painted. Another interpretation is that it is not a mirror on the back wall, it is a painting. Whatever the interpretation, it is interesting that Velázquez has us, the viewers, standing in the place of whoever is having their portrait painted.
Las Meninas (1656) - Diego Velazquez
The Waterseller of Seville (1618-1622) - Diego Velazquez
Rembrandt is another artist I would have to include. Rembrandt very definitely has a spiritual quality. He was superb at capturing character in his works. He painted a lot of self-portraits, so we have a record of not only his physical appearance but his character for most of his life. You can stand close to a Rembrandt painting in places and its use of color is so rich it seems to evoke entire worlds. In his self-portraiture it’s almost as if you are looking at a mystical landscape, but it is actually part of his face.
Self-Portrait with Disheveled Hair (1628) - Rembrandt
Detail of Self-Portrait with Beret and Turned Up Collar (1659) - Rembrandt
Self-Portrait at the Age of 63 (1669) - Rembrandt
Elsewhere we’ve talked about Richard Diebenkorn, and Diebenkorn cannot be mentioned without talking about Matisse. Both of these artists would have to be included on my list. Both of these painters deal a lot with space and light in their paintings. I have heard it said that the best painting deals with these aspects of a work. Most of the time, the creation of space and light is made possible through the interaction of color, which can include the use of black, grays, and white. The way that Matisse is related to Diebenkorn is this: Diebenkorn’s transition from representational art to abstract art was heavily influenced by two particular paintings by Matisse: View of Notre-Dame (1914), and French Window at Collieure (1914). I think the transition was around the time Diebenkorn had moved to a new studio in Ocean Park with large, day lighted windows. He went on to produce a series of paintings known as his “Ocean Park” series, and I feel the best of these paintings have a sense of openness to them, a sense of space that the two paintings by Matisse greatly enabled. Ocean Park No. 68 (1974) is an example of this.
View of Notre-Dame (1914)- Henri Matisse
French Window at Collieure (1914) - Henri Matisse
Ocean Park No. 68 (1974) - Richard Diebenkorn