Saturday 27 March 2010

National Treasures?

Following a recent posting by Tom Stephenson (, it made me think about different countries, and their ONE true ICONIC national painting. I would like to propose the following few; mostly pretty obvious.

For the Americans this must be Grant Wood's wonderful 1928 double-portrait of his sister and dentist (I think), called American Gothic.

For the Italians there is no question. It has to be Da Vinci's 1507 (?) painting of the Mona Lisa; probably one of the world's best known (and best loved) images.

For the Spanish there is the 1656 Velazquez portrait of the Infanta Margarita; usually known as Las Meninas. (This, Tom Stephenson called 'one of the greatest paintings ever')

For France, I will suggest Picasso's 1937 war epic, Guernica (even though Picasso was, of course, Spanish).

And for the English, (rather than going for the more obvious Constable or Turner) I offer Thomas Gainsborough's 1750 portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews (above).

Gainsborough was still a very young man when he painted this luscious half portrait/half landscape. The picture demonstrates everything good about life in 18th century rural England. The proud and solid English Oak, the fertile land, and the young wealthy couple amid their extensive estate. This painting could almost replace The Union Flag.

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  1. And yet, Cro, that Gainsborough could so easily be American from the same period, don't you think?

    If Elgar is a quintessentially English composer, then Aaron Copland has to be the American equivalent, but infused with the spirit of the the Frontier and Independence, as opposed to the pastoral, pre-independence imagery like the sort in the Gainsborough, before King George was kicked out of the new USA.

    You've just inspired a blog for me (yawn) which will be titled, "Sheep do Graze", or something equally pastoral. It's your own fault...

  2. But did you agree with me about Grant Wood?

  3. Ha ha! - yes, it certainly has to be the one painting which encapsulates the notion of American rural Puritanism, as viewed from this side of the Atlantic.

  4. P.S. Her Indoors has just looked over my shoulder to enquire about the Gainsborough, and said - "What about Samuel Palmer?"

  5. P.P.S (sorry) - I went to see 'Guernica' in the flesh once, and I have to say that we both thought it was one of the worst paintings he ever did. Anyway, Picasso was Spanish, you must be able to suggest a Frenchman!

  6. Samuel Palmer is little known outside the UK, and his work was often very small. Strange, I can't think of a really ICONIC French painting. Maybe something by either Monet or Matisse; but what would one choose? Not easy.

  7. How about Fragonard's 'The Swing'? It's frilly enough.

  8. Too difficult to choose just one French painting. There are too damn many!


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