Our favourite paintings

Our arts writers tell us about the paintings that mean the most to them

multiple writers
21st November 2020
Paintings have the power to move us, inspire us, and define moments of our lives. We let some of our arts writers wax lyrical about their favourites...
Yellow-Red-Blue - Wassily Kandinsky
Yellow-Red-Blue - Wassily Kandinsky
via kandinskypaintings.org

When I was younger, I had a calendar of Wassily Kandinsky's works. Yellow-Red-Blue became a quick favourite. It portrays what looks like a person's face and a lot of symbols behind it, that I (and many other people) interpret as a representation of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. However, the colours, shapes, and markings are highly open to interpretation, despite their relative structure, making the painting a good piece to think on and discuss. The design is just recognizable enough to be meaningful while remaining just vague enough to spark curiosity. Some say it looks like a cat upside-down - you be the judge.

Elizabeth Meade

The Last Shipwreck - Cecily Brown

A favourite painting can be likened to a favourite song – it changes as the mood changes. However, London born Cecily Brown’s abstract piece The Last Shipwreck is one I find myself returning to time and time again. I first saw the piece at the Whitechapel Gallery in London as a part of their ‘Radical Figures’ exhibition. I was at once encapsulated. 

On first glance, the painting appeared senseless, lost to the abstraction of the colours on the page. However, when one takes time to peer into the abyss of blues and yellows, the real detail of the painting comes to the surface. I found myself lost in bodies, faces and movement, creating a personal narrative around the figures which came to light. Each time I come back to her work, there seems to be a new story to find within the lines, making me fall in love with the diversity Brown had managed to create on her canvas. 

There is no doubt that the work is modern, but this is one of the reasons I picked this painting – to bring to light the new era of artists who are up and coming in the world. 

Iona Lowe

Witches' Sabbath - Fransisco Goya
Witches' Sabbath - Fransisco Goya
via Wikipedia

Witches’ Sabbath (1797-1798) by Goya is a journey to the dark side of art. The picture is part of a six pieces series called Witches’ Businesses (1797-1798) depicting scenes of women and creatures talking part in obscure rituals.

This piece in question features a coven of “witches” positioned around the he-goat offering babies as sacrifices. The sinister aesthetic is completed with the dark colour scheme as well as the mirroring element. In paintings depicting witchcraft, imagery is inverted, such as the quarter moon facing out of the canvas.

I first encountered the painting as a description in the book Time for Silence (1975), in which the author uses it to emphasise the idiocy of the Spanish society by depicting them as brainless sheep. The original meaning isn’t too far off. Goya intended to mock followers of the Spanish Inquisition, during a time when witch hunts were common and used it to criticise the deep-rooted superstitious beliefs that controlled the population's lives.

Alex Gervas

Ophelia - John Everett Millais
Ophelia - John Everett Millais
via Wikipedia

To somebody who loves art history, being asked to choose a favourite painting is like being asked to choose a favourite child. There are too many beautiful paintings by great masters over a huge variety of genres to choose just one, so I have gone with the painting that sparked my interest in art history when I was just twelve years old - John Everett Millais’ Ophelia (1851-2).

Perhaps the most famous of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, this hyper-realistic and brightly coloured oil painting depicts the death by drowning of Ophelia, Hamlet’s lover in the Shakespeare play of the same name. When I first saw it on the cover of an art history book, I was struck by its gorgeously rich colour palette and macabre subject matter, and immediately wanted to know more. I bought the book, rushing home to read it, and so my love affair with art history began.

Francesca Scanlan

The Nostalgia of the Infinite - Giorgio de Chirico
The Nostalgia of the Infinite - Giorgio de Chirico
via Wikipedia

One night, during a several hour-long session of Wikipedia-trawling, as one does, I came across the page for Metaphysical Art. I was immediately struck, there was an indescribable quality to the paintings. Then, I read Wikipedia's description of the style; "dreamlike works with sharp contrasts of light and shadow that often had a vaguely threatening, mysterious quality, "painting that which cannot be seen"", and I fell in love.

De Chirico's style is haunting and reality-bending, which is exactly what makes it so cool. This work depicts just a tall tower in the distance, with two shadowy figures under it. It leaves a fair bit to the imagination, but creates the perfect atmosphere. Just like the rest of de Chirico's work, it just strikes you and produces a beautiful sense of dislocation from time and space.

Muslim Taseer

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