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An Art Lover’s Guide to this Summer’s Top Exhibits


If you’re looking for an air-conditioned alternative to the beach this summer, consider an afternoon at an art museum. As Sister Wendy Beckett, the affable art historian you might remember from PBS, once observed, the United States is particularly rich in museums. And this is especially fitting, she said, “because museums are a means to freedom.”

So here are four special exhibits well worth checking out this summer. The works in these collections will expand your horizons and populate your imagination with little bits of beauty.


National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

May 11 to October 5

Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt were two of the most important figures of the impressionist movement, but they were also peers and devoted friends. This exhibit chronicles their relationship and affinity for each other’s work. As an artist, I’ve come to value the importance of having a community of other artists to share ideas with. So it was inspiring to see an exhibit centered around not just one person but a relationship (and especially a relationship of mutual respect between a man and a woman).

Some of the remarkable pieces displayed include a group of works from one of their collaborative efforts, a series of fifteen sketches and paintings Degas did of Cassatt at the Louvre and Cassatt’s Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878) which scholars believe Degas, acting as a mentor, painted on. The exhibit also includes one of Cassatt’s most famous paintings, Girl Arranging Her Hair (1886), which was Degas’ favorite of her works and which he hung in a prominent place in his own home.


National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

May 4 to November 30

In 2009, the National Gallery received one of Andrew Wyeth’s most famous paintings, Wind from the Sea (1947), which captures the moment an ocean breeze gently lifts tattered lace curtains as it flows through an open window. Over the course of sixty years, Wyeth produced more than three hundred works on the theme of windows. This exhibit gathers together a selection of those works.

Wyeth was often dismissed by critics of his time as a conservative, unimaginative realist painter. Wyeth’s work is a wonderful blend of powerful, longing emotion and strong technique. For any painter, Wyeth’s technique is also interesting because he tends to opt for using quick-drying tempera medium rather than oil, which forces one to work in many short strokes. This creates a shimmering, almost vibrating quality to his work that becomes even more beautiful the closer you get to his paintings.


San Diego Museum of Art

May 31 to August 26

If you haven’t heard of Joaquín Sorolla, get thee to the San Diego Museum of Art! Sorolla is a Spanish artist who, while less known to the general public, is praised by many artists for being a “painter’s painter” on par with and in similar style to John Singer Sargent. Sorolla’s paintings are bursting with Spanish character. They are bold, sun-drenched, full of life, and colorful. Be sure to see Sorolla’s beach scenes from his native Valencia.  The way he seamlessly blends en plein air beach scenes with dynamic figures is something only a master can do. His juicy bravado brushstrokes capture the pure joy of being at the beach. What could be more fitting if you’re in California this summer?


Art Institute of Chicago

June 24 to October 13

René Magritte’s images are probably familiar to most of us, even if we couldn’t put a name to the painting: a nondescript man in a dark suit and bowler hat with a green apple floating over his face, a train coming forward through the “tunnel” of a fireplace, a giant blue eye whose iris is a sky filled with white clouds. Magritte is the most recognized surrealist artist next to Dalí, and this exhibit features more than one hundred works of his most inventive and experimental years. One of his most famous pictures, The Treachery of Images (This is not a Pipe) (1929), is on view in this exhibit.


So maybe you can't make it to one of these exhibits this summer? Don’t sweat it. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has made nearly 400,000 pieces of their encyclopedic collection of art available to view online in high resolution. Search by artist, time period, or geographic location. Work on your drawing skills and learn from the masters. What a treasure to have these works at our fingertips!