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Frame by Frame: Sebastian Smee examines New England's art one masterpiece at a time

Frame by Frame: ‘Moonlight Dance, Voulangis’ by Edward Steichen

This haunting and haunted painting by Edward Steichen (1879-1973), in the Portland Museum of Art, catches the onset of that convulsive moment when modern art tries to shed its skin and become something new.This haunting and haunted painting by Edward Steichen (1879-1973), in the Portland Museum of Art, catches the onset of that convulsive moment when modern art tries to shed its skin and become something new. (Globe Staff, 9/2/12)

Frame by Frame: ‘The Greek Girl’ by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

A combination of confident presence and haunted vulnerability makes this painting by Camille Corot (1796-1875) one of the most lyrical examples of 19th-century art in America. It hangs — amid splendid company, including three Manets and a Monet — in the Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building at Vermont’s Shelburne Museum. (Globe Staff, 8/19/12)

Frame By Frame: Hyman Bloom’s “Hull”

This painting by Hyman Bloom (1913-2009), one of the most compelling artists to have emerged from Boston in the 20th century, and it hangs in the Worcester Art Museum. Painted in 1952, it shows a human body with its viscera exposed, but expresses Bloom’s spiritualism. (Globe Staff, 8/5/12)

Frame by Frame: Treachery and Courage

This small painting by an unknown American whaleman artist was painted around 1830, and it hangs in the New Bedford Whaling Museum. It shows a whale calf in the mouth of its mother.She is not, of course, eating it. (Those teeth are useless.) She is trying to rescue it. And that, my friends, was all part of the whalers’ fiendish plan. (Globe Staff, 7/25/12)

Frame by Frame: ‘The Death and the Assumption of the Virgin’

This exquisite painting by Fra Angelico (1395/1400-1455) at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum shows the Assumption of the Virgin Mary – her ascent into heaven – immediately above a scene centered on her dead body. The painting, in tempera on panel, has also been called “The Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin.” It’s a title I prefer because of the connotations of the word dormition: a peaceful and painless death, a descent into sleep (Globe Staff, 7/9/12)

Frame by Frame: Henri Matisse, ‘The Ostrich-Feather Hat’

In 1918, the year “The Ostrich-Feather Hat” in the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum was painted, the family of Henri Matisse was in disarray. Paris was under threat from advancing Germans. Matisse’s mother was behind enemy lines in his home town of Bohain. In the midst of all this, Matisse painted several portraits of Marguerite, his beloved daughter, his stalwart assistant, his model, his confidante. (Globe Staff, 6/25/12)

Frame by Frame: Chinese ivory gone berserk

Occasionally, as an art critic, you come across an object so marvelous it seems utterly berserk. When it happens, quite often you look around and realize that you are in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. Case in point: this single ball of ivory carved into 15 concentric spheres. (Globe Staff, 5/29/12)

Frame by Frame: ‘Rock Fan’ by David Hammons

A silly little thing, “Rock Fan,” by the artist David Hammons, is a classic case of the flimsy gesture, the light-as-dust conceit, turned weighty and transfixing. Every time I see it on display at the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, I do a double-take. (Globe Staff, 5/15/12)

Frame by Frame: ‘Christ as the Man of Sorrows’ at the Museum of Fine ArtsA telling portrait of Christ

In the entire Museum of Fine Arts, there cannot be many pictures more compelling than this. It’s an unusual version of an old standby of Christian iconography, “Christ as the Man of Sorrows.” Everything about it forces your attention. (Globe Staff, 4/10/12)

Frame by Frame: "Barn Interior With Peasants’ by by Hendrick Sorgh

Critic Sebastian Smee looks at the painting “Barn Interior with Peasants playing Cards, Drinking, and Smoking,’’ by Hendrick Sorgh, on display at Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. (Globe Staff, 3/26/12)

Milton Avery’s ‘Husband and Wife’

Milton Avery was one of America’s finest mid-century artists, and his color harmonies were endlessly surprising. Avery could be painting a landscape, a nude, or - as in the marvelous painting “Husband and Wife’’ at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford - a couple at rest in a living room. But in every case, you feel a kind of spiritual shiver, a lack of completion, something short of the full-throatedness of a true hedonist. (Globe Staff, 3/12/12)

Sebastian Smee looks at ‘Baudelaire’ by Raymond Duchamp-Villon

Raymond Duchamp-Villon sculpted this terracotta head of the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire, at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, in 1911. Baudelaire had been dead 44 years. Here, with his smooth and swollen dome, his ruthless nose, his terrifyingly thin lips, and those dead, unseeing, angled eyes with ogee eyebrows, he combines ancient severity with diabolical, you-will-not-be-spared modernity. (Globe Staff, 2/27/12)

Frame by Frame: Sebastian Smee looks at ‘Ruth’ by Marisol at Rose Art Museum

Marisol Escobar, known as Marisol, is the most interesting Post-War artist you’ve probably never heard of. She made this sculpture, called “Ruth,’’ in the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, when she was at the height of her early renown, in 1962. It’s a gem - one of the sneakiest, funniest, most sprightly portraits to have emerged from the whole Pop era. (Globe Staff, 2/13/12)

Sebastian Smee is sweet on Sweerts’s ‘Boy With a Hat’

This picture of a young boy in the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT, was painted by Michael Sweerts, a Flemish artist. Sweerts enjoyed in his lifetime about as much acclaim as an artist could hope for, but he eventually chose religion over art, and was plunged into obscurity from the time of his early death, in the 1660s, until the late 20th century. (Globe Staff, 1/30/12)

Frame by Frame: Picabia’s mischievous postcard view of Nice

Francis Picabia, one of the originators of Dada, made this picture, called “Midi (Promenade des Anglais)’’ sometime between 1923 and 1926. It’s on show at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, where it leapt out at me largely because I’m a sucker and I like palm trees and blue sky and Nice (where you will find the Promenade des Anglais), but also because I like macaroni, I’m tickled by feathers, and I’m intrigued by the texture of snakeskin. (Globe Staff, 1/16/12)

‘Prince Arikankharer Slaying His Enemies’ evokes an aura of concentrated violence at Worcester Art Museum

This sculpture, which is called “Prince Arikankharer Slaying His Enemies,’’ in the Worcester Art Museum, is from the land of Kush, in what is now Sudan. It was made around A.D. 25-41, by an artist from MeroĆ«, a pyramid-strewn city on the Nile, just north of that river’s division into the White and Blue Niles. Every time I set eyes on it, my eyes are drawn to what is going on in the lower left quadrant. I don’t quite know what to make of it. But one thing I can say for sure: it’s shatteringly violent. (Globe Staff, 1/2/12)

Sebastian Smee’s Frame by Frame: ‘Butcher Shop’ at MFA a visual triumph

It’s always good, I find, after spending a bit of time with the lovely but intermittently lulling arrangement of pastoral Monets, pleasant Pissarros, and fluffy Renoirs at the Museum of Fine Arts, to go and spend time in front of this picture, in the Dutch and Flemish gallery. It’s called “Butcher Shop,’’ and it was painted by David Teniers the Younger in 1642. (Globe Staff, 12/19/11)

Robert Henri’s ‘Coal Breaker’

The American painter Robert Henri painted this moody, penumbral image in his New York studio in 1902, the day after a train he was on had stopped beside a coal processing plant at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It is called “Coal Breaker,’’ and it’s on display at Bowdoin College Museum of Art. There was a major coal strike in Pennsylvania in 1902. It had begun two months before Henri stopped at Wilkes-Barre, and continued on for another three months. (Globe Staff, 12/5/11)

Egyptian masterpiece at MFA

This sculpture of the Egyptian Old Kingdom ruler Menkaura, or Mycerinus, and his wife is one of the finest objects in the Museum of Fine Arts, and one of the greatest examples of Egyptian sculpture anywhere in the world. It was discovered in 1910 in the Valley Temple of Menkaura’s pyramid complex at Giza by the American archeologist George Reisner, leading a team from Harvard University and the MFA. (Globe Staff, 11/21/11)

Frame by Frame: Sebastian Smee looks at Bruce Conner’s ‘EVE-RAY-FOREVER’

“EVE-RAY-FOREVER’’ is a montage of flickering black and white film that’s played on a loop. More accurately, it’s three such films playing side by side. The work, on show at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, is the product of the fecund creative imagination of Bruce Conner (1933-2008), one of the most interesting and underrated spirits in American art over the past half century. (Globe Staff, 11/7/11)

‘Allegory of Folly’ by Quinten Metsys, at Worcester Art Museum

This picture, by the 16th-century Antwerp painter Quentin Metsys (also called Massys, or Matsys), is unmistakably of a fool. That smile could not be more splendidly idiotic. Might he also, however, signify something more? The painting, which was owned by the late art historian Professor Julius Held, has been hanging in the Worcester Art Museum’s galleries on long-term loan since the mid 1980s. It is called “Allegory of Folly,’’ and it was painted around 1510, just as Metsys was emerging as the leading painter in Antwerp. (Globe Staff, 10/24/11)

Edgar Degas’s “La Savoisienne’’

This article is part of an ongoing series about individual works in the permanent collections of New England museums. This picture, “La Savoisienne,’’ in the collection of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art in Providence, is one of Edgar Degas’s earliest depictions of women. It is rarely reproduced in the Degas literature, but it’s one of his freshest and best. Scholars can’t be sure, but they believe he painted it around 1860, after returning to Paris from three years in Italy. (Globe Staff, 10/10/11)

In ‘Portait of a Young Noblewoman,’ it’s all about the dress

As part of a series about hidden masterpieces in the permanent collections of New England museums, Sebastian Smee takes a close look at an anonymous portrait of a young, unknown and meltingly beautiful Spanish noblewoman in the collection of the Worcester Art Museum. (Globe Staff, 9/26/11)

Effortful ease in Matisse ‘masterpiece’

WORCESTER - There’s a great big metaphysical joke at the core of the genius that was Henri Matisse, and it has to do with the idea of work, of labor, of effort. (Globe Staff, 8/15/11)

Sebastian Smee on John Singer Sargent’s ‘Rehearsal of the Pasdeloup Orchestra at the Cirque d’Hiver’

Nothing can really compare to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s “El Jaleo’’ or the Museum of Fine Arts’ “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,’’ but when I’m asked to name my favorite picture by John Singer Sargent, I often nominate this one. (Globe Staff, 8/1/11)

Charles Cordier’s ‘African Venus’ in Providence

PROVIDENCE - What should we think of this sculpture? It’s an ugly question: Obligations to think anything are exactly what we go to art to escape. Still, works like this have their knots, and it’s interesting to untangle them. (Globe Staff, 7/18/11)

Simple, vivid, compelling: Citgo sign is the blinking heart of the city

It’s hardly a hidden treasure. Nor is it exactly in a frame. But I wanted Boston’s Citgo sign to feature in this series because, for all its fame, it’s rarely discussed as a piece of public art. (Globe Staff, 7/4/11)

Sebastian Smee’s looks at ‘The Discovery of Honey by Bacchus,’ at Worcester Art Museum

WORCESTER — Piero di Cosimo, who painted this enchanting picture, doesn’t quite fit into the parade of Renaissance greats like Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, or Raphael. (Globe Staff, 6/20/11)

‘Mourning Picture’ at Smith College Museum of Art a surreal remembrance, taut with grief

This is one of the more remarkable pictures in the superb collection of Smith College Museum of Art. It’s also the most upsetting. (Globe Staff, 6/6/11)

Sebastian Smee praises Lilly Martin Spencer’s ‘The Jolly Washerwoman’

HANOVER, N.H. — An extraordinary picture, this. And it really is a picture. Everything about it, like a carefully coordinated joke, smacks of self-consciousness, from the pose of the subject — archly interrupting her work to turn toward the viewer — to the elaborate framing device at the top of the picture, which acts like quotation marks around the whole ... (Globe Staff, 5/23/11)

Art critic Sebastian Smee eyes Florine Stettheimer’s portrait of art critic Henry McBride

NORTHAMPTON — Robert Hughes once compared being an art critic to “being the piano player in a whorehouse; you don’t have any control over the action going on upstairs.’’ While there are plenty of other, even less flattering descriptions of art critics going around — most of them coined (and fair enough) by artists — I think Hughes’s has always ... (Globe Staff, 4/25/11)

Degas’s last family portrait of his aunt at the Museum of Fine Arts

Twenty years before he painted this electrifying family portrait, which the Museum of Fine Arts bought for $20 million in 2003, Edgar Degas jotted a little note in his diary. “The people you love the most,’’ he wrote, “are the people you could hate the most.’’ (Globe Staff, 4/11/11)

Exploring the landscape of Claude Lorrain’s ‘Mill on a River’

This is a painting I like to go to when I’m in an agitated state, when my eyes have been darting senselessly from screen to screen for far too much of the day, when the world feels hectic, harried, over-illuminated, decrepit. (Globe Staff, 3/28/11)

Alice Neel’s ‘Wellesley Girls’ captures a fleeting moment

WELLESLEY — “Wellesley Girls’’ hangs, fittingly, in Wellesley College’s Davis Museum and Cultural Center. Intensely awkward yet almost casually virtuosic, it’s one of those rare portraits that creates a real psychological itch, one that can be satisfied only by more looking. (Globe Staff, 3/14/11)

Under history’s spell, a portrait of Emperor Napoleon I

This full-length portrait study came out of storage at Harvard only a few weeks back. It’s too stiffly sumptuous to qualify as great art. But as a historical document, it’s hard to beat. (Globe Staff, 2/28/11)

At the MFA, a Flemish triptych depicts a martyred saint in vivid detail

Hippolytus was, according to legend, a Roman legionary who converted to Christianity and paid a heavy price. (Globe Staff, 1/31/11)

‘The Terrace, St. Tropez’ marks Matisse’s step into the sun

This sun-drenched, mysterious picture, tucked away in the freshly refurbished Yellow Room of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, is one of the two most important paintings by Henri Matisse in Boston. The other is “Carmelina,’’ his electrifyingly direct nude in the Museum of Fine Arts. Both were painted just before his breakthrough Fauvist years. (Globe Staff, 1/17/11)

Marsden Hartley piles on the splendor in ‘Abundance’

If I intone the title of this great painting by Marsden Hartley on my tongue as I look at it — “Abundance, abundance, abundance’’ — I find it does funny things to my head. Hartley painted it in 1939-40, toward the end of his life, and really did mean it as an expression of abundance. He had returned to Maine ... (Globe Staff, 1/3/11)

From an artful pitcher, a bitter sip of history

It was only on about my 13th visit to the new Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts that I noticed this pitcher. It was made around 1876 and would have been used to serve beer in a bar. It’s a funny old object, neither the most beautiful, the most coherent, nor, by modern standards, the ... (Globe Staff, 12/20/10)

Mortal candor in honor of divine assistance at Davis Museum

WELLESLEY — This alarming, macabre, and swarmingly beautiful picture shows an upper-class Mexican woman undergoing breast cancer surgery in the late 18th century. She’s cradled by a monk, attended to by a surgeon and his assistant, and surrounded by her household retinue. The room is elaborately furnished with lavish wallpaper, a patterned rug, a decorated folding screen affording privacy, and ... (Globe Staff, 12/6/10)

Girodet’s painting captures youth in a time of revolt

What was early adolescence like in post-Revolutionary France? One associates the period in general with Rousseau’s idealized vision of childhood. But it’s easy to imagine that in the maelstrom of life during the Directory (1795-99), life for many youngsters was comparable to Berlin in the 1930s or, who knows, Baghdad in 2003: Youths, both rich and poor, taking full advantage ... (Globe Staff, 11/22/10)

Albert Bierstadt’s 'The Coming Storm' is a landscape of intimacy and imagination

Albert Bierstadt painted this picture, which is tucked away in the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, in 1869 — the same year the transcontinental railroad was completed. (Globe Staff, 11/8/10)

Willem de Kooning’s ‘Untitled’ from 1961 at Rose Art Museum

Spatter, splash, swivel, and swoop. Willem de Kooning’s “Untitled’’ is a painting I go to bed dreaming about. Full of air and light, it changes speed before your eyes. Its colors — yolky yellows and pale lemon against poached-salmon pink and a sun-kissed deep-sea blue — give it a lyricism unmatched in American art (except, of course, by other de ... (Globe Staff, 10/25/10)

Now you see it, now you don’t

Seven years after separating a discarded Volkswagen Beetle into all — and I mean all — its constituent parts and suspending them from a ceiling like a diagram transposed to three dimensions, Damián Ortega made this sculpture. (Globe Staff, 10/11/10)

‘Checkout Time at the Marlborough-Blenheim, 1978’ holds a moment in balance

The Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel in Atlantic City was for a time after its construction in 1905-06 the largest reinforced concrete building in the world. Like the building itself, this large-scale pastel portrait by the little-known artist Bradley Phillips is classically balanced and carefully constructed. The artist spread his attention evenly across the entire surface, from the window ledge at the left ... (Globe Staff, 9/27/10)

In clay sculpture, a passage to India

SALEM — Even in the delightfully dizzying art bazaar that is the Peabody Essex Museum, this highly detailed sculptural rendering of a bazaar in Calcutta leaps out at you. It has everything, from an assortment of fresh fish for sale to a visiting Chinese man. You can find a stall selling fruit, another selling spices, a dwarf, a dog, and ... (Globe Staff, 9/13/10)

Edward Savage’s family portrait with distinct quirkiness

WORCESTER — An odd little picture, this, to say the least. It was painted by Edward Savage, about three years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress in 1776. (Globe Staff, 8/16/10)

'Automedon With the Horses of Achilles’ by Henri Regnault

Henri Regnault painted this astonishing picture in Rome in 1868 at the age of 25. It shows the two divine horses of Achilles, Xanthos and Balios, with Automedon, Achilles’s muscle-bound groom. Three years later, Regnault was dead. (Globe Staff, 8/2/10)

Cy Twombly’s painting: a scribble that speaks to wild nature of art

PROVIDENCE — Cy Twombly makes pictures — if you can call them that — that are dense with the humors and vapors of indolence. This gigantic scribble, “Untitled’’ (1967), feels like a secret communique with no specific message. It’s one of the most arresting works in the permanent collection of Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art. (Globe Staff, 7/19/10)

‘Shopping for Furs’ by Polly Thayer

Some jokes are purely pictorial. They don’t require cartoon captions. Explaining them in words would be like dousing a dancing flame. (Globe Staff, 6/21/10)

Digging deep into ‘Pennsylvania Excavation’ by George Bellows

Oil painting and excavation seem to go hand in hand: It’s something about the texture and viscosity of paint, a substance that wants not just to accumulate on canvas but to be dug up and pushed around, too. (Globe Staff, 5/24/10)

In ‘The Warrior,’ dash and virtuosity

New England is bursting at the seams with great art. A lot of it is hiding in plain sight — in the permanent collections of museums, whether city institutions like the Worcester Art Museum and Portland Museum of Art or college museums in Massachusetts and neighboring states. These venues are all open to the public and studded with surprises. The ... (Globe Staff, 5/10/10)