Brooding

Managing editor Mike Sittenfeld on how
thinking deeply about life's meaning
amplifies our experience.

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There's something at stake when you are contemplating or wondering or worrying. You're trying to figure out just what it is that's important to you.

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  • Mike Sittenfeld
    1280852
  • The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton  |  1900  |  Thomas Eakins (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1917 (17.172)
    5201024
  • John Haviland  |  1828  |  John Neagle (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Fund, 1938 (38.82)
    8051024
  • Monsieur Suisse  |  1861  |  Gustave Courbet (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.120)
    8471024
  • The Third-Class Carriage  |  ca. 1862–64  |  Honoré Daumier (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.129)
    1280931
  • The Third-Class Carriage  |  ca. 1862–64  |  Honoré Daumier (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.129)
    7581024
  • The Third-Class Carriage  |  ca. 1862–64  |  Honoré Daumier (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.129)
    9061024
  • Young Man and Woman in an Inn ("Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart")  |  1623  |  Frans Hals (Dutch)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.602)
    7611024
  • Portrait of a Woman with a Dog  |  ca. 1769  |  Jean Honoré Fragonard (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Fletcher Fund, 1937 (37.118)
    8121024
  • The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog)  |  1903–4  |  Claude Monet (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Julia W. Emmons, 1956 (56.135.6)
    11611024
  • A Woman Gathering Faggots at Ville-d'Avray  |  ca. 1871–74  |  Camille Corot (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher Collection, Bequest of Isaac D. Fletcher, 1917 (17.120.225)
    8131024
  • A Woman Gathering Faggots at Ville-d'Avray  |  ca. 1871–74  |  Camille Corot (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher Collection, Bequest of Isaac D. Fletcher, 1917 (17.120.225)
    1280907
  • Olive Orchard  |  1889  |  Vincent van Gogh (Dutch)  |  Oil on canvas  |  The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1998, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002 (1998.325.1)
    12801014
  • Olive Orchard  |  1889  |  Vincent van Gogh (Dutch)  |  Oil on canvas  |  The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1998, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002 (1998.325.1)
    8281024
  • Clouds and Water  |  1930  |  Arthur Dove (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.70.40)
    1280968
  • Alfred Stieglitz and His Daughter Katherine  |  1904  |  Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg)  |  Platinum print  |  Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.55.228)
    9721024
  • Georgia O'Keeffe  |  1922  |  Alfred Stieglitz (American)  |  Palladium print  |  Gift of Georgia O'Keeffe, through the generosity of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation and Jennifer and Joseph Duke, 1997 (1997.61.66)
    1280942
  • Study Head of an Old Man with a White Beard  |  ca. 1617–20  |  Anthony van Dyck (Flemish)  |  Oil on wood  |  Egleston Fund, 1922 (22.221)
    7961024
  • Portrait of a young woman in red  |  Roman Period, 90–120 a.d.  |  Egypt  |  Encaustic, limewood, gilding  |  Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.181.6)
    5841024
  • Portrait of an Old Man  |  ca. 1475  |  Hans Memling (Netherlandish)  |  Oil on wood  |  Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.648)
    7461024
  • [James Joyce]  |  1926  |  Berenice Abbott (American)  |  Gelatin silver print  |  Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005 (2005.100.624)  |  © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics Ltd. Inc.
    7611024
  • [James Joyce]  |  1926  |  Berenice Abbott (American)  |  Gelatin silver print  |  Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005 (2005.100.624)  |  © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics Ltd. Inc.
    10911024
  • [James Joyce]  |  1926  |  Berenice Abbott (American)  |  Gelatin silver print  |  Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005 (2005.100.624)  |  © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics Ltd. Inc.
    8381024
  • The Young Sailor  |  1906  |  Henri Matisse (French)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998 (1999.363.41)  |  © 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    8371024
  • Aristotle with a Bust of Homer  |  1653  |  Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Purchase, special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1961 (61.198)
    9771024
  • Aristotle with a Bust of Homer  |  1653  |  Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Purchase, special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1961 (61.198)
    604742
  • Rodin—The Thinker  |  1902  |  Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg)  |  Gum bichromate print  |  Gilman Collection, Purchase, Harriette and Noel Levine Gift, 2005 (2005.100.289)
    12611024
  • Mike Sittenfeld
    1280852
  • My name is Michael Sittenfeld, and I work in the Editorial department here at the Museum. My topic is "Brooding."

  • Brooding means thinking about something of importance. There's something at stake when you're

  • contemplating, or wondering, or

  • worrying. You're trying to figure out just what it is that's important to you.

  • I'm on the subway almost every day. I daresay that most people are not thinking in the way that these figures are thinking. They have nothing to distract them.

  • They don't have any devices they can listen to. This is a nineteenth-century scene which cannot be replicated in the twenty first century.

  • I knew that something very important was happening for at least the woman in the foreground, because of the way that her hand is gripping her child. So much of the meaning of her life and so much of what's important to her is there, in front of her, on her lap.

  • You know, there are some works where there's no serious thought going on.

  • This Fragonard, probably the dog is thinking more deeply than his owner.

  • In contrast to that, there's nothing that plunges us into our own psyche as much as a scene where we have to work to discern the figures in it. It is possible for a landscape to have a kind of brooding quality.

  • This dark, cold, drafty, damp atmosphere with this illusory vista out of reach

  • throws you back on yourself. It leads you naturally to reflect on things. It causes my mind to take flight.

  • Even though this van Gogh is a daytime scene, there's something turbulent going on in the work. The ground around the trunks of the trees seems to be gripping them, almost pulling or holding onto the trees. There's a drama going on in the painting.

  • Van Gogh was looking out his window from the sanitarium, he was seeing life growing, active, and perhaps even demonic or forbidding or terrifying.

  • Paintings don't have to have an obvious narrative to tell a story. None of us are living a story that's been written ahead of time.

  • We're all going through life trying to figure out what we're doing. It's okay to struggle. It's actually an essential, vital part of life to wonder about the meaning of things.

  • We all pick up on cues from other people. The way someone's eyebrow goes up, the way someone may frown, the tilt of someone's head.

  • All of those tell you something about someone's thoughts before they are even articulated.

  • This young Egyptian woman, you can see her mind working. Her eyes have a very direct cast. It's a remarkably respectful and perhaps even affectionate way of showing this woman, who died tragically at a young age.

  • I'm not naturally a brooding sort. I tend to be pretty irreverent. I tend to see the comedy in things and the incongruous. I'm especially moved by this

  • photograph of James Joyce. There was so much joy and merriment and comedy in Joyce's writing, and yet this practically defines the word brooding because of his expression, his downward look, he seems to be despairing. At this point, Joyce had many eye operations and was really suffering.

  • He's holding his glasses and also an eye patch.

  • In some ways brooding may even be the wellspring of comedy. If you don't think carefully and

  • deeply about things you might not be able to identify and enjoy those lighter moments and those things that can give you great joy in your life.

  • It's not good to worry about every single thing. If you don't overdo your brooding, I think it can be a very healthy thing, because

  • when you're done with your brooding, you've actually discovered things you wouldn't have discovered otherwise.

  • The key for me is to think in a sustained and deep way. Life is richer and more

  • rewarding if you do that.

  • 17.172
    The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton, 1900, Thomas Eakins (American), Oil on canvas John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1917 (17.172)
  • 38.82
    John Haviland, 1828, John Neagle (American), Oil on canvas The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Fund, 1938 (38.82)
  • 29.100.120
    Monsieur Suisse, 1861, Gustave Courbet (French), Oil on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.120)
  • 29.100.129
    The Third-Class Carriage, ca. 1862–64, Honoré Daumier (French), Oil on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.129)
  • 14.40.602
    Young Man and Woman in an Inn ("Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart"), 1623, Frans Hals (Dutch), Oil on canvas Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.602)
  • 37.118
    Portrait of a Woman with a Dog, ca. 1769, Jean Honoré Fragonard (French), Oil on canvas Fletcher Fund, 1937 (37.118)
  • 56.135.6
    The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog), 1903–4, Claude Monet (French), Oil on canvas Bequest of Julia W. Emmons, 1956 (56.135.6)
  • 17.120.225
    A Woman Gathering Faggots at Ville-d'Avray, ca. 1871–74, Camille Corot (French), Oil on canvas Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher Collection, Bequest of Isaac D. Fletcher, 1917 (17.120.225)
  • 1998.325.1
    Olive Orchard, 1889, Vincent van Gogh (Dutch), Oil on canvas The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1998, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002 (1998.325.1)
  • 49.70.40
    Clouds and Water, 1930, Arthur Dove (American), Oil on canvas Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.70.40)
  • 49.55.228
    Alfred Stieglitz and His Daughter Katherine, 1904, Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg), Platinum print Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.55.228)
  • 1997.61.66
    Georgia O'Keeffe, 1922, Alfred Stieglitz (American), Palladium print Gift of Georgia O'Keeffe, through the generosity of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation and Jennifer and Joseph Duke, 1997 (1997.61.66)
  • 22.221
    Study Head of an Old Man with a White Beard, ca. 1617–20, Anthony van Dyck (Flemish), Oil on wood Egleston Fund, 1922 (22.221)
  • 09.181.6
    Portrait of a young woman in red, Roman Period, 90–120 a.d., Egypt, Encaustic, limewood, gilding Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.181.6)
  • 14.40.648
    Portrait of an Old Man, ca. 1475, Hans Memling (Netherlandish), Oil on wood Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.648)
  • 2005.100.624
    [James Joyce], 1926, Berenice Abbott (American), Gelatin silver print Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005 (2005.100.624) © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics Ltd. Inc.
  • 1999.363.41
    The Young Sailor, 1906, Henri Matisse (French), Oil on canvas Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998 (1999.363.41) © 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • 61.198
    Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, 1653, Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch), Oil on canvas Purchase, special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1961 (61.198)
  • 2005.100.289
    Rodin—The Thinker, 1902, Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg), Gum bichromate print Gilman Collection, Purchase, Harriette and Noel Levine Gift, 2005 (2005.100.289)
  • The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton, 1900, Thomas Eakins (American), Oil on canvas John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1917 (17.172)
    John Haviland, 1828, John Neagle (American), Oil on canvas The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Fund, 1938 (38.82)
    Monsieur Suisse, 1861, Gustave Courbet (French), Oil on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.120)
    The Third-Class Carriage, ca. 1862–64, Honoré Daumier (French), Oil on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.129)
    Young Man and Woman in an Inn ("Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart"), 1623, Frans Hals (Dutch), Oil on canvas Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.602)
    Portrait of a Woman with a Dog, ca. 1769, Jean Honoré Fragonard (French), Oil on canvas Fletcher Fund, 1937 (37.118)
    The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog), 1903–4, Claude Monet (French), Oil on canvas Bequest of Julia W. Emmons, 1956 (56.135.6)
    A Woman Gathering Faggots at Ville-d'Avray, ca. 1871–74, Camille Corot (French), Oil on canvas Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher Collection, Bequest of Isaac D. Fletcher, 1917 (17.120.225)
    Olive Orchard, 1889, Vincent van Gogh (Dutch), Oil on canvas The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1998, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002 (1998.325.1)
    Clouds and Water, 1930, Arthur Dove (American), Oil on canvas Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.70.40)
    Alfred Stieglitz and His Daughter Katherine, 1904, Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg), Platinum print Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.55.228)
    Georgia O'Keeffe, 1922, Alfred Stieglitz (American), Palladium print Gift of Georgia O'Keeffe, through the generosity of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation and Jennifer and Joseph Duke, 1997 (1997.61.66)
    Study Head of an Old Man with a White Beard, ca. 1617–20, Anthony van Dyck (Flemish), Oil on wood Egleston Fund, 1922 (22.221)
    Portrait of a young woman in red, Roman Period, 90–120 a.d., Egypt, Encaustic, limewood, gilding Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.181.6)
    Portrait of an Old Man, ca. 1475, Hans Memling (Netherlandish), Oil on wood Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.648)
    [James Joyce], 1926, Berenice Abbott (American), Gelatin silver print Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005 (2005.100.624) © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics Ltd. Inc.
    The Young Sailor, 1906, Henri Matisse (French), Oil on canvas Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998 (1999.363.41) © 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, 1653, Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch), Oil on canvas Purchase, special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1961 (61.198)
    Rodin—The Thinker, 1902, Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg), Gum bichromate print Gilman Collection, Purchase, Harriette and Noel Levine Gift, 2005 (2005.100.289)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton
    1900
    Thomas Eakins (American)
    Oil on canvas
    John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1917 (17.172)
    On view: Gallery 771
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    John Haviland
    1828
    John Neagle (American)
    Oil on canvas
    The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Fund, 1938 (38.82)
    On view: Gallery 731
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Monsieur Suisse
    1861
    Gustave Courbet (French)
    Oil on canvas
    H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.120)
    On view: Gallery 809
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    The Third-Class Carriage
    ca. 1862–64
    Honoré Daumier (French)
    Oil on canvas
    H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.129)
    On view: Gallery 802
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Young Man and Woman in an Inn ("Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart")
    1623
    Frans Hals (Dutch)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.602)
    On view: Gallery 634
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Portrait of a Woman with a Dog
    ca. 1769
    Jean Honoré Fragonard (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Fletcher Fund, 1937 (37.118)
    On view: Gallery 615
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog)
    1903–4
    Claude Monet (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Julia W. Emmons, 1956 (56.135.6)
    On view: Gallery 819
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    A Woman Gathering Faggots at Ville-d'Avray
    ca. 1871–74
    Camille Corot (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher Collection, Bequest of Isaac D. Fletcher, 1917 (17.120.225)
    On view: Gallery 803
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Olive Orchard
    1889
    Vincent van Gogh (Dutch)
    Oil on canvas
    The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 1998, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002 (1998.325.1)
    On view: Gallery 823
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Clouds and Water
    1930
    Arthur Dove (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.70.40)
    Not on view
    Modern and Contemporary ArtSecond Floor
    Alfred Stieglitz and His Daughter Katherine
    1904
    Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg)
    Platinum print
    Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.55.228)
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    Georgia O'Keeffe
    1922
    Alfred Stieglitz (American)
    Palladium print
    Gift of Georgia O'Keeffe, through the generosity of The Georgia O'Keeffe Foundation and Jennifer and Joseph Duke, 1997 (1997.61.66)
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    Study Head of an Old Man with a White Beard
    ca. 1617–20
    Anthony van Dyck (Flemish)
    Oil on wood
    Egleston Fund, 1922 (22.221)
    On view: Gallery 630
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Portrait of a young woman in red
    Roman Period, 90–120 a.d.
    Egypt
    Encaustic, limewood, gilding
    Rogers Fund, 1909 (09.181.6)
    Not on view
    Egyptian ArtFirst Floor
    Portrait of an Old Man
    ca. 1475
    Hans Memling (Netherlandish)
    Oil on wood
    Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 (14.40.648)
    On view: Gallery 644
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    [James Joyce]
    1926
    Berenice Abbott (American)
    Gelatin silver print
    Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005 (2005.100.624)
    © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics Ltd. Inc.
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    The Young Sailor
    1906
    Henri Matisse (French)
    Oil on canvas
    Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998 (1999.363.41)
    © 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    On view: Gallery 904
    Modern and Contemporary ArtSecond Floor
    Aristotle with a Bust of Homer
    1653
    Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch)
    Oil on canvas
    Purchase, special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1961 (61.198)
    On view: Gallery 637
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Rodin—The Thinker
    1902
    Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg)
    Gum bichromate print
    Gilman Collection, Purchase, Harriette and Noel Levine Gift, 2005 (2005.100.289)
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor

    © 2011 The Metropolitan Museum of Art