Perfection

American paintings curator Barbara Weinberg on the different aspects of perfection.

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Not every work that gives you pleasure is necessarily major or important.

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  • Barbara Weinberg
    1280852
  • Victory  |  1892–1903; this cast, 1914 or after (by 1916)  |  Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American)  |  Bronze, gilt  |  Rogers Fund, 1917 (17.90.1)
    6971024
  • Eight-Planked Bridge (Yatsuhashi)  |  Ogata Korin (Japanese)  |  Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink and color on gilded paper  |  Purchase, Louisa Eldridge McBurney Gift, 1953 (53.7.1–2)
    1280614
  • Eight-Planked Bridge (Yatsuhashi)  |  Ogata Korin (Japanese)  |  Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink and color on gilded paper  |  Purchase, Louisa Eldridge McBurney Gift, 1953 (53.7.1–2)
    1280611
  • Seated harp player  |  ca. 2800–2700 b.c.; Early Cycladic I–II  |  Cycladic; Grotta-Pelos culture  |  Marble  |  Rogers Fund, 1947 (47.100.1)
    8371024
  • Quilt, Fan pattern  |  ca. 1900  |  American  |  Cotton  |  Purchase, Mrs. Roger Brunschwig Gift, 1988 (1988.24.1)
    10281024
  • Quilt, Fan pattern  |  ca. 1900  |  American  |  Cotton  |  Purchase, Mrs. Roger Brunschwig Gift, 1988 (1988.24.1)
    10241024
  • Quilt, Fan pattern  |  ca. 1900  |  American  |  Cotton  |  Purchase, Mrs. Roger Brunschwig Gift, 1988 (1988.24.1)
    10251024
  • Moonlight, Wood Island Light  |  1894  |  Winslow Homer (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of George A. Hearn, in memory of Arthur Hoppock Hearn, 1911 (11.116.2)
    1280973
  • Moonlight, Wood Island Light  |  1894  |  Winslow Homer (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of George A. Hearn, in memory of Arthur Hoppock Hearn, 1911 (11.116.2)
    1280720
  • Moonlight, Wood Island Light  |  1894  |  Winslow Homer (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Gift of George A. Hearn, in memory of Arthur Hoppock Hearn, 1911 (11.116.2)
    12801023
  • Steatopygous female figure  |  ca. 4500–4000 b.c.; Final Neolithic  |  Cycladic  |  Marble  |  Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.104)
    8041024
  • I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold  |  1928  |  Charles Demuth (American)  |  Oil on cardboard  |  Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.59.1)
    8441024
  • Virgin and Child in Majesty  |  1150–1200  |  French; Made in Auvergne  |  Walnut with paint, gesso, and linen  |  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1916 (16.32.194)
    5681024
  • Virgin and Child in Majesty  |  1150–1200  |  French; Made in Auvergne  |  Walnut with paint, gesso, and linen  |  Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1916 (16.32.194)
    5931024
  • Cypresses  |  1889  |  Vincent van Gogh (Dutch)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Rogers Fund, 1949 (49.30)
    8071024
  • Necklace  |  ca. 1897–99  |  René Jules Lalique (French)  |  Gold, enamel, opals, amethysts  |  Gift of Lillian Nassau, 1985 (1985.114)
    10241024
  • Necklace  |  ca. 1897–99  |  René Jules Lalique (French)  |  Gold, enamel, opals, amethysts  |  Gift of Lillian Nassau, 1985 (1985.114)
    12801024
  • Necklace  |  ca. 1897–99  |  René Jules Lalique (French)  |  Gold, enamel, opals, amethysts  |  Gift of Lillian Nassau, 1985 (1985.114)
    1280712
  • Dancers Practicing at the Barre  |  1877  |  Edgar Degas (French)  |  Mixed media on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.34)
    11051024
  • Dancers Practicing at the Barre  |  1877  |  Edgar Degas (French)  |  Mixed media on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.34)
    6891024
  • Dancers Practicing at the Barre  |  1877  |  Edgar Degas (French)  |  Mixed media on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.34)
    1280927
  • Dancers Practicing at the Barre  |  1877  |  Edgar Degas (French)  |  Mixed media on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.34)
    11051024
  • Hunting Dog  |  15th–16th century or later  |  Wrought iron  |  The Cloisters Collection, 1955 (55.61.21)
    1280768
  • Screens of Screens  |  Edo period, 17th–18th century  |  Unidentified Artist (Japanese)  |  Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on gilt paper  |  Fletcher, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation and Dodge Funds, 2010 (2010.402.1, .2)
    1280565
  • Headdress  |  19th–20th century  |  Bamana peoples; Mali  |  Wood, metal bands  |  The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964 (1978.412.435)
    6331024
  • Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes  |  1897  |  John Singer Sargent (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104)
    4801024
  • Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes  |  1897  |  John Singer Sargent (American)  |  Oil on canvas  |  Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104)
    12751024
  • Barbara Weinberg
    1280852
  • My name is Barbara Weinberg. I'm curator of American paintings and sculpture, and my topic today is "Perfection."

  • What it really involves is works that have always seemed to me to be so unalterable, so completely flawless.

  • The artist has seized the essential, that you couldn't take anything away from them or

  • add anything to them without disrupting how excellent they are. And there's no formula.

  • Every work is different and every work marches to its own tune.

  • I just so much enjoy the rhythm in this work, the way I would enjoy the rhythm in a piece of music. It seems to be just the most perfect gathering of

  • very simple elements. Quadracircles, semicircles and full circles of red cloth

  • with emanating lines arranged in such a way that they almost seem like a dance of people using fans.

  • Winslow Homer executed this overnight and I think some of the energy of the moment, some of the magic of that moonlit night on the coast of Maine is embedded, actually in the way he handles the paint in this work.

  • Viscous squiggles around the foam as it rushes towards the shore. And the perfection for me also lies in the fact of Homer's leaving out things.

  • We just have a bit of the moon glow, and then the tiniest red dot of the lighthouse itself sort of enhances the monochrome of the canvas as a whole.

  • I see a perfect sculpture in the artist's concentration on the essential geometric elements that comprise this figure, and the restraint with which he, or she, articulates the essence of feminine fertility.

  • One of the common denominators for me of perfection is a kind of internal rhythmic structure. When I use the term "rhythm," I don't mean, necessarily, "energized." Sometimes rhythms are really grave and still.

  • Here, the gravity of the message is emphasized by the stillness and the control in the

  • concentric folds that articulate the drapery.

  • By contrast, Vincent van Gogh uses a tremendous amount of energy to create a vibrating environment to express the experience he had in Saint-Rémy, the asylum into which he checked himself. Everything in nature here comes to life: the trees, the clouds, the sky, the distant hills, even that slice of a waxing moon.

  • This amazing Necklace from about the turn of the century by René Lalique.

  • If you look carefully you'll see female forms. The arms splay out at the bottom and they encircle or embrace the forms of swans.

  • He's playing with all sorts of natural forms and then these wonderful stones that have a life of their own.

  • Something that often appeals to me in a work of art is humor. And one of the girls at the right

  • has her leg extended, her elbow crooked, and Degas has added at the left

  • a watering can that has its spout extended and its handle crooked.

  • Degas' very artful placement of that seems quite intentional as an artistic device and as a joke.

  • I love especially being reminded that not every work that gives you pleasure is necessarily major or important, but that many works that are relatively inconsequential can be deemed to be perfect. This little Hunting Dog seems to be the quintessence of restraint, and rhythm, and humor.

  • I've always thought of the artist as having the whole universe of choice at her or his disposal

  • and whether it's the matter of how large to work, what subject to depict

  • what colors to choose, what surface to choose, any of these are subject to

  • selection. From the whole universe or realm of choices she or he made

  • the choices that make that particular work very, very effective.

  • 17.90.1
    Victory, 1892–1903; this cast, 1914 or after (by 1916), Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American), Bronze, gilt Rogers Fund, 1917 (17.90.1)
  • 53.7.1-2
    Eight-Planked Bridge (Yatsuhashi), Ogata Korin (Japanese), Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink and color on gilded paper Purchase, Louisa Eldridge McBurney Gift, 1953 (53.7.1–2)
  • 47.100.1
    Seated harp player, ca. 2800–2700 b.c.; Early Cycladic I–II, Cycladic; Grotta-Pelos culture, Marble Rogers Fund, 1947 (47.100.1)
  • 1988.24.1
    Quilt, Fan pattern, ca. 1900, American, Cotton Purchase, Mrs. Roger Brunschwig Gift, 1988 (1988.24.1)
  • 11.116.2
    Moonlight, Wood Island Light, 1894, Winslow Homer (American), Oil on canvas Gift of George A. Hearn, in memory of Arthur Hoppock Hearn, 1911 (11.116.2)
  • 1972.118.104
    Steatopygous female figure, ca. 4500–4000 b.c.; Final Neolithic, Cycladic, Marble Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.104)
  • 49.59.1
    I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, 1928, Charles Demuth (American), Oil on cardboard Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.59.1)
  • 16.32.194
    Virgin and Child in Majesty, 1150–1200, French; Made in Auvergne, Walnut with paint, gesso, and linen Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1916 (16.32.194)
  • 49.30
    Cypresses, 1889, Vincent van Gogh (Dutch), Oil on canvas Rogers Fund, 1949 (49.30)
  • 1985.114
    Necklace, ca. 1897–99, René Jules Lalique (French), Gold, enamel, opals, amethysts Gift of Lillian Nassau, 1985 (1985.114)
  • 29.100.34
    Dancers Practicing at the Barre, 1877, Edgar Degas (French), Mixed media on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.34)
  • 55.61.21
    Hunting Dog, 15th–16th century or later, Wrought iron The Cloisters Collection, 1955 (55.61.21)
  • 2010.402.1,.2_v001
    Screens of Screens, Edo period, 17th–18th century, Unidentified Artist (Japanese), Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on gilt paper Fletcher, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation and Dodge Funds, 2010 (2010.402.1, .2)
  • 1978.412.435
    Headdress, 19th–20th century, Bamana peoples; Mali, Wood, metal bands The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964 (1978.412.435)
  • 38.104
    Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes, 1897, John Singer Sargent (American), Oil on canvas Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104)
  • Victory, 1892–1903; this cast, 1914 or after (by 1916), Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American), Bronze, gilt Rogers Fund, 1917 (17.90.1)
    Eight-Planked Bridge (Yatsuhashi), Ogata Korin (Japanese), Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink and color on gilded paper Purchase, Louisa Eldridge McBurney Gift, 1953 (53.7.1–2)
    Seated harp player, ca. 2800–2700 b.c.; Early Cycladic I–II, Cycladic; Grotta-Pelos culture, Marble Rogers Fund, 1947 (47.100.1)
    Quilt, Fan pattern, ca. 1900, American, Cotton Purchase, Mrs. Roger Brunschwig Gift, 1988 (1988.24.1)
    Moonlight, Wood Island Light, 1894, Winslow Homer (American), Oil on canvas Gift of George A. Hearn, in memory of Arthur Hoppock Hearn, 1911 (11.116.2)
    Steatopygous female figure, ca. 4500–4000 b.c.; Final Neolithic, Cycladic, Marble Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.104)
    I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, 1928, Charles Demuth (American), Oil on cardboard Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.59.1)
    Virgin and Child in Majesty, 1150–1200, French; Made in Auvergne, Walnut with paint, gesso, and linen Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1916 (16.32.194)
    Cypresses, 1889, Vincent van Gogh (Dutch), Oil on canvas Rogers Fund, 1949 (49.30)
    Necklace, ca. 1897–99, René Jules Lalique (French), Gold, enamel, opals, amethysts Gift of Lillian Nassau, 1985 (1985.114)
    Dancers Practicing at the Barre, 1877, Edgar Degas (French), Mixed media on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.34)
    Hunting Dog, 15th–16th century or later, Wrought iron The Cloisters Collection, 1955 (55.61.21)
    Screens of Screens, Edo period, 17th–18th century, Unidentified Artist (Japanese), Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on gilt paper Fletcher, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation and Dodge Funds, 2010 (2010.402.1, .2)
    Headdress, 19th–20th century, Bamana peoples; Mali, Wood, metal bands The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964 (1978.412.435)
    Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes, 1897, John Singer Sargent (American), Oil on canvas Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104)
    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.

    Victory
    1892–1903; this cast, 1914 or after (by 1916)
    Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American)
    Bronze, gilt
    Rogers Fund, 1917 (17.90.1)
    On view: Gallery 762
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Eight-Planked Bridge (Yatsuhashi)
    Ogata Korin (Japanese)
    Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink and color on gilded paper
    Purchase, Louisa Eldridge McBurney Gift, 1953 (53.7.1–2)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Seated harp player
    ca. 2800–2700 b.c.; Early Cycladic I–II
    Cycladic; Grotta-Pelos culture
    Marble
    Rogers Fund, 1947 (47.100.1)
    On view: Gallery 151
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Quilt, Fan pattern
    ca. 1900
    American
    Cotton
    Purchase, Mrs. Roger Brunschwig Gift, 1988 (1988.24.1)
    Not on view
    American Decorative ArtsFirst and Second Floors
    Moonlight, Wood Island Light
    1894
    Winslow Homer (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Gift of George A. Hearn, in memory of Arthur Hoppock Hearn, 1911 (11.116.2)
    On view: Gallery 767
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors
    Steatopygous female figure
    ca. 4500–4000 b.c.; Final Neolithic
    Cycladic
    Marble
    Bequest of Walter C. Baker, 1971 (1972.118.104)
    On view: Gallery 150
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold
    1928
    Charles Demuth (American)
    Oil on cardboard
    Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.59.1)
    On view: Gallery 910
    Modern and Contemporary ArtSecond Floor
    Virgin and Child in Majesty
    1150–1200
    French; Made in Auvergne
    Walnut with paint, gesso, and linen
    Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1916 (16.32.194)
    On view: Gallery 304
    Medieval Art and The CloistersFirst Floor
    Cypresses
    1889
    Vincent van Gogh (Dutch)
    Oil on canvas
    Rogers Fund, 1949 (49.30)
    On view: Gallery 826
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Necklace
    ca. 1897–99
    René Jules Lalique (French)
    Gold, enamel, opals, amethysts
    Gift of Lillian Nassau, 1985 (1985.114)
    On view: Gallery 909
    Modern and Contemporary ArtSecond Floor
    Dancers Practicing at the Barre
    1877
    Edgar Degas (French)
    Mixed media on canvas
    H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.34)
    On view: Gallery 815
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Hunting Dog
    15th–16th century or later
    Wrought iron
    The Cloisters Collection, 1955 (55.61.21)
    On view: Gallery 307
    Medieval Art and The CloistersFirst Floor
    Screens of Screens
    Edo period, 17th–18th century
    Unidentified Artist (Japanese)
    Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink, color, and gold on gilt paper
    Fletcher, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation and Dodge Funds, 2010 (2010.402.1, .2)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Headdress
    19th–20th century
    Bamana peoples; Mali
    Wood, metal bands
    The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964 (1978.412.435)
    On view: Gallery 350
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes
    1897
    John Singer Sargent (American)
    Oil on canvas
    Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104)
    On view: Gallery 771
    American Paintings and SculptureFirst and Second Floors

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