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Phoenix Art Museum

Updated on July 12, 2009

European Collection

For my museum visit, I travelled to the Phoenix Art Museum. Before I even entered the building the elegant structural design took my breath away. Outside the museum a beautiful, shower like waterfall fell into a pool of crisp, blue water. The interior of the museum, like the outside, combined tasteful art and a dazzling design to create a convivial feeling. As I viewed the many collections of art, I was most intrigued with the European Collection. The three pieces that struck my eye were the Pollice Verso by Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Wolves Descending from the Alps by William Hamilton, and Still Life by André Derain.

            Pollice Verso is a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme that shows a gladiator with his foot on the neck of another gladiator, and he is looking toward the crowd to see if he should kill his prisoner. The crowd in the seats of the coliseum is giving the thumbs down to signify that the defeated gladiator should be executed. I have always been fascinated by the Roman Empire and especially how they fought, so when I saw this painting I was immediately interested. When I first looked at this picture I noticed the gladiator on top of the other with his sword and shield in his hands, but as I examined it closer I saw that the gladiator was looking up at the crowd. Then I realized the gladiator was asking the audience whether he should kill the man at his feet, or if he should let him go. The crowd gave the thumbs down as if to say, “Kill this man, he is not worthy to live.” To the left of the crowd members giving the thumbs down there is a special seat that appears to be holding either the emperor or another person of great influence. The more I looked at this painting the more I respect the artist, because of the painstaking detail of all the people, the designs on the walls, and even the small streaks of light illuminating small parts of the battlefield. The expression on the man’s face who is about to get annihilated shows his sadness and his pain as he reaches an arm up toward the onlookers as he pleads for life. The realism of this battle scene brings the noise of the screaming fans to life; you can feel the pain of the defeated gladiator, and the triumph of the victor. Jean-Léon Gérôme’s attention to detail enticed me to stare at the painting for more time than any other picture, but everywhere I looked I continued to find and experience something new, and that is why Pollice Verso is my favorite painting at the Phoenix Art Museum.

            The second painting that struck me as peculiarly interesting was The Wolves Descending from the Alps. This picture consists of a man on a horse with a sword who appears to be protecting a woman on a horse from a pack of hungry wolves. When I first gazed at this picture I thought that the man was attacking the woman because of the angle of the sword and the look of sheer terror on the woman’s face, but as I peered at the man I noticed his eyes were abnormally large. At first I assumed that the artist had made a mistake with the proportions on the man’s face, but then I remembered about line of sight so I tried to see what the man was looking at. That’s when I noticed he wasn’t attacking the woman, he was saving her from the wolf that had bitten her horse. I then looked behind the wolf and realized that a whole pack of wolves had intended to make the woman and her horse their dinner. As the scene engulfed my thoughts, I became curious as to why a woman was alone on a white horse during a storm. The only explanation I could come up with was that she was of royalty and needed to be somewhere without anybody knowing so she only brought one guard or the man just happened to be in the right place at the right time to save her. Although this scene is not as intricately detailed as Pollice Verso, it did have a sort of memorizing quality that almost forced you to stare at it longer than you intended. This quality and the way the artist portrays this story caused is why this painting interested me.

            The third and final painting that I found to be of significance was Still Life by André Derain. At first glance this appears to be like any other boring picture of fruit and wine glasses on a table, but after further inspection I realized that it was painted onto a French newspaper. Since André Derain painted this scene onto newspaper it was separated from the thousands of other still lives with fruit on a table. Although the painting is not incredibly detailed I know from experience that a drawing a still life is no easy task. Most people would say. “Oh that’s easy, I can do that. All they did was paint on newspaper and their art was purchased and put on display at a museum!” This may be true that most artists could draw this scene and anybody can paint on newspaper, but André Derain was the first one to do it and therefore their art is set apart. The artist was creative enough to take an everyday thing like newspaper and to draw an everyday scene of fruit and put them together to create this masterpiece. With only I few strokes the painter was able to make the wine glasses glisten, and the fruit ripe. This serene picture has many small details that without further inspection would not be noticed. One of these details is the cloth draped in the background that gives the painting a darker and warmer tone. The dull antique table that holds the fruit is bland so the eye is drawn to one of the more interesting details such as the wine glasses or the apple that is cut in half. The creativity of this piece is what drew my eye to it and this is why I believe André Derain was one of the more creative artists of his time.

            I enjoyed all of my time at the Phoenix Art Museum, from the beautiful layout and design of the museum itself, to the wonderful works of art that it housed. During my tour of the museum I was exposed to several different genres of art from all over the world. Of the many galleries inside the museum, the European Collection was my favorite because of its unique and detailed pieces. Of the many paintings inside the European gallery, three of them grabbed my attention and really got me thinking, Pollice Verso by Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Wolves Descending from the Alps by William Hamilton, and Still Life by André Derain.

Pollice Verso
Pollice Verso


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