Top Five Musically-Inspired Paintings Displayed in New York

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Picasso's Three Musicians (1921) Picasso's Three Musicians (1921) (MoMA)

American artist Stanton-MacDonald-Wright once said, “Whenever man had a desire for heavenly intoxication he turned to music, yet color is just as capable as music with providing us with ecstasies and delights.” Paintings like MacDonald-Wright’s “Oriental”; Synchromy in Blue-Green attempted to link color and form with music, but he was not the first artist to seek inspiration in music. We’ve picked our top five musically inspired works of art hanging in New York museums.

1. Picasso's Three Musicians

No trio in New York is as famous at Picasso’s Three Musicians, hanging in the Museum of Modern Art (11 W 53rd St.). The 1921 masterpiece sets three comedia dell’arte figures (including Pierrot on clarinet – a stand-in for the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and Harlequin – with whom Picasso identified, on guitar) in a late cubist-style scene. The composition, as well as a similar one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art,  was influenced by Picasso’s original costume and set designs on the Ballets Russes production of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella.

2. Kandinsky's Composition 8

Like MacDonald-Wright, Wassily Kandinsky wanted to archive the visual equivalent of writing a symphony with his paintings. Inspired by a performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin, the artist used colors and shapes to evoke sounds and named his paintings as if they were musical pieces, such as Composition 8, in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s permanent collection (1071 Fifth Ave.).

3. Whistler at The Frick Collection

Like many composers, James McNeill Whistler went through musical periods in his painting career. In the 1860s he started working on what he called harmonies, then experimented with nocturnes in the early 70s and eventually moved on to symphonies. (Vanity Fair even lampooned him for his title choices.) Two such works, Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux, and Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs France  hang as bookends in The Frick Collection (1 E 70th St.).

4. Chagall's The Triumph of Music and The Source of Music

Perhaps no artist spent as much time working with musicians and performers than Marc Chagall. His whimsical style came partially from years of creating sets and costumes for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. He later designed ballet productions in New York for Leonide Massine and operas in NYC and Paris. His love for music in all forms manifests in two large murals framing the Metropolitan Opera (Lincoln Center Plaza, Broadway at 64th St.): The Triumph of Music and The Source of Music. Though the Opera house used the paintings as collateral for a loan, general manager Peter Gelb said the organization has no intention of giving up the masterpieces.

5. O'Keefe's Music, Pink and Blue No. 2

Georgia O’Keefe is best known for her cattle skulls and flower buds, but earlier in her career, she painted a series of abstract paintings using “the idea that music could be translated into something for the eye,” she once said. The title alone of her 1918 painting, Music, Pink and Blue No. 2, at the Whitney Museum of Art (945 Madison Ave.), references her belief.

Weigh in: What is your favorite painting about music? Leave your thoughts below:

Chagall photo: Flickr/niallkennedy

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Comments [8]

Kevin from New York City

I make Art inspired by Music as often as possible. Not a big name yet, but maybe someday..

May. 22 2014 08:37 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Musicians themselves often are excellent artists in the fine arts as well.
Caruso, Tony Bennett, Red Skelton, who also composed symphonic works heard at Carnegie Hall, yes the comedian Red Skelton and scores of others including authors have written how they may have music on all the time to help with their inspiration for "themes." I am a professional Wagnerian heldentenor and opera composer and head a school where technique to acquire proficiency in the vocal and dramaturgy aspects draws out the passion and, like what we find in the fine arts, we all crave viscerally the all-important hedonistic pleasure.

Apr. 24 2012 08:35 PM

Pardon me for being nit-picky, but the title of your article is "Top Five Musically-Inspired Paintings...," while your lead paragraph has, "our top five musically inspired works of art."

You can't have it both ways. While some across-the-ponders don't have a problem with the former, most US of A style sheets do not support the hyphen.

At any rate, both in one story is a no-no. I say drop the hyphen. Musically Inspired.

Content is great.

Apr. 23 2012 08:06 PM
SZG from Garden City, NY

How can the Vermeer, "Woman with a Lute" not make the list?

Apr. 23 2012 06:16 PM
George Damasevitz from Vestal, New York

Adolphe-William Bouguereau's "Virgin of the Angels" places high on the list of favorites. As the angels play a lullaby on their strings before Mary and the infant Jesus, we are reminded that this art has found favor with both God and man.

Apr. 23 2012 12:17 PM
Alan Hyde

Caravaggio, The Musicians, Met. Matisse, The Piano Lesson, MoMA.

Apr. 23 2012 12:07 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

Don't forget the Titian at the Metropolitan Museum depicting a lutenist serenading the goddess Venus. Shakespeare wrote "If music be the food of love,play on"; Titian painted it.

Apr. 20 2012 04:39 PM
Pat Brand from East Rockaway, NY

"Broadway Boogie Woogie" by Mondrian would be my entry. You feel pulsating music, the blairing of taxi horns, the enery of the city.

Apr. 20 2012 09:41 AM

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