As I walked through the exhibition I suddenly saw, from perhaps 15 feet, a painting I had never seen and did not recognize. It was a large oil painting, perhaps six feet wide, but I was not thinking about those things. I was feeling, and I was feeling awful. I was feeling that I had been punched in the stomach, but the pain, the hurt, was psychological and emotional as well as physical. It was real. I knew it came from the painting, but I didn’t know why or how.
—William Kloss, The World’s Greatest Paintings
I’ve been watching The Great Courses’ The World’s Greatest Paintings, and Professor Kloss chose Hans Hofmann’s To J.F.K. – A Thousand Roots Did Die With Thee for his final masterpiece. Kloss says everyone’s list of favorite masterpieces will be different, but he had to include this picture on his because it moves him so much. Hofmann painted the picture in 1963, right after JFK’s assassination that November. Kloss first saw it in 1976, 13 years later. The artist had managed to pierce Kloss’s heart in spite of the distance in time and space.
Have works of art ever blown you away? For me it hasn’t been painting, except for a Renoir I saw at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I think it was a full-size reproduction rather than an original, and I haven’t been able to find an image of it on the web, but I still remember the color and how alive it seemed. That was 21 years ago.
Sculpture moves me more. I still remember my feeling of awe when I saw Michelangelo’s statues in Rome and Florence over 50 years ago. Also Rodin, of course. And, not quite a world masterpiece, the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University. It was built shortly before we left in 1974, and we visited it again around 1998. I don’t remember the pieces in it, mainly the feeling of walking inside a sculpture, a sculpture with spectacular views. Remembering it still fills me with wonder.
What about you? What would be on your list?