The Mona Lisa, Starry Night, Dalí’s Persistence of Memory – we all need to see these show-stoppers, but visitors can forget that they’re in a museum full of equally beautiful, intriguing artworks. Because of their more famous neighbours hanging nearby, these 7 paintings and art installations are some of the most undeservedly overlooked masterworks in the world.
London: Saint Margaret of Antioch
You’re in London, at the National Gallery, and your first port of call – naturally – will be Van Gogh’s iconic Sunflowers, hanging in Room 43. But for one of the gallery’s curators, Francesca Whitlum-Cooper, it’s Francisco de Zurbaran’s Saint Margaret of Antioch (in Gallery 30) that shouldn’t be missed.
“Every time I look at Zurbaran’s picture of Saint Margaret,” Whitlum-Cooper says, “I fall in love with the bright red of her skirt, her beautifully painted alforjas, or saddlebags, the amazing geometric swirls of her straw hat – it’s a surprise every time to look down at her feet and remember that there’s a menacing dragon prowling around them.”
“To me, there’s something very modern and powerful about Saint Margaret’s direct gaze,” the curator continues, “so cool and calm, so confident in her faith, the dragon’s presence doesn’t bother her in the least.”
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Paris: Death of the Virgin
While the notorious crowd swarms around Leonardo’s most famous work, the Mona Lisa, at the Louvre, slip away to see Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin (1606). This Italian baroque masterpiece shows the Virgin Mary’s mortal body as you’ve never seen it depicted before. The painting is so intense that it was rejected by the monks at the church it was intended for, Santa Maria della Scala in Rome.
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Los Angeles: Portrait of a Girl/Still Life With Fan
When you go to LA’s most famous art museum, Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, chances are you’ll flock to see Diego Rivera’s Día des Flores (Flower Day), 1925. It’s one of his most iconic depictions of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, and the first major Rivera painting to enter a public art collection in the U.S. But as you meander through the collections, be sure not to overlook the paintings of German expressionist Max Pechstein.
Although he’s not as well known as his contemporaries Wassily Kandinsky and Emil Nolde, he played an important part in the breakthrough of the style. Pechstein survived the turmoil of the 20th century – and was incredibly skilled at translating this onto the canvas. His painting Portrait of a Girl/Still Life With Fan, painted in 1919–20, captures the dark, meditative atmosphere of the post-war period in Europe.
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Seoul: Matrilineal Society in Asia – China #4
You can find the work of American greats, such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, at the Seoul Museum of Art. But it would be a shame to miss the emerging Korean artists that the museum nurtures and showcases. Admire Bek Ji Soon’s photographic portraits of women from across South East Asia, particularly her photograph Matrilineal Society in Asia – China #4, in which a young girl in traditional clothes – confident and joyful in her gaze – sits front and centre. It’s a unique way to get acquainted with the city’s locals and learn more about the culture.
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New York: One: Number 31, 1950
If you’d rather avoid the masses crowded around Starry Night, another of MoMA’s must-see paintings is on the same floor. Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950 is an iconic piece of American abstract expressionism that is often overlooked since it doesn’t really “look like” anything in the conventional sense. But what you’re really seeing in this painting is Pollock’s dramatic, dynamic movements, throwing paint (and himself) around. It can’t be missed.
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Mumbai: Maratha Lady
While visiting Mumbai’s renowned colonial-era Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, it would be difficult to miss Rao Bahadur MV Dhurandhar’s Court Scene, an early 20th-century watercolour. Bahadur was known for capturing the busy scenes and colourful characters of early 20th-century Mumbai, then known as Bombay, and this is a perfect example.
But another of his works, Maratha Lady from 1916, should not be overlooked. Rather than depicting a busy scene, here Bahadur focuses on one strong woman looking straight at the viewer, with a rural scene in the background. At the same time, the soft fabric of her sari shows her softer side, in sync with the rolling hills behind her.
Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai
Chicago: The White Place in the Sun
The Art Institute of Chicago is home to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks (1942), one of the best-known artworks to emerge from 20th-century America, so it’s no surprise that it draws a lot of visitors. While you wait for the crowd to thin out, make your way to AIC’s Gallery 265 and see Georgia O’Keeffe’s The White Place in the Sun (1943). This shows you a completely different side of the U.S. – the sparse desert and smooth yet striking rock formations of the White Place near Abiquiu in New Mexico. The geological formation in the White Place had been smoothed and whittled by water and wind over centuries, until it eventually resembled spires and cliffs, and O’Keeffe contrasts its undulating shapes with the bright blue sky.
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