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Sassoferrato, Italy
The Virgin in Prayer, 1640-1650
Oil on canvas
73 x 58 cm
National Gallery London
Sassoferrato had close links with the Benedictines whose motto “to work is to pray” perhaps explains the intensity of his devotional pictures.  Known more for his imitation of earlier and contemporary masters rather than a great inventor himself, Sassoferrato largely made his living painting pictures such as the one here. He was a force in the counter-reformation movement as he helped return attention to the Virgin Mary after protestant influences had sought to decrease her part in religious life. 
“The Virgin in Prayer” owes something to Raphael; indeed a casual glance might result in mistaken attribution. The canvas hovers close to sentimentality but is too well painted and completed with too secure a technique to be seen as anything other than a fine picture in its own right. Skin tones are subtly painted and the Virgins dark blue, red and white clothing falls realistically in shadowed folds. There is a jewel-like perfection about the canvas which would reassure any praying penitent that the spotless Mary was watching out for them. Also, looking up at the work from a kneeling position affords comforting eye contact with the Virgin; we have her undivided attention. Her appearance from a darkened background with bright light from the left, focuses our attention securely on her. There is silence here as Mary and penitent commune without words. 

Sanford Robertson Gifford, America
The Ruins of the Parthenon, looking Southwest from the Acropolis, over the head of the Saronic Gulf, 1881
Oil on canvas
70 x 135 cm
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Gifford was a Hudson River School painter and was in fact born and raised in the town of Hudson New York State. He travelled widely however visiting Europe as well as Asia and western America. Like most of his contempories he completed works in the studio based on sketches done in situ. He completed few masterpieces though the present picture is an exception. Gifford’s pictures contain strong representations of atmosphere and light subordinating the actual landscape elements. He claimed that the present picture was “…but a picture of a day”.
“Ruins” shows masterful control of composition and handling of light. The remains of the Parthenon rear up on the left, magnificent still. Tumbled masonry takes our eye to the far hills while a medieval tower on the right brings us back to the starting point. The scene is lighted with brilliant, clear light whose effects on the gently pink to blue sky are fully exploited. Two figures appear in the centre of the picture, suitably dwarfed by the monumental Parthenon. The kneeling figure is probably the artist taking notes and making sketches, the other his Greek guide. Silence pervades the picture, history and great events have combined to make the site sacred.

Jose` Julio de Sousa-Pinto, Portugal, worked in France
In the Fields, 1892
Oil on canvas
93 x 74 cm
NGV (I) Melbourne
Sousa-Pinto is not well known today but was a member of the Jury for selection of pictures for Salon exhibitions in 1900. He studied initially in his native Portugal but moved to Paris in 1881 where he studied and exhibited successfully in the Paris Salon from 1881 to 1912.  He was awarded a prize in 1890. His works were popular in the late 19th century and also sold well as engravings. He painted plein-air (in the open and directly on to the canvas) as was the fashion started by the Impressionists and well established by the time de Sousa-Pinto reached Paris.
In the Fields is a masterpiece of evocative silence. Two children sit absorbed in their task of decorating the girl’s hat with flowers freshly picked from the field in which they sit. The scene is one of innocence and separation from the affairs of the day. We feel we should encourage them to make the most of this tranquil moment. The landscape sweeps to a vanishing point on the far hills, the steep perspective isolating the couple in their reverie and adding to the stillness of the picture.

Mary Cassatt, American, worked most of her life in Paris
Young Girl Reading, c1894
Pastel on paper
55 x 46 cm
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
Born in Pittsburgh of wealthy parents, Cassatt travelled widely in Europe after studying in America. She settled in Paris in 1874 where after a short time completing pictures in the “academic” (i.e. conservative) style she joined the Impressionists where she became close friends with Degas- himself ironically not an impressionist. Employing the light palette and loose brushwork of the Impressionists she established a reputation for painting the day-to-day activities of late 19th and early 20th century women. She is now much collected world-wide as a very fine exponent of the Impressionist oeuvre.
Cassatt portrayed women as individuals not as mere decorative objects- a definite break with traditions of the day. Here she has chosen to portray her young subject not as an attractive, winsome girl but as someone actively improving her mind by devotedly reading. The picture is a study in concentration and silence. The girl’s clothing is shown only sketchily in two dimensions whereas the head is brilliantly modelled with successive layers of pastel and comes forward from the plane of the canvas to meet us. 
Edouard Manet, France
The House at Rueil
Oil on canvas
93 x 74 cm
NGV (I) Melbourne
Manet was part of the Impressionists group but did not exhibit with them. He painted in a style reminiscent of Old Master pictures which he saw at the Louvre though his subjects were modern and everyday and he used brighter, more modern colours. His paintings were without the emotional involvement of his Impressionist colleagues and he tried to paint in a realistic, objective and scientific way. He was interested in showing tone as a pattern of light and shade and he often painted out-of-doors as did the others.
Manet was ill and near the end of his life when he painted this picture in the garden of the house which he and his wife rented. In it he gives us a traditional representation but with complementary colours, e.g. magenta, yellow, blue, green, juxtaposed to highlight each other. His use of pale green against the yellow walls highlights the play of light on the wall. Also the tree (a work of nature) and the house (a work of man) complement one another philosophically. The absence of sky increases the intimacy of the picture and the door obscured by the tree and windows which we can not see into may be a metaphor for Manet pondering the silence of his own death.  The tree is the tree of life.

Paul Cezanne, France
The Artist’s Father, 1866
Oil on canvas
199 x 119 cm
National Gallery of Art Washington, D.C.
For Cezanne’s biographical and stylistic details please refer to the “Revolutions” presentation on the website.
Cezanne and his father did not get along. Father, a successful banker was displeased that his son did not want to follow suit and even more put out when the young man decided to become a painter- considered a non-paying pastime by Cezanne senior. As though to return fire, Cezanne has built a good deal of irony into this silent composition. Father sits perched on the edge of his chair with the floor sloping away from him to the left. His sturdy boots contrast with the delicate cabriole legs of his seat suggesting perhaps that he was not the most sensitive of individuals. Behind him defiantly on the wall is a still life painted by his son. The presence of the picture does suggest that despite domestic pressures, the painter was not entirely rejected by father.
Pablo Picasso, Spain, worked mainly in France
Poor People on the Seashore, 1903
Oil on wood
105 x 69 cm
National Gallery of Art Washington D.C.
Painter, printmaker, sculptor, co-inventor of cubism Picasso dominated 20th century art in the way Michelangelo and Leonardo dominated 16th century art in Italy. Always his own artist Picasso borrowed from no one casually inventing motifs, techniques and Cubism. His work was sometimes controversial, an issue which did not trouble Picasso. During his long life he created thousands of art works and has probably become the world’s most collected artist. A noted womaniser Picasso’s bohemian lifestyle often attracted as much attention as his art.
“Poor People on the Seashore” is a picture from Picasso’s bleak “Blue Period” and was painted in Barcelona. Blue-period Picasso’s show poverty, sadness, loneliness and silence corresponding with a low period in the painter’s life. Demonstrating Picasso’s superb painterly technique, the painting shows a family, presumably homeless and poor, on the seashore- normally a place of entertainment and pleasure. The picture is a study in blues and purples leavened with traces of pinks in the sand and white where waves are breaking. Given the narrow palette, the painting of the horizon, sea and sky is miraculous. Is there an allusion to the Holy family here too? They were also rejected and forced into desperate measures during the flight into Egypt. Perhaps Picasso is adding a note of spiritual splendour to the forlorn group and suggesting to us that their fortunes might improve.
Constantin Brancusi, Romania
Sleeping Muse I, 1909-10
17 x 22 cm
Hirshhorn Museum of Art and Sculpture, Washington D. C.
Please refer to the “Harmony” presentation on the website for Brancusi’s biographical and stylistic details.
Brancusi’s sleeping head needs no body. The coolly-curved outline with its inner contours for facial details takes us into a still, inner world. No emotional content needs to be added by sculptural device. We sense privacy, silence, a completeness of thought and emotion; undesecrated experience. 
Odilon Redon, France
Silence, c1911
Oil on gesso on paper
54 x 54 cm
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Redon was a symbolist painter. The Symbolists rejected what they saw as the restriction placed on them by objects and the real world. Instead they chose to inhabit a world of fantasy, imagination and magic. (As distinct from the Surrealists who painted from the subconscious.) By doing this they claimed to be able to communicate more effectively with the senses. Redon’s work contains the unexpected and the harmoniously intriguing. The movement’s critics maintained that it attracted too much mediocre talent and its demise after a comparatively short life perhaps attests to that. However there is nothing mediocre about the technically competent, imaginatively conceived pictures painted by Redon.
Redon celebrated silence and painted it many times. In this picture a strangely withdrawn figure looks out from a secret space indicating that it wants silence by the age-old method of raising the fingers to the lips. Does it simply want physical silence though or are we being asked to enter a world where the silence has an inner spiritual quality to which we are to surrender. A world shut off to most but available to a chosen few who can appreciate its subtlety. The canvas uses subdued colour to help suggest this mysterious place to us.

(This picture was scanned from a double-page spread- hence the line down the middle.  You can still see how the picture fits into the "Silence" presentation even with the interference)
Edward Hopper, America
Nighthawks, 1942
Oil on canvas
84 x 152 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago
Hopper allowed most innovations and developments in painting to pass and instead concentrated on developing a realist style which commented on the human condition. His pictures completed between the first and second world wars are a compendium of suburban loneliness, the bleakness of life, malevolence in human relations and the psychological distance which can be present between humans apparently engaged in the same enterprises. His wife of long standing, Josephine, provided the female model for many of his pictures. The couple were close despite being known for their ferocious arguments.
“Nighthawks” lives up to its title. Four distant human beings occupy a night diner on a city corner. They do not communicate. The bar tender appears about to offer service though his voice will fall on the deaf ears of the stern-faced man in the hat. The girl appraises her fingernails as the only activity left to her given the silence of her partner. We perceive tension between them. The other figure has his back unhelpfully toward us and makes no contribution to the sociability of the scene. The subdued colours except for the spooky green add to the forlornness of the picture and its clinical approach to human relations is reinforced by the two stainless steel containers on the right which could denote anything from germ warfare to sterilisers.

Giorgio Morandi, Italy
Still Life, 1957
Oil on canvas
37 x 42 cm
Art gallery of New South Wales
Twentieth century art fashion and style passed Morandi by. He spent his painting life completing still life pictures featuring essentially the same collection of objects. Subtle tonal gradation and placement of object characterise his works and gives them an ironic monumentality contrasting with their apparent simplicity.
The Sydney gallerie's Morandi dominates which ever space it is released into. Quiet, unprepossessing it hangs in silent triumph over a busy world. Despite its small size and apparent simplicity this is a supremely distinguished picture taking us perhaps into metaphysical worlds where day-to-day concerns have never intruded.

Mark Rothko, America
No 207 (Red over Dark Blue on Dark Grey), 1961
Oil on canvas
236 x 206 cm
University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, gift of the artist
Rothko was born in Latvia however the family migrated to the USA in 1913. A brilliant student Rothko won a scholarship to Yale University though he never finished a course instead opting to study art at a private art school. He became a brilliant colourist and was one of the leading painters in the Abstract Expressionist movement. After about 1943 Rothko began to paint the large canvases with floating rectangles for which he is known. A painter of emotion, feeling and ambiguity in human relations Rothko endured many years of depressive illness and committed suicide at the age of 67.
In No 207 a black rectangle contains a floating, crimson soft-edge rectangle which  comes booming out of the canvas toward us.  Rothko has painted majestic silence and simplified grandure in this picture, one of his many  abstract expressionist pictures asking us for an emotional response.
Ad Reinhart, America
Abstract Painting, 1960-66
Oil on canvas
152 x 152 cm
Guggenheim Collection, New York
You are invited to make up you own mind as to whether or not this minimalist masterpiece suggests silence.