• 1
    Close Exhibition Square Whistlejacket George Stubbs Owned by the Marquess of Rockingham, Whistlejacket was one of the most celebrated racehorses of the day. Legend has it that George III was to ride the horse in the painting, but Rockingham changed his mind when they had political differences. George Stubbs was a stickler for accuracy. He studied anatomy and dissected horses to get them absolutely right. It worked; allegedly Whistlejacket caught a glimpse of his likeness, and tried to attack the canvas.
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  • 2
    Christina of Denmark
    Close York Pullman Bus, Bootham Tower Christina of Denmark,
    Duchess of Milan
    Hans Holbein the Younger Holbein's picture of the demure widow Christina of Denmark was a lonely-hearts ad for Henry VIII, who was looking for a fourth wife after Jane Seymour's death. Christina was sixteen at the time and a renowned beauty. Apparently the kind fell madly in love with her on the strength of this portrait, an infatuation shared with generations of viewers. Fortunately the marriage never was and she lived into old age.
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  • 3
    The Rokeby Venus
    Close Bootham Bar The Rokeby Venus Diego Velázquez Venus, the Goddess of Love, was regarded as a personification of female beauty. She is shown here with her son Cupid, who holds up a mirror for her to look both at herself and at the viewer. This rare Spanish nude was in the collection of the Marqués del Carpio, son of the First Minister of Spain and was presumably displayed privately, thus avoiding the censure of the Spanish Inquisition.
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  • 4
    The Ambassadors
    Close Bootham Bar The Ambassadors Hans Holbein the Younger This portrait shows two self-satisfied young men. In the pink shirt is Jean de Dinteville, French ambassador to England in 1533. His friend is Georges de Selve, the Bishop of Lavaur. They are surrounded by objects symbolising their education and interests.
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  • 5
    A Scene from 'The…
    Close York Theatre Royal A Scene from 'The Careless Husband' Philip Mercier This painting was created in 1738 by Philip Mercier, a French-born artist and formally an art dealer, who settled in England and became patronised by Frederick, Prince of Wales. The Careless Husband was a popular comedy by Colley Cibber, a playwright and Poet Laureate, written in 1704.
  • 6
    Three Men and a Boy
    Close The Lodge, Museum Gardens Three Men and a Boy Le Nain brothers Sometimes, it's hard to tell brothers apart. Never more so than Antoine, Louis and Mathieu Le Nain, who were celebrated artists in Paris in the 1620s. Whether working individually or collaborating, their paintings were signed simply 'Le Nain'. Three Men and a Boy might be a self-portrait of the siblings, though which is which remains a mystery. The young boy's head emerged under many layers of paint during cleaning in 1968.
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  • 7
    An Experiment…
    Close The Observatory, Museum Gardens An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump Joseph Wright of Derby Joseph Wright hailed from Derby, a town at the centre of the industrial revolution. This painting shows a dramatic experiment. A rare, white cockatoo is held in a flask from which the air is being removed. Unless it gets oxygen soon, it will die. The reactions around the table are minutely observed; only the distracted lovers remain unmoved.
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  • 8
    Bacchus and Ariadne
    Close Yorkshire Museum Bacchus and Ariadne Titian Bacchus, God of Wine, emerges from a night out with his crew. He sees Ariadne and falls in love. Ariadne has just been deserted by Theseus after helping defeat the Minotaur (his ship is sailing into the distance). Bacchus elevates her to heaven and turns her into a constellation, represented by the stars above her head. Titian unfolds all the drama in his trademark, blazing colour.
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  • 9
    Salome receives…
    Close Abbey Church Ruins Salome receives the head of Saint John the Baptist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio Painted in Naples not long before Caravaggio's death, this painting depicts the gruesome new testament story of Salome, who danced so entrancingly that king Herod swore he would give her anything. Egged on by her vengeful mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a plate. The pathos and human tragedy of the tale are delivered with exceptional economy and brutal raw power.
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  • 10
    The Triumph…
    Close Abbey Church Ruins The Triumph of Pan Nicolas Poussin The Triumph of Pan shows a wild, Pagan celebration in full swing. It's packed with literary and visual references, demonstrating not only Poussin's mastery of painting but also his deep, classical scholarship. The work belonged to Cardinal Richelieu, and was housed in an extravagant room dripping with fine art and gilt décor.
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  • 11
    The Arnolfini…
    Close The Hospitium, Museum Gardens The Arnolfini Portrait Jan van Eyck Van Eyck used oil paints in a dramatic new way, pushing the medium to its limits and achieving all kinds of textures and effects. His double portrait of the wealthy merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and wife isn't as was once thought a wedding portrait. Nor is she pregnant, it's just the fashion of the time. Anticipating modern graffiti, the ornate Latin signature over the mirror reads 'Jan van Eyck was here 1434'.
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  • 12
    Seaport with the…
    Close The Hospitium, Museum Gardens Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula Claude Lorrain It's thought that Claude emigrated to Rome as a boy. His reinventions of a golden age profoundly influenced landscape painting, and painting itself, particularly in 18th Century England. According to legend, Saint Ursula (a British princess) made a pilgrimage to Rome, with eleven thousand virgins. On their return, pagan huns slaughtered them when Ursula refused to marry their Chieftain. This picture shows her in happier times, radiant in the golden morning sun.
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  • 13
    The Skiff
    Close Water Tower,
    Dame Judi Dench Walk
    The Skiff Pierre-Auguste Renoir The Skiff is an impressionist vision of suburban leisure, as two young women enjoy a lazy Summer's day on the river. The dazzling blue of the water and the bright chrome orange of the boat also provided an opportunity for Renoir to test impressionist colour theory. They are opposites on the colour scale and create an intense contrast when put together.
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  • 14
    Bathers at La…
    Close Water Tower,
    Dame Judi Dench Walk
    Bathers at La Grenouillère Claude-Oscar Monet In the Summer of 1869, Monet worked alongside Renoir at La Grenouill, a rather risqué bohemian resort on the Seine just outside Paris. Fresh, direct and experimental, Bathers at La Genouillere became one of impressionism's most famous pictures. But it was only a quick sketch for a more ambitious composition (now lost), to be painted back in the studio. The distinctive style couldn't have been achieved without recent innovations in artists' materials - portable tubes in oil paint and flat brushes.
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  • 15
    A Young Woman…
    Close Nailed on Beauty, 11 Lendal A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal Johannes Vermeer Only around 30 paintings by Vermeer are known today, because he worked very slowly, ran an inn and an art dealership, and died aged 43. This interior bears all the hallmarks of his paintings. The arrangement is fastidious, a finely balanced geometry containing beautifully worked details. The woman, looking expectantly in our direction, plays music reminding her of an absent man, signified by the empty chair. The painting of Cupid holding up a single playing card symbolises fidelity.
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  • 16
    The Doge Leonardo…
    Close The Guildhall The Doge Leonardo Loredan Giovanni Bellini Bellini hailed from the leading artistic dynasty of 15th Century Venice, following his father and brother with this official state commission Doge Leonardo Loredan was top dog in the Venetian republic, shown here in full regalia. Bellini tells us about him subtly: the shadowed side of the face is gentler-looking than the starker left side, and the setting sun is reflected in his eyes - perhaps a comment on the doge's advancing years.
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  • 17
    Venus and Mars
    Close City Screen, Coney Street Venus and Mars Sandro Botticelli Botticelli is famed for his religious paintings. Venus and Mars, however, is earthy, packed with sexual innuendo, and was probably a piece of bedroom furniture. Venus, Goddess of Love, has conquered Mars, God of War, with her over-whelming beauty. Clearly exhausted, a post-coital Mars sleeps with Venus looking on. Meanwhile, mischievous satyrs make off with his lance and helmet, both phallic symbols, suggesting a 'Make Love not War' message.
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  • 18
    The Entombment
    Close St Helen's Graveyard, Davygate The Entombment Michelangelo This early work by Michelangelo, the original Renaissance man, was intended as an altarpiece, but was never finished. Christ, in the centre, is supported by John the Evangelist, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Mary Magdelene and Mary Salome (a holy woman) are also shown. The empty outline on the right is reserved for the Virgin Mary Michelangelo may have been waiting for rare and costly ultramarine pigment for her traditional blue cloak.
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  • 19
    Lady Cockburn…
    Close St Helen's Graveyard, Davygate Lady Cockburn and her Three Eldest Sons Sir Joshua Reynolds Son of a village schoolmaster, Joshua Reynolds rose to become the most sought-after portrait painter of his age, a founder of the Royal Academy, and friend to the most eminent men of letters in England. Reynolds idealised his subjects, portraying them in a classical context. Here, Lady Cockburn is cast as charity, who is traditionally shown with three children. James, on the left, is based on Cupid, as seen in the Rokeby Venus by Veluez.
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  • 20
    Close St Helen's Church, St Helen's Square Sunflowers Vincent Van Gogh Van Gogh painted a series of sunflowers anticipating the arrival of his friend, the poet-artist Paul Gauguin, to his house in Arles, France in 1888. The painting is strikingly yellow, using newly invented pigments that made vibrant colours possible. Ironically, yellow symbolised happiness for Van Gogh, because it was the heated rows he had while working with Gaughin that finally tipped him into despair and madness.
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  • 21
    The Supper at Emmaus
    Close Dean Court Hotel, High Petergate The Supper at Emmaus Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio Some see in Caragaggio's paintings a reflection of his character. A volatile visionary, Caravaggio swaggered through the streets of Rome with a sword at his side. The supper at Emmaus depicts Christ's appearance to his disciples after the resurrection. Their outstretched arms draw us into the painting, including us in the event. It still has the power to dazzle to this day. As Holbein immortalizes them in art, he reminds us that we all die. Stand to the right of the painting, you should see a skull, between the ambassadors, signifying the brevity of life.
  • 22
    Surprised! (Tiger in…
    Close 36 High Petergate Surprised! (Tiger in a Tropical Storm) Henri Rousseau Never one to play by the rules, Rousseau discovered art in his forties, after careers as a regimental bandsman and toll collector. He claimed his stylised, highly patterned jungle paintings were informed by first-hand experience with the French army in Mexico, but they were more likely inspired by prints, visits to the local botanical gardens and humble house plants. When he exhibited this dreamlike canvas in 1891, Rousseau called it 'surpris!' suggesting explorers outside the picture frame about to be pounced on by the tiger.
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  • 23
    A Wheatfield…
    Close St Michael le Belfrey A Wheatfield, with Cypresses Vincent Van Gogh After his breakdown and self-mutilation, Vincent Van Gogh checked into the St-R asylum, near Arles. He completed around 150 canvasses in the asylum that year. Among them were three versions of the turbulent, swirling Wheatfield with Cypresses. The blazing yellow wheat field represents the life cycle and creative force. The tall, dark cypress tree native to Provence is associated with death. Soon after leaving St-R, Van Gogh shot himself in a wheat field. He died two days later.
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  • 24
    Self Portrait at the…
    Close Shared Earth, Petergate Self Portrait at the Age of 34 Rembrandt One of Rembrandt's favourite subjects was himself; he painted between 50 and 60 self-portraits. Here, Rembrandt is at his peak. He's dressed in exotic and expensive garments - the 17th Century equivalent of bling. His pose mimics Titan's Man with a quilted sleeve inviting direct comparison with this Italian master.
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  • 25
    Corner of a Café…
    Close Snickleway, Stonegate to Grape Lane Corner of a Café-Concert Edouard Manet Manet's paintings caused a stir, making him a hero to the emerging impressionists who were looking to shake up the status quo. Corner of a café-concert is the right half of a painting, enlarged and with new background added. It captures one of Manet's favourite watering holes, the brasserie Reichshoffen on the Boulevard Rochechouart. Manet's observations of 19th Century life are fluid and rough-edged, capturing a real sense of Parisian life.
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  • 26
    Allegory with…
    Close Coffee Yard Allegory with Venus and Cupid Bronzino Bronzino was the ultra-fashionable court painter to the Medici family. Duke Cosimo was responsible for commissioning this complex allegory as a carefully considered present for the King of France, a man with a notorious lust for flesh. Packed with riddles and symbolism, it would have given him plenty of excuse to ogle the sensual bodies of the cavorting Venus and Cupid, while decoding its finer meaning.
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  • 27
    A Grotesque…
    Close Coffee Yard A Grotesque Old Woman Bronzino Massys was a cultural magpie. A leading painter in Antwerp by 1510, he drew inspiration from local Flemish artists, among others. It's possible that the inspiration for this painting came from the faces drawn in Leonardo's notebooks. The painting is thought to be a satire on vain old women dressing too youthfully. She became the inspiration to John Tenniel, illustrator of Alice in Wonderland, for his ugly duchess.
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  • 28
    Samson and Delilah
    Close St Sampson's Church (Annexe) Samson and Delilah Peter Paul Rubens Like a still from a film, Rubens' painting of Delilah and Samson freeze-frames the drama of one moment in time. It's a retelling of the powerful Old Testament story, where the mighty Jewish hero falls for a prostitute, and reveals that the secret of his strength lies in his uncut locks. Having exhausted him after a night of passion, Delilah cuts his hair, and hands him over emasculated to his enemies, the Philistines.
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  • 29
    The Four Elements…
    Close 4 Jubbergate The Four Elements: Earth Joachim Beuckelaer Beuckelaer was a still life pioneer. At first glance, this picture appears to be of a common food market. If you look at the top left-hand corner, however, the holy family can be made out crossing a bridge, adding a religious message to the scene. A warning against earthly gratification, the over-abundance of fruit and vegetables in the foreground is painted with tempting sensuality. There are 16 different types of produce shown, tumbling out of the painting towards the viewer.
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  • 30
    An Extensive…
    Close Newgate, The Shambles An Extensive Landscape with a Road by a River Philips Koninck Koninck may have been a pupil of Rembrandt's. His sweeping, low-skied, panoramic views are part of the tradition of Dutch landscape art. This landscape could be real, or conjured from Koninck's imagination. Varied application of the paint suggests depth; rough at the front, detailed in the middle, with bold strokes of colour in the distance. Koninck often asked a fellow artist to place figures into the landscape for him, but seems to have painted these himself.
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  • 31
    Philip IV of Spain…
    Close St Crux, The Shambles Philip IV of Spain in Brown and Silver Diego Velázquez Veluez became a court painter when he was 24 and Philip IV was just 18. When Veluez left Madrid to study in Italy, Philip refused to be portrayed by anyone else. This portrait was painted soon after Veluez's return in 1631. The pose is confident, but there's timidity in Philip's eyes. Freely brushed blobs and strokes over the costume give an impression of glinting silver embroidery over rich cloth.
  • 32
    Saint Michael…
    Close Marks and Spencer, The Shambles Saint Michael Triumphant over the Devil Bartolomé Bermejo Bartolomermejo was a loud, proud 15th Century redhead, signing his pictures Bartolomeus Ruebus ('Red Bartholomew'). Antonio Juan, the feudal Lord of Tous, near Valencia, commissioned this painting as an altarpiece. He's on the left watching as St Michael triumphs over a devil that, although taken from the Book of Revelations, is a creature from Bermeio's imagination.
  • 33
    Madame Moitessier
    Close Lady Peckett’s Yard, Fossgate Madame Moitessier Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres Ingres' opulent portrait of Madame Moitessier very nearly never happened. Approached by her rich banker husband in 1847, Ingres refused to take on the commission. But once he'd seen the fragrant Inès he was smitten and changed his mind. Even then, it took him 12 years to complete, by which time he was 76. The pose is inspired by an ancient Roman wall painting of a goddess, suggesting Ingres saw her as an ideal of classical beauty.
  • 34
    Belshazzar's Feast
    Close All Saints, Pavement Belshazzar's Feast Rembrandt Rembrandt wanted to be a religious painter but in the strictly Calvinist Dutch republic the adornment of churches was forbidden, so he recreated bible scenes for private clients instead. This painting tells the story of the king of Babylon, who gave a feast for his nobles using sacred vessels looted from the temple in Jerusalem. A divine hand appeared, carving an inscription foretelling the ruin of Belshazzar's kingdom. Framed and lit like a movie still, Rembrandt skillfully captures the dread and horror of the guests.
  • 35
    Four Officers of the…
    Close Merchant Adventurers' Hall Four Officers of the Amsterdam Coopers' and Wine-rackers' Guild Gerbrand van den Eeckhout Eeckhout was one of Rembrandt's favourite pupils. Though he had his master's style off to a tee, he wasn't as daringly original. The painting is typical of group portraits of the age, depicting prosperous, businessmen in the equivalent of a team photo. This particular guild included the men who made barrels for the wine imported into Amsterdam, and others who sampled and bottled it. One of the gents pictured is Eeckhout's brother.
  • 36
    The Hay Wain
    Close Coppergate Centre
    (riverside walk)
    The Hay Wain John Constable Now one of the nation's best-loved paintings, when Constable first exhibited the Hay Wain in the early 1820s, he didn't get a sniff of a sale. He had to take it to France to find a buyer. The setting is the River Stour near Flatford in Suffolk, which remains remarkably unspoiled today. the rustic cart (or hay wain) is soaking its wooden wheels to stop them cracking on a long, hot journey.
  • 37
    The Water-Lily Pond
    Close Coppergate Centre
    (riverside walk)
    The Water-Lily Pond Claude-Oscar Monet The impressionists were obsessed with all things Japanese. Once he became rich, Monet painstakingly cultivated an oriental water garden, complete with simple arching bridge, on his estate at Giverney in rural France. Then he painted it at least 18 times, at various times of the day, all from the same perspective. They are a triumph of vision and technique, seemingly disjointed fragments coming together to form a shimmering whole.
  • 38
    After the Bath…
    Close Fenwicks, Coppergate Centre After the Bath, Woman drying herself Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas In later life, eye trouble forced Degas to stick to indoor subjects. He favoured bright pastels, partly because they produced vivid, modern colours, but he could also see them more easily. The woman pictured is going about an intimate everyday act, seemingly unaware of the viewer. Degas seems to have extended his composition while working on it, adding pieces of paper. He's exploited the flexibility of pastels to create sumptuous textures and blurred contours suggesting movement.
  • 39
    Mr and Mrs Andrews
    Close Fairfax House, Coppergate Centre Mr and Mrs Andrews Thomas Gainsborough This portrait is a masterpiece from Gainsborough's early years, painted soon after the marriage of Robert Andrews to his wife Frances Mary. The portrait in an open-air setting is typical of Gainsborough's early works. Mr Andrews' satisfaction with his farmlands pales in comparison to the passion with which Gainsborough paints the gold and green fields beyond, allowing him to display his skills as a painter of changing weather and glorious scenery.
  • 40
    The Virgin of the Rocks
    Close York St Mary's The Virgin of the Rocks Leonardo da Vinci The Virgin of the Rocks is typical of Leonardo's brilliant, yet mysterious paintings. The scene shows the Virgin Mary, the Christ child, John the Baptist as a baby, and an angel in a cavernous, watery landscape. Commissioned as an altarpiece, it is one of two versions. The other hangs in the Louvre and was recently featured in the Da Vinci Code.
  • 41
    Portrait of Jean…
    Close Fairfax House, Castlegate Portrait of Jean Abercromby, Mrs Morrison of Haddo Allan Ramsay Allan Ramsay was arguably the most important artist in 18th Century Scotland. He specialised in portraits of women and this one demonstrates his mature style, particularly the stunning lace shawl and necklace. Jean, the daughter of General Abercromby of Glassaugh, sat for the painting around the time of her wedding to Captain George Morison of Haddo, Her married name was mispelled when the frame was created in 1909.
  • 42
    Psyche showing…
    Close Castle Museum Psyche showing her Sisters her Gifts from Cupid Jean-Honoré Fragonard Fragonard was an 18th Century French prodigy, prize-winning student of Frans Boucher and master or many media. This elaborate picture was completed when he was 21. Psyche is showing off sumptuous gifts from her lover, Cupid. Her sisters are green with envy and persuade her to blow Cupid's cover, breaking the conditions of their romance. The centre of the painting is bright and crisp, the edges dark and murky, achieving a sense of foreboding.
  • 43
    Cavalry Making a…
    Close Castle Museum Cavalry Making a Sortie from a Fort on a Hill Philips Wouwermans Wouwermans was a prolific and enormously popular Dutch painter of battle and hunting scenes. The white horse, seen from behind, is widely recognised as the artist's trademark. This is one of his largest paintings. The chaotic scene appears to be fictional, but Wouwermans flair for dramatic composition and skill as an animal painter is evident. He doesn't shirk the realities of warfare – the picture features soldiers with amputated limbs.
  • 44
    Madame de Pompadour…
    Close Castle Museum Madame de Pompadour at her Tambour Frame François-Hubert Drouais Drouais was the portraitist to the court of Louis XV, and Madame de Pompadour the King's mistress. Drouais painted her head first, presumably from life, adding it to the rest of the picture on a different canvas. Highly educated, she's shown embroidering at a worktable or 'tambour', surrounded by emblems of her interests – books, a mandolin, an artist's folio and her beloved pet dog.
  • 45
    Clifford's Tower, York
    Close Clifford Street Clifford's Tower, York Laurence Stephen Lowry This painting was the result of a commission in 1953 under the Evelyn Award scheme. Each year from 1950 to 1962, a different artist was commissioned by the Gallery to paint a view of York. Lowry chose to paint this view of the 13th century Clifford's Tower on its motte, or mound of earth. In the background are the spire of St Mary's, Castlegate, and a cooling tower, which used to stand on Foss Islands Road.
  • 46
    Calais Pier
    Close Clifford Street Calais Pier Laurence Stephen Lowry Based on Turner's first trip abroad the previous year, Calais pier is born from reality. On a preliminary sketch, Turner noted the seas were so rough he was 'nearly swampt'. The turbulent wave, looming clouds and the sun breaking through on to the ship's sails are all deftly handled. Yet when he first exhibited it at the Royal Academy in 1803, Turner was criticised for not having finished the foreground.
  • 47
    Bathers at Asnières
    Close King's Staith / South Esplanade Bathers at Asnières Georges Seurat Seurat's mammoth canvas was rejected by the influential Paris salon of 1884 for being too radical because it elevated working-class men to the majestic scale usually reserved for gods and noblemen. Bathers is set on the Seine in North West Paris. Seurat had yet to perfect his pointillist technique, made up of lots of small dots, like a television picture. But he added some later, notably to the boy's hat.
  • 48
    The Fighting…
    Close Ouse Bridge, King's Staith The Fighting Temeraire Joseph Mallord, William Turner The full title is The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken Up, 1838. It shows the ghostly, 98-gun ship, which played a crucial role in the battle of Trafalgar, on its way to be scrapped. Turner is using artistic license – the masts would already have been chopped for firewood – but his vision conveys the end of an era. Turner called the painting 'my darling', and never sold it. The Fighting Temeraire was voted the nation's favourite painting by Radio 4 listeners.
  • 49
    Portrait of Monsignor…
    Close Spurriergate Centre, Spurriergate Portrait of Monsignor Agucchi Annibale Carracci Giovanni Battista Agucchi was an intellectual from Bologna, Italy. He worked in Rome for the Aldobrandini family and Pope Gregory XV. Agucchi was also associated with a group of artists based there. This informal portrait was painted by his friend, the artist Annibale Carracci. He shows Agucchi life size, tightly framed and emerging from the shadows, evoking a dramatic atmosphere.