Most of us are able to recognise a world famous painting or sculpture when we see it, but we’re not so good at recalling the story, history or much about the artist behind the piece. Smarthistory from the Khan Academy fills in the blanks for you, with more than 100 educational short videos prepared for the Google Art Project.
With more than 100 videos produced, there’s plenty of free education on here to vastly expand your knowledge of the art world. And thanks to the Google Art Project, you can study all of the featured works in detail at your own leisure too – just click the headings below.
The Bedroom (Vincent Van Gogh)
One of the most recognisable artists of the period, Van Gogh painted his bedroom while living in the city of Arles, France in 1888. Not only do we get a taste for his distinctive style, but also a glimpse into his personal life and setting at the time. This painting was restored in 2010, and you can get some insight into the process by watching the video below.
Of Chinese origin, circa 1319, Buddha is seen here in a red robe surrounded by a group of related Buddhist deities, symbols (note the sun and the moon) and 12 warriors that represent Buddha’s vows to help others. The artwork consists of water-based pigment over a foundation of clay and straw, and is wonderfully preserved (if a little faded) given its age.
Dance (Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux)
Four years in the making, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux was tasked with decorating the Paris Opera building along with three other artists after winning the Grand Prix de Rome in 1863. Carpeaux had to cover the theme of dance, and so between 1865 and 1869 he produced a series of sketches followed by this finished piece of art. It proved to be one of the most controversial at the time due to its shockingly realistic portrayal of the female form.
Moulin de la Galette (Pierre-Auguste Renoir)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir produced a series of revered paintings, of which Moulin de la Galette is probably one of the most recognisable. First shown at the Impressionist exhibition of 1877 (painted in 1876), the painting depicts a joyous scene at a the popular dance garden Butte Montmarte and includes in the crowd a number of Renoir’s friends – though he really wanted to display the
Death and Life (Gustav Klimt)
After producing the painting in 1910, exhibiting and winning first prize at the International Art Exhibition in Rome in 1911; Gustav Klimt decided to make changes to what he described as his most important figurative workin 1915. He reportedly changed the background from gold to grey, and added additional ornaments to both his depiction of death and life.
Nighthawks (Edward Hopper)
One of the most recognisable paintings on this list, Edward Hopper’s famous Nighthawks painting has been parodied many times – everyone from Banksy to The Simpsons has had a go. The painting was originally created in 1942 and inspired by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue, New York City and completely lacks context; arguably one of its finest qualities.
Cliff Walk at Pourville (Claude Monet)
Despite being painted in 1882, it’s not difficult to relate to Money’s Cliff Walk at Pourville, after all it’s something many of us still enjoy today – the seaside, the sunshine and idea of a summer holiday. After becoming increasingly disappointed in the urban environment at Dieppe, the artist turned his attention to the French seaside fishing village of Pourville where he produced this painting of two figures, who are believed to be his second wife’s two eldest daughters.
Dating back as far at 604 BC, this reconstruction of one of Babylon’s smaller inner city gates exists in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, and dominates the space it now occupies. Constructed of glazed mud brick and adorned with various animals of particular religious importance, Ishtar’s Gate was one of eight double gates that formed the walls around the ancient city of Babylon.
You can watch all of the Khan Academy’s Smarthistory videos for the Google Art Project in this YouTube playlist, and don’t forget to check out the Google Art Project which allows you to get really up close and personal with far more artwork than has been featured in these videos. There’s also a smattering of other online art projects from the likes of the Smithsonian and the British Museum, so check those out if you’re artistically inclined.