Must-see Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is one of the word's great museums and one of our favorites. Even if you aren't a museum lover by nature, you'll find something to admire among the centuries of art and artifacts from all over the world. The museum it self is a bustling with activities all day for all ages, including special blockbuster exhibits, a film series, a terrific museum shop filled with gifts and miles of art books and restaurants to suit any mood and budget. If your time is short, focus your attention on the brand new Art of the Americas Wing and the beautiful Impressionist painting galleries. This will give you a taste of the old museum and its modern 21st century addition. As longtime fans,we've got a short list (it could be so much longer!) of works not to be missed when visiting the MFA.

Meet The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit
This portrait of the Boit girls was painted in 1882 by John Singer Sargent, one of Boston's best known and most beloved portrait artists. Although he was originally commissioned to do a traditional portrait of the daughters of his friend Edward Boit and his wife Louisa, he asked and received permission to present the girls in a more creative manner. The girls are dressed casually and scattered across the painting as if Sargent had just happened upon them in the hallway. Take note of the giant blue and white vases in the painting; they are usually on display alongside the painting. The Boit family took the vases back and forth from their frequent trips to Paris. If you have time, there are many other lovely Sargent paintings on view in the Americas Wing - including a personal favorite, Mrs. Fiske Warren and her daughter Rachel.

Visit with George and Martha Washington
There are times when a museum visitor steps up to a painting and says to him or herself "Oh yes, I've seen this one before!" These two unfinished portraits of George and Martha Washington should definitely give you that feeling. Painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796, these might be two of the most famous of all presidential paintings. Even today, copies hang in elementary schools and federal buildings across the United States. The MFA says the reason the portraits were never finished was that demand was so great for paintings of Washington after his death that Stuart used these two paintings as a model for all the requests he later had for paintings of the president and his wife. This painting is also the model for the picture of Washington on the one dollar bill.

See Boston At Dusk (Boston Common at Twilight) - in 1885
This turn of the last century portrait of a mother and child walking by the Boston Common is one of the MFA's best known paintings. Most art historians love the painting for it's golden hues and the juxtaposition of old (the calm of the Common after a snowfall) and the new -- the bustling trolleys and shops across the street on the left of the painting. Although more than 100 years have passed, visitors to Boston today who enter the Common near the Boylston Street 'T' station will be greeted by a very similar scene, but with cars, taxis and busses replacing the trolleys of the 1880s.

Contemplate the meaning of life with Paul Gauguin
Titled "Where do we come from, where are we going" this masterwork by Paul Gauguin takes up nearly an entire wall in the museum's impressive Impressionist galleries. Gauguin, the French stockbroker turned painter famously left his home country for the South Pacific where he completed this work. Although Gauguin himself suggested 'reading' the painting from left to right and noting the symbolism in each figure, it's perfectly fine to sit down on the benches in front of the painting and find your own meaning or simply enjoy.

Dance at Bougival with Pierre Auguste Renoir
The MFA's Impressionist galleries are filled with remarkable works from Monet, Cezanne, Seurat and many, many others. Monet's haystack paintings and several Van Gogh's are also on view here and quite mesmerizing. But if your time is limited look for another MFA classic Pierre Auguste Renoir's "Dance at Bougival." This portrait, of two dancers at a popular outdoor cafe outside Paris was originally one of a series of three life-sized portraits: "Dance at Bougival", "Dance in the Country" and "Dance in the City". (The other two are in the Musee D'Orsay in Paris.) The woman in the red bonnet is Suzanne Valadon, who was at one time Renoir's mistress and muse.

Frances Katz is a writer, journalist and Boston native who has spent many happy hours in the MFA's American galleries. Previously, she was a reporter for The Boston Herald and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Come chat with her about your favorite artworks on Twitter.

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