Fast Favorites: It Figures

Blog Category:  Fast Favorites
Two paintings are hanging on a white wall. On the left is a self-portrait of artist Frida Kahlo. She is wearing a pink dress and a yellow shawl, and is framed by two white curtains. The painting on the right is a portrait of a young girl with a gray skin tone wearing a yellow dress with strawberries.

While the museum’s building is closed for renovation, our volunteers have been separated from the works of art they’ve grown to love. In our Fast Favorites series, we share volunteers’ insights and explore what makes their selections so special to them, perhaps helping you discover new NMWA favorites. 

Although these five paintings vary in style and content, each work focuses on a single, central human figure. 

In a painted self-portrait, the artist stands in a stage-like space framed by white curtains. Beneath black hair woven with red yarn and flowers, heavy brows accent her dark-eyed gaze. Clad in a fringed, honey-toned shawl; long, pink skirt; and gold jewelry, she holds a bouquet and a handwritten letter.
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937; Oil on Masonite, 30 x 24 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Honorable Clare Boothe Luce; © 2012 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Image by Google

1. Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937, by Frida Kahlo

Docent Marilyn Cohen: “Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait is one of my favorite paintings as she shows her personality to the world. I once read that Frida would sit on her bed every morning figuring out her dress for the day. After learning this, I feel her interest in her appearance is seen in her self-portrait showing her with a made-up face, flowers in her hair as well as her manicured hands, and a long skirt covering her injured legs.”

A monumental figure sports a gray camouflage jumpsuit, black army boots, red gloves, and an aviator cap with goggles. Legs splayed, the standing figure wields oversized, white scissors open in an X-shape. The linear style, bulbous eyewear, and cartoonish weapon evoke comic books.
Kiki Kogelnik, Superwoman, 1973; Oil and acrylic on canvas, 99 x 60 x 2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Honorable Joseph P. Carroll and Mrs. Carroll; © 1973 Kiki Kogelnik Foundation. All Rights reserved.

2. Superwoman, 1973, by Kiki Kogelnik

Visitor Experience Volunteer Grace Knudsen: “One of my favorite pieces in the museum is Superwoman by Kiki Kogelnik. This image communicates so much confidence and gravitas through the woman’s posture and outfit choice, but it retains a sense of femininity. The scissors add a literal edge to the painting, too. I always try to pause and absorb the power of this work when I pass it in the museum.”

A sick man with medium skin tone lies on a bed with purple bedding and stares out with a dignified expression. The left side of his chest is misshapen and covered with a white bandage. Thick outlines define his body and highlights on his arms and face accentuate his frail frame.
Alice Neel, T.B. Harlem, 1940; Oil on canvas, 30 x 30 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © The Estate of Alice Neel/Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York

3. T.B. Harlem, 1940, by Alice Neel

Docent Ambassador Fay Arrington: “I don’t know what about T.B. Harlem draws me to it. Could it be the darkness, the thick lines, or the pain and sadness depicted in the face of the young man? As a breast cancer survivor, I initially thought it was a young woman recovering from breast cancer surgery, so I felt a connection. It is actually a painting of the younger brother of Alice Neel’s lover recovering from tuberculosis surgery in Spanish Harlem.”

Wearing a bright yellow apron-style dress with strawberries and lace-trim details, an expressionless young woman with medium-dark skin tone rendered in grayscale stares out with her hands in her dress pockets. Her head is cocked to one side against an intensely pink-colored background.
Amy Sherald, They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009; Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in.; NMWA, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the 25th Anniversary of NMWA; © Amy Sherald; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

4. They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009, by Amy Sherald

Docent Mary Walter: “This painting never ceases to both captivate and mystify me. Contradictions coexist in surprising harmony: a realistically rendered figure within an abstract environment, gray skin tone in an otherwise vibrantly hued composition, and the subject’s uncanny expression, enigmatic and wise, which belies the youthful innocence her pigtails and strawberry print dress would imply.”

Realistically rendered half-portrait of a light-skinned young woman, gazing directly at the viewer with a faint smile on her lips. Her dark, curly hair is attractively tousled, secured under a turban-like headdress which matches her gold and blue draped ensemble.
Elisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, Portrait of Princess Belozersky, 1798; Oil on canvas, 31 x 26 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Rita M. Cushman in memory of George A. Rentschler; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

5. Portrait of Princess Belozersky, 1798, by Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun

Visitor Experience Volunteer Colleen “Colli” M. McKiernan: Portrait of Princess Belozersky, by Élisabeth Vigée-LeBrun, is one of my favorite works in NMWA’s collection. While the princess is obviously wealthy, she is not dressed like subjects in similar paintings by other artists. Instead, the portrait is approachable, viewed through a soft lens that makes her seem more like a peer and less like royalty.”

Docent Lori Vitelozzi: “Could this be the Russian Mona Lisa? Vigée-LeBrun couldn’t resist painting the beautiful women in the court of Catherine the Great, and what is appealing to me in this particular portrait of Princess Belozersky is that it is begging to channel the gaze of the Renaissance portrait. I am impressed with Vigée-LeBrun’s clever use of her personal costumes and how she chose to downplay the princess’s luxurious life, emphasizing instead the warmth of her complexion, her moist lips, and her approachable yet elusive smile.”