Yale Art Gallery

Published 11 Oct 2017

Despite the fact that I have visited Yale several times, this was my first trip to the Yale Art Gallery. I was surprised to find that part of the art of the museum is housed in a beautiful gothic style building while the remainder is very modern. I was equally surprised to learn that the museum is the oldest in the Western hemisphere. Although the museum is quite small, it provides a comfortable environment conducive to education, as there are several study areas and student groups studying the works displayed.

I particularly enjoyed the way the architectural structure of the museum made use of structure and light in order to create a distinct mood. The lobby of the museum features contemporary furniture and ebony wood, which makes visitors feel welcome, as though the lobby is a living room. In contrast, the galleries have high, concrete beam ceilings, which I found myself staring at before I even noticed the paintings. These create a solemn, sacred atmosphere.

Mevrouw Bodolphe
Frans Hals (1581/85–1666)
The first thing that caught my eye when I saw this painting was the serious, almost dour expression on the subject’s face. Though few people have their portraits painted today, modern portraits still exist in the form of photography. In general, most people smile when they have their pictures taken. In contrast, the subject of this particular portrait is almost scowling. She stares out from the wall with pensive eyes and a furrowed brow. When I noticed her right hand tightly gripping a handkerchief I got the impression that she was uneasy, perhaps even uncomfortable having her portrait painted. The sober and gloomy portrayal of the woman is characteristic of the conservative Protestant ideals of the period.

The Great Departure of the Buddha
Maker Unknown (2nd to 3rd Century CE)
I was struck by the ability of the artist to convey the expressions of the group of the people despite the fact that the facial expressions of the people are difficult to see. The Buddha figure in the center of the carving is almost the exact opposite of the stout, cross-legged Buddha image with which I am accustomed. The people around Buddha seem to be kneeling or pressing their palms together as a sign of worship and respect. The use of depth in the relief gives the illusion that Buddha is sitting on his horse in front of everyone else, which gives the appearance that he is rising above from the crowd while the people reach out to grab hold of his hand or reverently bow their heads in prayer. It was also particularly interesting to note that the carving, much like Chinese novels, portrays a scene which is read from right to left.

Owl Shaped Wine Vessel
Zun (Shang Dynasty)
I was intrigued by the detail carved into the wine vessel. From the base of vessel that depicts the tail feathers and talons of the owl there appeared to be intricate geometric patterns. Upon closer inspection I realized the shapes were in fact snakelike figures. These figures cover nearly the entire vessel, including on the owl’s wings. There appears to be a serpent head above the handle. I found it particularly interesting to note that the emphasis of the vessel appears to be on the talons of the owl, unlike modern representations of owls that tend to focus on the eyes. The eyes of the owl on the vessel look upward.

Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness
Caravaggio (1604)
Considering this is a painting of a Saint, I was surprised to note that there is little evidence that shows this is a painting of a religious figure. John the Baptist has no halo, nor is he surrounded by sheep. No doves fly in the sky above his head. Instead, Saint John is portrayed in the midst of the wilderness, with dramatic shadows cast over his body. Were it not for the thin cross that he is holding, and the name of the painting, it would be almost impossible to tell this is a painting of a religious figure. Saint John appears solemn and lost in thought. It is interesting to note the use of contrast in this painting. Saint John appears to be turning away from the darkness toward the light.

Seated Guanyin
Artist Unknown (11th to 12th Century)
In this sculpture, Buddha is seated on a stone throne-like structure. Buddha wears simple but elegant looking garments. The relief emphasizes Buddha’s elevation, as the figure appears to be above the rest of the world. Buddha’s face is carved at a downward angle, which gives the impression that he is looking down. The portrayal of Buddha in this piece is reminiscent of the female form, and Buddha sits semi-reclined on his right hand. Buddha appears relaxed, yet deep in thought. The bare wall behind Buddha draw the viewer’s eyes to Buddha’s serene expression.

Scenes from the Battle of Yashima
Sumiyoshi School (Edo Period 1615–1868)
This work depicts two warring families, with one family proudly raising red banners, and the other white banners. The six panels portray a massive landscape, with one family in close formation standing on solid ground, while the other family appears to be fleeing out to their boats on the sea. The use of landscape contributes to the mood of the piece. The green hills in the distance and the open sea emphasize the large territory over which the battle was fought. The soft, neutral hues of the skyline are more indicative of peace than of war, which gives the viewer the impression that the war is almost over.


  • Yale University (New Haven, Conn.) Art Gallery ‘Handbook of the collections – Yale University Art Gallery’ New Haven, Conn. Yale Univ. Art Gallery 1992
  • Yale University. Art Gallery.; Yale University. School of Art and Architecture ’20 artists : Yale School of Art’ New Haven : Yale University Art Gallery, 1981.
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