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10 Sun-Drenched Paintings Cheaper Than a Tropical Vacation
Sorry, neither piña coladas nor the Spanish lover are included. You’ll have to find your own.
Career 23 Nov 2021

The weather outside is frightening, but that’s what art is for. Besides the fact that they literally shelter you from the elements, museums and galleries make for the perfect rainy day activity because they can mentally transport you to other worlds, if only for an afternoon.
For those of currently braving temperatures so cold that you’re actually considering going to a tanning bed just to thaw your fingers and toes a bit (don’t do it!), an escape to a sunnier somewhere is very, very welcome. Whether you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder or just dying for a margarita and a nice tan, there’s nothing like Cadmium Yellow and Windsor Orange to cheer you up. You know what they say: there’s no better time for some summer vibes than the dead of winter.
What’s that? They don’t say that? Well, I’m saying it now. You know it’s true.
Without further ado, check out these 10 sun-drenched canvases, each one a magical portal to a tropical island far, far away. By the end of this list, I guarantee that your ears will be ringing with the sound of turquoise waves licking the white, sandy shoreline while your passionate Spanish lover gently strums his guitar and strokes your hair (he’s very agile with his hands, wink, wink…).
Sorry, neither piña coladas nor the Spanish lover are included. You’ll have to find your own.
And while I can’t promise that the paintings themselves are cheaper than a flight to the Bahamas—if that were true, the Matisse and the Stettheimer would already be hanging in my living room—looking is free.

1) Joaquín Sorolla, Midday at Valencia beach (1904)

Doesn’t this remind you of those zoomed-in, sunlight-on-water pics that every arty girl has buried somewhere in her IG feed?

2) Henri Matisse, The Joy of Life (1905-1906)

As far as art movements go, no one injected life with more warmth and energy than the fauvists. In this exuberant work, Matisse presents us with a loose rendition of slow and sensual summer living in the French countryside. A Garden of Eden crossed with a free love nudist commune, this luscious and colorful piece represents joie de vivre at its finest. Sign me up.

3) Spyros Papaloukas, At Mount Athos (20th century)

Despite the cool tone of this canvas, you can practically feel the midday heat radiating from the smooth and worn stone of the houses.
Unfortunately, if you’re interested in visiting the site of the painting and you happen to be a woman, you’re out of luck. Mount Athos is the largest territory of land in the world from which women are banned.
The rule is rooted in a 1,000-year-old religious tradition; apparently, Jesus gifted the island to the Virgin Mary and since then, she’s been the only one of her sex allowed to step foot on the land (I’d have a kid today if I knew he was going to give me an island one day…).
Not sure if I follow the logic there—shouldn’t it mean that if anyone is banned, it’s the men? I’ll let you be the judge, but in the meantime, there are plenty of other gorgeous Mediterranean islands where that came from.

4) Henri Rousseau, The Dream (1910)

Rousseau just might be the ultimate example of successful manifestation: the New Age trick of using your thoughts to shape your reality (you probably read about it in The Secret in 2008).
Unaware that his fellow artists saw him as an untrained amateur and probably, in the unforgettable words of Barbara Kruger, a totally uncool joker, Matisse believed that he was one of the two greatest living artists of his day. The other was Picasso. Impressive level of confidence or equally impressive level of delusion? You decide.
Either way, joke’s on Rousseau’s haters. His work now hangs in museums that 99.9% of artists can only have wet dreams about: MoMA, the Met and Musée D’Orsay, among many others. His vivid fantasy world has earned him a permanent place in the art canon, and as for his critics, well, you probably couldn’t name a single one.
The moral? If you’re an art writer (and even if you’re aren’t), don’t be a mean snob—especially if you’re not so good at recognizing self-taught genius.

5) David Burliuk, Advent of summer and spring (1914)

advent-of-spring-and-summer-1914 (1)
The year was 1914 and David Burliuk, the father of Russian Futurism, had already been expelled from the Academy, founded a literary group and co-authored a manifesto called A Slap in the Face of Public Taste.
Well, this painting is certainly that: two psychedelic triangles marching sternly into the future, a far cry from the sleepy village scenes and winter landscapes that reign supreme in traditional Russian art.
At the same time, this utterly weird world manages to capture the spirit of spring and summer—the restlessness, the sense of rushing towards some wild adventure while the world around you picks up pace. Burliuk certainly gives us something to look forward to during these short winter days and long winter months.

6) Pablo Picasso, Two women running on the beach (The race) (1922)

Alternate title: you and your BFF leaving the office at 5pm. Even if you’re not racing into the crystal-blue water on a Mediterranean beach, at least you can race towards cocktail hour. Either way, Picasso certainly nailed the summer vibe: nothing symbolizes a carefree spirit quite like an escaped titty.

7) Florine Stettheimer, Sun (1931)

Florine Stettheimer fully intended to have her paintings destroyed after her death, but we’re very glad her sister decided to ignore this dying wish. Even alive, she didn’t like to show or sell her art—and was rich enough not to.
A wealthy New York saloniste, painter and poet, Stettheimer frolicked with the crème-de-la-crème of American and European creative society. And we mean frolicked—one quick glance through her painting catalog is enough to reveal that she lived a carefree life, cushioned by luxury.
As if to prove that you don’t have to be poor and tortured to be a top-shelf, MoMA and Whitney Biennial-exhibiting artist, Stettheimer wowed her fancy art friends (like Alfred Stieglitz and Marcel Duchamp) with her flowy, feminine and decidedly modern compositions.
We’re obsessed with this dreamy piece, currently hanging at the Whitney. Complete with floating sea life, oversized poppies à la Wizard of Oz, and, as typical with her work, a cryptic message: SUN…
Sunday? Sunny? Sundry? Sundried tomatoes? Impossible to say. Regardless, all it needs is a baguette, a bottle of rosé and a picnic blanket for certified perfection.

8) Niki de Saint Phalle, Sun God (1983)

University of California, San Diego might be the only college campus in the world where you tell someone to meet you “under the sun god” and they won’t assume you’re tripping and forgot to microdose.
True to form, Niki de Saint Phalle created this fourteen-foot creature that looks like it escaped from a Native American shamanic ceremony for her first outdoor commission in the US. Plunked in the middle of an otherwise unassuming courtyard in the middle of a prestigious of higher learning, it’s a piece that demands attention. So much so that UCSD’s students started an annual music festival in its honor. I’ve never been, but I imagine it like a cross of Burning Man and the Secret Garden Party.

9) Peter Max, Four Seasons: Summer (1996)

A German Jewish Brooklynite by way of Shanghai, Israel and Paris, Peter Max became a poster child for the American 60s counterculture movement (literally, the man made posters).
An undeniable hippie, Max dove deep into astrology and hosted renowned yogi Satchidananda Saraswati when he visited New York in 1966. But unlike most mystics you know, he was swimming in cash from his early success. Life magazine published a cover of him—a Big Fucking Deal in itself—captioned with what might be one of the most paradoxical phrases in the history of the English language: “Portrait of an artist as a very rich man.” (This also happens to be what my tombstone will read).
Although Max painted his Four Seasons suite in the 90s, long after the heyday of Timothy Leary and Be Here Now, let’s just say you can tell the man dabbled in psychedelics in his day. What? It was legal back then!

10) Helen Frankenthaler, Bilbao (1998)

Google “Abstract Expressionist women” and an Artsy article titled “11 Female Abstract Expressionists Who Are Not Helen Frankenthaler” will come up. As one of the more misogynistic movements in art history (and that’s saying a lot), AbEx brings to mind macho dudes drinking in bars and arguing about their feelings—correction: dudes as macho as art bros can be.
That said, while we certainly need to shed light on more female abstract expressionists, Frankenthaler is the name you know for a reason. With her fluid, organic, nature-inspired compositions, she totally captured the spirit of the movement while going on to transcend it.
Later in her career, she made woodcuts and dabbled in other media, but her signature move remains the lyrical soak-stain abstract, like Bilbao. A thoroughly American girl (she was born in New York and died in Connecticut), she captures the sun-drenched essence of Spain without a single figurative form. It’s mind-blowing how much you can say with yellow, orange and a little squiggle of grey.

Text by Katya Lopatko 
Images via WikiArt, UCSD

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