Famous Paintings and Their Stories

Curious Minds Speaker Series


Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema Thu, Sep 28 1:00 PM
Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema Thu, Oct 12 1:00 PM
Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema Thu, Oct 26 1:00 PM
Film Info


Thursdays, September 28 - November 9, 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM

Long before the Mona Lisa, Whistler's Mother, The Scream and American Gothic became art world clichés, each was in its own way a bold statement made by an artist at the forefront of innovation.

In this six-week lecture series, Curious Minds favourite Barbara Isherwood (The Art of Picasso, The Great Photographers) will examine some of history’s most iconic paintings and explore how each fit into the context of their creators' careers and the broader culture from which they arose.

As we survey works by legendary artists like Velázquez, Vermeer, Dali and Van Gogh, we’ll take an exciting journey through the canon of Western art—and receive a deeper immersion in the social worlds and creative practices that led to some of history’s most renowned paintings.

This series is led by art writer and art historian Barbara Isherwood, the former host of ArtSync TV and a frequent lecturer at the School of Continuing Studies, University of Toronto. An energetic educator who brings infectious passion and clear-eyed analysis to history’s greatest artworks, Barbara has led the popular Curious Minds courses The Women Who Made Modern Art, The Art of Picasso, The Great Old Masters, The Great Photographers and The Art of Living: The History of Interior Design.

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September 28: Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus and da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus has come to define the Renaissance concept of beauty. What were Botticelli's sources of inspiration? The Mona Lisa, by Leonard da Vinci, is the world’s most famous painting. We will examine the myths, mysteries and motivations surrounding the creation of this timeless work, and review the evidence behind new theories about its original appearance.

October 5: Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring

It's been attacked (three times!), hidden in a cave, and the subject of two feature films. Find out why Rembrandt's celebrated portrait, commonly known as The Night Watch, was one of the painter's most revolutionary works. Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring is often called The Mona Lisa of the North. Hear how recent research has revealed new facts about this enchanting yet enigmatic work.

October 12: Velázquez’s Las Meninas and Whistler’s Mother

More ink has been spilled about Las Meninas by Spanish artist Diego Velázquez than any other work in the history of western art. We examine how this monumental painting was a bold statement about the artist's place in society. The painting commonly known as Whistler's Mother is actually called Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1. Why was this portrait of Anna Matilda McNeil Whistler a radically avant-garde move in 1871?

October 26: Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Munch’s The Scream

Starry Night, painted while Vincent van Gogh was recuperating from a breakdown, is his most admired work. How does this "landscape of memory" reflect both the artist's visionary painting style and his deepest spiritual beliefs? Edward Munch's The Scream has become an emblem of modern angst. We will learn about the titular 'scream' (which is not what you'd expect), and the surprising sources behind Munch's haunting image.

November 2: Rodin’s The Thinker and Klimt’s The Kiss

We're sneaking in a sculpture! Auguste Rodin's The Thinker was meant to be just one element of the hugely ambitious The Gates of Hell. How did it take on a life of its own? Gustav Klimt began as an academic painter then turned his back on convention to become a leader in the break-away Secession movement. The Kiss features his unique combination of innovation, sensuality and luxury, with a touch of ambiguity to keep us guessing.

November 9: Wood’s American Gothic and Dali’s The Persistence of Memory

Grant Wood's American Gothic has been the subject of both admiration and parody since its creation in 1930. We'll explore the fascinating backstory behind this iconic work. A defining painting of the Surrealist movement, The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dalí, features the hallmarks of his inimitable style, including one of the most idiosyncratic self-portraits of all time!