One of the most rewarding things I like to do in my travel time is to put an hour or two into a special piece of art. I try to avoid wandering around large museums for hours and instead prefer to focus on one or two pieces and really experience them. Here are some of my favourites.

Francesco Hayez – The Kiss (Milan, Italy). This painting embodies Italian romanticism at its best. It was painted in 1859 and is kept in the Brera museum in Milan. The painting represents a couple embracing while they kiss each other and is indeed considered one of the most passionate and touching representation of affection in art. If you look carefully you can see some figured lurking in the dark part to the left of the painting. Some say that the two lovers represent Italy and France and that the shadows symbolize threats to their newfound friendship and alliance.  I love the simplicity of it and the intensity of it all. This museum is a true hidden gem and has many other amazing pieces including some from Caravaggio.

Auguste Rodin – The Thinker (Paris, France). This is a wonderful bronze statue originally made in the 1880s and of which there are 28 around the world. I saw it during a visit to the lovely Musee Rodin in Paris but I also saw one on campus in Stanford, California. Originally the statue was called “the poet”. Today it is said to represent philosophy and reasons but also poetry and contemplation. Sitting in front of it gave me a sense of calm, a sharp contrast from all the energy outside the gates of the museum. The museum contains many amazing works from Rodin and is truly worth a detour while in Paris.

Paul Delaroche – The Execution of Lady Jane Grey (London, UK). This is another really powerful painting from the mid-19th century and it is displayed in the famous National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. I read somewhere that his painting was kept in storage for many years and therefore thought to be lost to the world. The painting depicts the execution of jane grey who became queen but was deposed only after nine days (hence the name “the nine days queen”). She was subsequently executed by Mary Tudor who had taken her place on the throne. Poor lady Jane was only 16! I love the dramatic effect of the painting and the expression on the faces of both victim and executioner. The scene conveys loss and anguish in a way that has always touched me deeply.

Vincent Van Gogh – The Starry Night (New York, USA). This is one of the most famous paintings from Dutch genius Vincent van Gogh. Painted in the late 19th century you can find it in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Van Gogh painted this from the insane asylum he self-admitted in after the famous breakdown in which he severed his own ear off. The painting depicts the view from the window of his room. The painting has an amazing intensity and if you look at it long enough the stars seem to blink and fade. I feel peace and anguish at the same time, a feeling I imagine he must have felt too while living there.

Johannes Vermeer – Girl with a Pearl Earring (The Hague, The Netherlands). This painting was created around 1665 and was made famous by a blockbuster movie released in 2003 and starring Scarlett Johansson. You can see it at the Mauritshuis museum in the Hague. I like the sense of mistry the painting conveys you cannot but wonder who she was and what she represented to the artist. A curious fact is that English street artist Banksy has recreated the painting as a mural in Bristol, replacing the pearl earring with an alarm box and calling the artwork Girl with a Pierced Eardrum!