Unfinished Paintings by History’s Greatest Artists Are Now at The Met

Can unfinished paintings also be complete? This is exactly the question raised by the curators of the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art who have brought together nearly 200 paintings by history’s greatest artists from Van Gogh to Leonardo da Vinci and Tintoretto. The new fine art exhibition called “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” explores the difference between finishing and completing an artwork. So let’s find out the reasons why the Renaissance masters, as well as many of the modern artists, left their works incomplete?

“Saint Barbara” by Jan van EyckThe “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” exhibition includes the paintings that were not completed by masters due to certain circumstances, thus giving us an idea of the process of their creation, and also intentionally unfinished paintings created according to the special non-finito technique used by such great artists as Cezanne, Turner, Rembrandt, and Titian. Approximately 40% of these paintings dating from the Renaissance to the present are drawn from The Metropolitan Museum’s own collection of fine art while others are represented by international and local loans from the world-known museums and private art collections. It is also worth noting that the similar exhibition was held in London last summer. However, the New York’s one examines the term “unfinished” in its much broader sense. Moreover, it demonstrates The Met’s unique ability to show best examples of modern and contemporary art within a unique historical context combining scholarly resources with a rich fine art collection.

The highlight of the exhibition is one of the Vincent Van Gogh’s oil paintings titled “Street in Auvers-sur-Oise.” This urban landscape was created in 1890, a year of the artist’s death. For today, it is recognized as unfinished, but there is also reason to believe that this piece of Van Gogh’s paintings is just another work created in the non-finito technique. One more perfect example of the “unfinished” works displayed at The Met’s fine art exhibition is “Saint Barbara” by Jan van Eyck created in 1437. The nature of this refined artwork is the subject of much dispute. Some New York and international experts insist that it is a completed drawing with color inspired by manuscript illumination while others claim that it is a drawn preparation for an exquisite unfinished painting.

Frankly speaking, no one can definitely say whether this or that artwork is completed or not especially given the fact that the non-finito technique has been taken in the entirely new directions by such contemporary and modern artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Jackson Pollock, Lygia Clark, and Janine Antoni, who have extended the boundaries of finished and unfinished paintings into both time and space. Thus, the “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” exhibition gives visitors a unique opportunity to complete amazing works of fine art once begun by history’s greatest artists. It is on view at The Met Breuer through September 4.

"Doge Alvise Mocenigo (1507–1577) Presented to the Redeemer" by Jacopo Tintoretto