5 Famous Windows from Art History

Peer in and out through some of art's most wondrous windows

By Google Arts & Culture

American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood (American, 1891-1942)The Art Institute of Chicago

They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but what about windows themselves? Throughout history, artists have used windows as symbols of everything from confinement to freedom, as well as acting as sources of light for their dramatic scenes.

The famous arched window in Grant Wood's American Gothic (1930) bridges the gap between the eyes of the two figures, highlighting the eerie game of looking and watching that they, and we as viewers, are involved in. Scroll on to discover 5 more famous windows in art...

Woman at a Window (1822) by Caspar David FriedrichAlte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

1. Woman at a Window (1822), by Caspar David Friedrich

Friedrich paints his wife in his studio in Dresden, arranging the scene around a window to emphasize the contrast between the outdoors and the interior. 

Confined by the looming window-frame, the woman faces away from us, refusing to appear in her own portrait (which is perhaps a second type of confinement) and instead looks out of the window towards a departing ship's mast.

Street Story Quilt (1985) by Faith RinggoldThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

2. Street Story Quilt (1985), by Faith Ringgold

Ringgold uses woven fabrics and textured paint to create a vibrant scene of many windows, giving a glimpse into a lively Black community.

From families to firefighters tackling a blaze, and from banners proclaiming social justice to shadowy figures hiding behind curtains, the windows of Ringgold's community keep its members in tension between togetherness and isolation. 

Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window (ca. 1659) by Johannes VermeerOld Masters Picture Gallery, Dresden State Art Museums

3. Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window (1659), Vermeer

Among Vermeer's most famous artworks, this painting tells a story of longing. The light from the window allows the girl to read her letter, but also mocks her with a vision of freedom beyond her domestic setting, a vision which remains just outside of the picture's frame.

Many believe that the letter is from an absent lover, and that the tumbling fruit on the bed symbolizes the 'over-spilling' of desire. In this way, the window communicates the woman's need to be free in love and life.

Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles (1889) by Vincent van GoghMusée d’Orsay, Paris

4. Bedroom in Arles (1888), by Vincent van Gogh

Probably the most famous bedroom in the history of art, Van Gogh's sleeping quarters at 2, Place Lamartine in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône, France (known as the Yellow House) became immortalized in three colorful paintings he made in the late 1880s. 

Though the yellow furniture often draws the eyes of viewers, the painting is also concerned with thresholds. The doorway on the left leads to the guest room in which the painter Gauguin stayed, and the green light of the window seems to inform the colors of the whole composition.

The Barns, Lake George (1926) by Georgia O'KeeffeGeorgia O'Keeffe Museum

5. The Barns, Lake George (1926), by Georgia O'Keeffe

Perhaps better known for her close-up pictures of flowers, Georgia O'Keeffe also painted landscapes and architectural studies. This painting depicts outhouses and barns on the upstate New York estate of her husband, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

The black, thickly-applied paint of the barn's wall is offset by the small, pale, open windows. There is a tension here between light and dark, the strong and the vulnerable. Who knew a plain building could have such personality?

View from the Artist's Window (About 1825) by Martinus RørbyeSMK - Statens Museum for Kunst

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