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Globetrotting for canvases

We spoke to two Chicago-based retirees on an epic journey to see the works in the book 1001 Paintings to See Before You Die.

Ray and Sue Wynn

Image courtesy of AGO

Twelve years ago, Chicago-based retirees Ray and Sue Wynn took a trip to the National Gallery of London that would change the course of their lives forever. While in the gift shop they stumbled upon a copy of the 2006 book 1001 Paintings to See Before You Die and were intrigued. After scrolling through its pages – and realizing they had already seen several of the works – they became curious about attempting to see the rest. 

Fast forward to the present day, and the ambitious couple have been globetrotting each year, visiting art museums and even some private collections, in hopes of completing the list. We recently caught up with Ray and Sue when their quest brought them to the AGO, in search of 19th century painter Cornelius Krieghoff’s Habitants Sleighing. We asked Ray a few questions about the epic journey, how it began, and which works have been the most memorable thus far. 

AGOinsider: Can you share the inception story of your journey? 

Wynn: We were in the gift shop at the National Gallery in London about 12 years ago when we saw the book 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die.  We have always enjoyed going to art museums, and paging through the book we saw many paintings that we had already seen. So we thought it would be pretty easy, and fun to see the paintings in the book.  Boy were we in for a surprise.

AGOinsider: How many of the 1001 have you been able to see thus far? Can you share some of the global destinations your quest has taken you to?

Wynn: We have seen 720, including the two paintings at the AGO. This number includes 56 substitutes for paintings that are in private collections. I do get to make the rules. Don’t get me started on the 130-plus paintings in the book that are in private collections.  Sue is very tired of hearing all this.

Globally, we’ve been to Central Europe, Sicily, Malta, Israel, Moscow and St. Petersburg.  Not sure we will ever get to Australia, South America, Africa or Asia, but you never know.

AGOinsider: Thinking of all the paintings you have encountered, can you share one that resonated with you deeply? What was so special about it?    

Wynn: This is a tough one. Three come to mind: The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci and Guernica by Picasso. We obviously knew of these paintings before we started our quest. Finally getting to see them gave us a kind of connection to history, if that makes any sense.

Interested in keeping up with Ray and Sue’s progress? They regularly update a blog dedicated to their quest, here.

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