Madonna!

Driving south from San Simeon on CA-1 and then US-101, your way will inevitably bring you to another castle of opulence. The High Temple of Kitsch, a Symphony in Pink by the Brass Ensemble, the legendary Madonna Inn. From ”roses are red” to ”think pink” to ”red or dead”, every banality you’ve ever heard or thought of, will come to mind and take on a new meaning. This place has to be seen to be believed –  from its Alpine Swiss hotel exterior down to the lavishly decorated restrooms, everything dressed in all shades of pink, with brass accents breaking the ”monotony”. Seeing ”la vie en rose” has never been easier, no rose-coloured glasses necessary.  And that is only the ground floor; you haven’t even seen the rooms yet!

Mr. & Mrs. Madonna


The Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo

July 12th, 2017

The Roman Pool

Sheer, mind-blowing magnificence in thousands of tiny smalti, left me speechless.

{The Roman Pool is decorated from ceiling to floor with 1″ square mosaic tiles. These glass tiles, called smalti, are either colored (mainly blue or orange) or are clear with fused gold inside. The intense colors and shimmering gold of the tiles combine to create a breathtaking effect. The designs created by the tiles were developed by muralist Camille Solon. The inspiration for some of these designs came from the 5th Century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.}

For more about the Roman Pool, please go to the Hearst Castle Pools webpage.

July 12th, 2017

Spotted: The ‘real’ Daily Planet

We were on our way back from a lunch break when my co-worker, who had been in the City much longer than I, pulled me aside:

”Wait, have you seen this?” ”C’mon, you’ll love it!”

In, he dragged me, through a revolving door and before I knew it I was facing a giant revolving globe amidst a stunning art deco interior with just a touch of brass, as if Jules Verne had walked by and left his mark, and I could hardly contain my excitement. For the lobby we had walked into belongs to The Daily News Building, the iconic skyscraper built in 1929–1930 to become the headquarters of the New York Daily News paper, up until the mid 1990s. But it gets better: this, as I discovered by looking at the photographs on the wall, was the very building that served as the offices of the ”Daily Planet”, the newspaper where none other than Clark Kent and Lois Lane, played by Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, worked as reporters in the 1978 Superman and its 1980 sequel.

I am still in awe!

Today the New York Daily News has moved on but the building is still home to its broadcast subsidiary WPIX.

The News Building was designed by architects Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells, in the Art Deco style. Other Art Deco designs by the same architects include: the American Radiator Building, Rockefeller Center (Hood) and McGraw-Hill Building (Hood).

The News Building
42nd St., between 2nd & 3rd Avenues

June 22nd, 2017

The East Room || The Rotunda

The Original Library

With its three-story inlaid walnut bookshelves and magnificent ceiling, the East Room was designed as a treasury for Pierpont Morgan’s remarkable collection of rare printed books. The sixteenth-century Netherlandish tapestry over the mantelpiece depicts avarice, one of the seven deadly sins, personified by the mythological King Midas. Two staircases, concealed behind bookcases, provide access to the balconies. Paintings by H. Siddons Mowbray adorn the upper reaches of the room, and the signs of the zodiac are depicted in the ceiling’s hexagonal spandrels. (Morgan was a member of an exclusive dining club that admitted only twelve members at a time—one for each sign of the zodiac—and the arrangement of the signs in his library’s ceiling may carry a hidden meaning related to key events in his personal life.) Allegorical depictions of the arts and sciences alternate with portraits of figures from Socrates to Michelangelo, identifying the library as a place for the preservation of art and ideas.

Literature, Art, and Music from the Middle Ages to the Present

On view in the East Room are examples from The Morgan Library & Museum’s extraordinary collection of medieval illuminated manuscripts, rare printed books and bindings, and handwritten manuscripts of great writers, artists, and composers from the Renaissance to the present day. While some of the items on view were purchased by Pierpont Morgan, others have been acquired in the century since his death. Selections are changed regularly, but a seminal work is always on view: one of the Morgan’s three copies of a Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455. With Gutenberg’s Bible, the painstaking process of copying books by hand gave way to an innovative new technology—movable type—that facilitated the exchange of art and ideas in all spheres of human endeavor.

Taking another look at The North Room, before leaving.  The Rotunda

In Morgan’s day, visitors to the library passed through a pair of monumental bronze doors into a rotunda replete with opulent detail: variegated marble columns, an ornately patterned floor, and fine mosaic panels that line the curved walls. The ceiling paintings, by American artist H. Siddons Mowbray (1858–1928), depict three of the major literary epochs represented in Pierpont Morgan’s collections—the ancient world, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. 

This portrait of Mrs. Morgan was on view at the Lower Level (and not in one of the rooms surrounding Mr. Morgan’s library, as I would have expected). John Singer Sargent, Florence 1856-1925 London
Portrait of Mrs. J.P. Morgan, Jr.

This spirited portrait depicts Jane Morgan (neé Jane Norton Grew, 1868-1925), the wife of Pierpont Morgan’s son, J.P. Morgan, Jr. (1867-1943). Although the portrait is inscribed 1906, it appears that Mrs. Morgan sat for Sargent in 1904-5, when she was still living with her husband in London. The Morgans returned to New York in 1906. The following year Sargent declined the opportunity to depict Pierpont Morgan. Shortly thereafter he relinquished his practice as the leading portrait painter of high society in order to focus on landscapes and murals.

The Morgan Library & Museum

May 7th, 2017

The incredible murals of the Boston Public Library

I had read about Sargent’s murals and, in any case, public libraries always figure high on our ”must see” lists when we visit cities with significant history and culture. Having already been acquainted with the treasures inside and out of the MFA and having marveled at the city from high above, I expected the Library would be the best way to end a day full of wonders. I expected to be amazed by a couple of murals, chandeliers, marble staircases and, of course, an inviting reading room. But nothing – nothing – could have prepared me for this:

Not just a couple of murals but three whole galleries covered in art – by three different artists.

We found the Chavannes Gallery first: The Muses of Inspiration Hail the Spirit, the Messenger of Light by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

“This cycle of allegorical murals by renowned French painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898) was completed in Paris and installed between 1895 and 1896. Subjects depicted include science, history, poetry and philosophy.”

Then came the Abbey Room and its murals: The Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail by Edwin Austin Abbey

“Respected American illustrator Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911) completed his first work in oil paint with this vibrant mural cycle, installed in the library in 1902. The murals follow the story of Sir Galahad on his quest for the Holy Grail.”

And, finally, the magnificent Sargent Gallery Murals: Triumph of Religion by John Singer Sargent

“American artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) spent 29 years on this ambitious mural cycle, titled The Triumph of Religion. Painted in his studio in England and installed over four phases between 1895 and 1919, the panels interpret moments in the history of Paganism, Judaism and Christianity.”

For more information the Library and Murals, notably those by John Singer Sargent, please check The Boston Public Library website.

Visited on May 2nd, 2017 – and still in awe.

Philadelphia City Hall – The Building

Philadelphians are proud of their history and heritage, and one way to show it is by signing up as volunteer guides. Go to any site of historical or cultural interest and you can be sure to find a tour lead by a ranger or a knowledgeable docent.

Like the City Hall Interior tour we took, which includes a visit to the Tower for a panoramic view of the city. Actually, the tour starts outside, across from the Wanamaker Building, where John Wanamaker’s bronze statue commemorates him simply as ”Citizen”; then on to the inner courtyard before entering the vast City Hall – the largest municipal building in the world – and its seemingly endless corridors and offices.

See that small feature on top of the tower? This is a 27-ton, 37ft bronze statue of the city’s founder, William Penn. Created by Alexander Milne Calder, it is the tallest statue atop any building in the world.

Biggest, oldest, tallest… superlatives seem to characterize Philadelphia – and very suitably so, I might add.

Philadelphia
February 22nd, 2017

Another end, another new beginning

Until then, a few snapshots from the legendary, ultra chic Waldorf Astoria that closed on 28th February for renovation. Its new owners, a Chinese insurance company, intend to convert most of its rooms to luxury condominiums. While the exterior is entirely landmarked, this is not the case with some interior parts. Hopefully, all public spaces and their exquisite ArtDeco elements including the hotel’s extensive archive of photographs, menus and other historical paraphernalia will be preserved.

Waldorf Astoria
Park Avenue

June 5th, 2014