The House of Jazz

“We’re right out here with the rest of the colored folk and the Puerto Ricans and Italians and the Hebrew cats. We don’t need to move out in the suburbs to some big mansion with lots of servants and yardmen and things.”

And so it was in 1943 that Louis Armstrong and his wife Lucille came to live in this modest house in the working-class neighbourhood of Corona, Queens. They lived here for the remainder of their lives.

Today, the Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives is open to the public, offering guided tours while audio clips from Louis’s homemade recordings are played, and visitors hear Louis practicing his trumpet, enjoying a meal, or talking with his friends.

No one else has lived in the house since the Armstrongs passed away; the rooms, furnishings, ornaments, the all-mirrored bathroom and that lovely show-stealing turquoise kitchen reflect their personalities, taste and times they lived in. I tried to stay behind every time our guide moved on, to take a better look at each room. I was sure that if I touched the walls I would hear the echo of Louis’ trumpet playing – and not from the audio clip.

The Museum is expanding across the street from the House. The new Education Center will complement the existing experience with an exhibition gallery, a jazz club where musicians will rehearse and perform their music, and a store. The museum’s research collections, currently housed at Queens College’s library, will move into an Archival Center on the second floor.

The anticipated completion was pushed back to 2021 (pre-Covid-19).

With the Louis Armstrong House Museum and Archives currently closed because of Covid-19, the Museum has launched “That’s My Home,” their first online exhibition – absolutely worth a visit.

November 4th, 2018

A work of art

There are many wonderful museums and art galleries in this world.

Then, there is The Getty.

Multilayered, modern design; open spaces; galleries drenched in natural light; gardens and streams; breathtaking views of the city and surrounding hills. If you can, go on a Saturday when the Getty remains open until 9 p.m. Because nothing beats watching the sunset from one of the balconies. Or the city lights as they begin to flicker.

June 15th, 2017

San Francisco is… The Walt Disney Family Museum

Celebrating the life and work of the man whose dream, ambition and perseverance made countless young lives happier, the Walt Disney Family Museum will warm you up and brighten your day, and it will bring back memories you thought were long forgotten.

Walt and Ruth Disney on the front of 1249 Tripp Avenue, Chicago before leaving for Marceline, Missouri ca. 1906

Walt ca. 1919

In 1917, the United States had ended its policy of  neutrality and joined the Allies in the war. By mid-1918, war fever had swept the nation. Although Walt was anxious to take part in this patriotic effort, he was too young to join the military. That summer, he learned about the American Ambulance Corps, a division of the Red Cross that needed drivers and had a lower age requirement. He went down to the office and enlisted, but quickly learned he needed a birth certificate in order to obtain a passport. Official birth certificates in those days were not regularly issued. Walt needed a notarized affidavit confirming his birthdate with signatures of both parents. Elias -his father- refused to sign the form declaring it a ”death warrant for his son”. Flora conceded, preferring to ”know where Walt was than having him run off”. With the signed and notarized affidavit, Walt still had one hurdle: the minimum age for the ambulance corps was 17 and he was only 16. As soon as Flora signed the paper, Walt grabbed the pen and changed his birthdate from 1901 to 1900, and with that he was finally on his way to France.

Walt in his Red Cross uniform, ca. 1919

Margaret Winkler
By contracting for the Alice Comedies in 1923, Ms. Winkler gave Walt his first national distribution.

The Disney family in front of the studio

Toasting their 41 years of marriage, July 13, 1966.

The Walt Disney Family Museum

July 8th, 2018



San Francisco is… the eclectic Legion of Honor

A haven for European Art spanning 4000 years; paintings, sculptures, decorative objects, frames as precious as the works they adorn, ancient art from the Mediterranean basin and  mummies from Egypt, all under this beautiful French neoclassical structure, a replica of the French Pavilion at San Francisco’s Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915, itself a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris, an 18th-century landmark on the left bank of the Seine. Michael Sweerts (Flemish, Brussels 1618-1664 Goa)
Portrait of a Youth, ca. 1655-1661
Oil on canvas

Louis Léopold Boilly (French, 1761-1845)
After Clodion (Claude Michel)
Triumph of Amphitrite, ca. 1785-1799 (details)
Oil on paper mounted on canvas

Honoré Daumier (French, 1808-1879)
Third-Class Carriage, 1856-1858
Oil on panel

Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, 1824-1904)
The Bath, ca. 1880-1885 (detail)
Oil on canvas

Konstantin Makovsky (Russia, 1839-1915)
The Russian Bride’s Attire, 1889
Oil on canvas

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905)
The Broken Pitcher, 1891
Oil on canvas

Jules Bastien-Lepage (French, 1848-1884)
Sarah Bernhardt, 1879
Oil on canvas

John Anster Fitzgerald (British, 1823-1906)
Fairies in a Bird’s Nest, ca. 1860
Oil on canvas

Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (French, 1824-1887)
Mary Queen of Scots, ca. 1860-1869

Celestial and terrestrial globes, Dutch, ca. 1600
Jodocus Hondius, the elder (Joos de Hondt, 1563-1612), cartographer
Metal, walnut and paper

Table from Italy, Bologna, 17th century

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917)
The Three Shades, 1898

Paneled room
France, ca. 1680 and later
Painted and gilt wood and mirror

William Blake
”Time in advance… ”and ”Time, having passed on…,” from The Complaint, and the Consolation; or, Night Thoughts, by Edward Young

[Night Thoughts was first published in 1742 and its continuing popularity more than fifty years later inspired publisher Richard Edwards to bring out a new, deluxe edition, for which he commissioned William Blake to provide illustrations.]

Legion of Honor

July 7th, 2017

Delirium || The Art of the Symbolist Book @ The Morgan Library

Midtown Manhattan may seem too professional, flat, boring, touristy, UN-y, with nothing much moving after hours besides FDNY ladders and Mount Sinai ambulances – sirens full blast, but it has its share of interesting spots. Keep an open mind, look beyond the luxury shop windows of Fifth or Madison Avenues or the Broadway theatre district, and you may be surprised. And quite positively at that.

Take a look inside The Morgan Library, for instance, one of Midtown’s gems both architecturally and as an exhibition space.

What began as an intimate palazzo-like structure intended to serve as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan, became today’s complex of buildings of different styles, covering half a city block.

Mr. Morgan’s library was designed by Charles Follen McKim and built between 1902 and 1906, next to his residence. Later, as his collections grew, an Annex was added in 1928. More recently, in 1988, Mr. Morgan’s brownstone residence was added to the complex, followed by a garden in 1991, which united the three buildings. And, finally, there came the largest expansion yet with (surprise!) a Renzo Piano steel and glass design creating new spaces and connecting everything together.

The images that follow are from ”Delirium: The Art of the Symbolist Book”, an exhibition that featured works by authors and artists from the Symbolist movement.

Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904)
Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud, 1872
Watercolour and white opaque wash over black chalk on paperboard

Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Centaure lisant, ca. 1885
Charcoal sprayed with fixative on wove paper 

Marcel Schwob (1867-1905)
Georges de Feure, artist (1868-1943)
La porte des rêves

Edgar Allan Poe’s influence on Symbolist literature was most explicit in its prose. In Schwob’s Arachné, a man’s desire to possess his beloved leads him to strangle her to absorb her soul, exhaled in her dying breath. Things backfire. Transformed into a spidery creature, she uses his rope to ensnare him, confining his body and silencing his speech. Schwob’s fiction reflects a coterie of misogyny in the Symbolist movement. These authors explored the sinister artifice and automaton-like qualities of women as femmes fatales. Publisher Octave Uzanne, who relished the movement’s darker side, enlisted de Feure to illustrate Schwob’s fantastic tales for a livre de luxe. The artist’s elaborate ornamental borders, which manifest a stylistic progression from Symbolist decoration to Art Nouveau, were the only elements the writer praised.

Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
L’homme-arbre, ca. 1895
Charcoal and graphite pencil on paper

”Delirium” was but a fraction of what was to be discovered that day. The Morgan and its treasures will monopolize The Humble Fabulist’s upcoming pages. They are totally worth it, I promise!

The Morgan Library & Museum

May 7th, 2017

The art of having your head in the clouds

Walking into the galleries of the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, I could hardly believe we were still in the same Museum.  Tara Donovan
Untitled, 2003
Styrofoam cups, hot glue

This undulating lattice of styrofoam drinking cups with glowing hollows and pliable rims was made to expand into the architecture of this particular space. To discover how they react to light and space in transcendent ways, Donovan experiments with huge volumes of manufactured materials. Clustered with an almost viral repetition, the cups above assume forms that both evoke natural systems and seem to defy the laws of nature. ”My work is mimicking the ways of nature, not necessarily mimicking nature” she notes. Here, it might suggest cellular growth or even the density of molecules in rolling clouds. 

Jonathan Borofsky
I Dreamed I Could Fly, 2000
Acrylic on fiberglass and incandescent lamp

Borofsky’s work is driven by the ideals of equality and harmony. Made especially for the wide open spaces of the Linde Family Wing, these flying figures ”are able to rise up and look down upon the whole planet… [they] see and feel that human beings are all connected together and that we are all one – no divisions and no walls.” 

Always a pleasure to discover a work by Borofsky; you can see two more works we came across in earlier trips, in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
May 2nd, 2017

Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston || Botticelli

Botticelli and the Search for the Divine” was MFA’s main exhibition during our visit, and the ”largest, most important display of Botticelli’s works in the US” at that. While Botticelli’s subject matter, i.e. religious (Christian) imagery, leaves me unaffected, I can’t but admire his artistic dexterity, no doubt cultivated and enhanced by the support of his patrons, the wealthy Medici family, headed by Lorenzo the Magnificent. And, while his patrons largely dictated what the artist would create, they also provided the means for some of his most emblematic works. For instance, on Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Book), the artist used rare, expensive materials: green pigment from the mineral malachite; pure gold; and, most valuable of all, pulverized lapis lazuli, imported from Afghanistan, for the deep ultramarine of the Virgin’s robe. Materials that the majority of artists could very rarely afford – if at all.

But first, in order to reach the exhibition, one had to walk through the Museum’s Rotunda – in itself a work of art, decorated as it is with John Singer Sargent’s murals.

”In 1916, the MFA’s Trustees invited Sargent to decorate three lunettes in the Rotunda. Sargent offered a counter-proposal, suggesting that the Rotunda’s coffered ceiling be redesigned to allow space for a program of sculptural reliefs representing various classical gods and heroes. Using a scale model, Sargent ultimately decided that the limited daylight coming through the oculus would compromise the reliefs’ visibility from the floor. He did integrate some reliefs into his overall program for the Rotunda, but Sargent instead embarked upon a series of paintings for the space, which was unveiled to great fanfare in 1921, along with his designs for the surrounding balustrades and the casts of Venus and Minerva seen in the niches above.”

Sandro Botticelli, Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Book), ca. 1478–80
Tempera and gold on panel

Sandro Botticelli and workshop, Venus, ca. 1484-90. Oil on canvas, transferred from panel.
While this particular Venus (and another, now in Berlin) have been attributed directly to Botticelli in the past, some experts today regard them as painted under the master’s supervision by assistants.

Sandro Botticelli, Minerva and the Centaur, ca. 1482
Tempera on canvas

Sandro Botticelli, Saint Augustine in his Study, ca. 1480
Detached fresco

May 2nd, 2017

The Woodner Collections: Master Drawings from Seven Centuries

Sheer delight continued with the discovery of these masterpieces dating from the 14th to the 20th century.

Beham, Sebald, 1500 – 1550, Cimon and Pero (1540), pen and black ink with charcoal heightened with white on heavy laid paper

The story of Cimon and Pero was told by the first-century historian Valerius Maximus in his Memorable Deeds and Sayings. Imprisoned without food or water, the aged Cimon was saved from death by the visits of his daughter Pero, a young mother who nourished him with breast milk. Pero’s selfless act, which came to be known as ”Roman charity”, was regarded as a model of filial piety.

Niccolò dell’Abbate, 1509 or 1512-1571, The Rape of Ganymede (c. 1545), pen and ink with wash and watercolour over traces of chalk, heightened with white on paper washed light brown

Ganymede was a handsome shepherd who was carried off by Zeus (shown here in the form of an eagle) to become cupbearer to the Gods. The youth is usually shown nude or in classical dress, but here he wears the elegant costume of a sixteenth-century courtier.

Federico Barocci, probably 1535-1612, Head of a Bearded Man (1579/1582), chalks on blue paper
Luca Signorelli, 1445/1450 – 1523, Bust of a Youth Looking Upward (c. 1500), chalk, partially indented with a stylus
Andrea del Sarto, 1486-1530, Head of Saint John the Baptist (c. 1523), chalk
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725-1805, Bust of an Old Man, probably 1763, chalks with stumping, wetting and erasure

After completing a painting, Greuze often made finished drawings of the heads of some of the individual figures. These ”têtes d’expression” (expressive heads) were intended to be sold and appreciated as independent works of art. 

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1780-1867, Mademoiselle Mary de Borderieux (?), 1857, graphite and watercolour with white highlights
Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, Self-Portrait, c. 1855, chalk
Pablo Picasso, Spanish, 1881 – 1973, Two Fashionable Women, 1900, charcoal
Henry Fuseli, 1741-1825, Satan Defying the Powers of Heaven, late 1790s, graphite, chalk and wash

National Gallery of Art

”Washington, DC—Ian Woodner assembled an extraordinary collection of over 1,000 old master and modern drawings, making him one of the 20th century’s most important collectors. More than 150 works from his collection now reside at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. While Ian Woodner gave some works himself in the 1980s, the majority have been donated by his daughters, Dian and Andrea. His daughters have also made other gifts and have pledged works from their personal collections. The Woodner Collections: Master Drawings from Seven Centuries brings together for the first time the best of Ian Woodner’s collection with some of the works given and promised by Dian and Andrea Woodner. […] 

Some 100 drawings dating from the 14th to the 20th century are presented in an exhibition of masterworks donated by one of the great connoisseurs of the 20th century, Ian Woodner, and his daughters, Dian and Andrea. The Woodner Collections includes drawings executed by outstanding draftsmen such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Edgar Degas, and Pablo Picasso, among many others.”

They were on view in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art through July 16, 2017.

April 25th, 2017