Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, part V – The Best of the Rest

The title is highly subjective, of course; what we are looking at – and all we’ve seen so far –  is but a fraction of The Gardner’s vast collection of artworks and beautiful objects.

Look at the imposing Tapestry Room, for instance – imposing both in size and wealth – with its Flemish tapestries lining the walls…… and a portrait of Pope Innocent X, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a Velázquez but apparently it is not (but who the actually artist is, we know not)…Or the Veronese Room –

This room, which invites you to share Isabella Stewart Gardner’s love for Venice, takes its name from the painting on the ceiling. In 1899, while construction of the Museum was well under way, Isabella acquired The Coronation of Hebe, then attributed to Veronese. Gardner commissioned gilded paneling in Milan to frame the work in appropriate splendor. Rather than focusing on a single style or period, Isabella assembled around it a splendid mixture of objects that span diverse times and places. Stamped and painted leather panels from Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands line the walls. Gilded china saucers, cups, and a pitcher glisten on a small table at the room’s center. Balancing the stunning and huge Coronation on the ceiling are several pastels executed on an intimate scale by Isabella’s contemporary, James McNeill Whistler. 

Crossing the Long Gallery, a young lady stops me in my tracks –

Attributed to Paolo Uccello (1397 – 1475)
A Young Lady of Fashion, early 1460s

The portrait has a highly decorative quality in which costume and ornament play a major role. The rather flatly modeled face is placed on an insubstantial bust set against a uniform blue background. The woman is portrayed both according to literary notions of female pulchritude, which called for fair skin and blonde hair, and the dictates of contemporary fashion. Costly brocaded fabrics, pearls, and precious stones serve not only to display the sitter’s familial wealth and status but also to enhance her physical appearance – in art, as in life. In addition to a red and gold brocade sleeve and a sleeveless overdress, the woman wears a head brooch, a pearl choker with jeweled pendant, and a white cap ornamented with pearls.

This fashionable beauty looks impassive, immobile, and immutable, as if she were outside space and time. Her portrait image has a static, stereotyped character, in which the sitter’s individuality is almost entirely suppressed in favor of the social ideals for which she stands.

Bought as a work by Domenico Veneziano, the portrait has also been attributed to Paolo Uccello and the so-called Master of the Castello Nativity.

Source: David Alan Brown, “A Young Lady of Fashion,” in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 50.

The Chapel –

at the far west end of the Long Gallery, houses a consecrated altar that was used by Isabella Stewart Gardner–a devout Anglo-Catholic–for the celebration of Mass. Its function as an active sacred space persists to this day. Every April, as specified in Isabella’s will, a memorial service honors her memory. Liturgical items, including an early 17th century Italian carved ivory crucifix and a cloth that Gardner crocheted herself, adorn the altar table. A magnificent Gothic stained-glass window from the cathedral of Soissons in France stands as the centerpiece of the Chapel.

And last, but not least, Isabella Gardner herself, gracing the Gothic Room –

Mrs. Gardner sat for Sargent during his visit to Boston in January 1888. He was paid $3000 for the portrait, which was exhibited to great acclaim at Boston’s St. Botolph Club. The work also inspired gossip and legend: someone jokingly titled it “Woman: An Enigma,” while others believed that the sensuous display of flesh deliberately echoed the scandal recently created by Sargent’s Madame X. Mrs. Gardner herself said that she rejected eight renderings of the face until she was satisfied. Jack Gardner seems to have asked his wife not to publicly show the portrait again while he was alive, and indeed the portrait was placed in the Gothic Room, which remained private until Mrs. Gardner’s death. In its gallery, surrounded by altarpieces, stained glass, and religious statuary, the sacramental quality noted by nineteenth-century reviewers is even more pronounced.

Source: Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 204.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

May 4th, 2017

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, part III – The Theft

We start at the Macknight Room, the only one in the Museum to be named after a contemporary artist. Dodge Macknight’s watercolours may be decorating all four walls but, today, let us focus on my favourite object adorning the room – a desk with two side cabinets (scrivania con due mobili da appoggio); second half of the 18th century.Next, a passage by Worthington Street Entrance –

When Isabella Stewart Gardner built her museum, she made the top floor her residence and established a personal entrance to the building on Worthington Street (today Palace Road). In the spring of 2017 this space was restored to recreate her private foyer. Imagine Gardner shaking off her umbrella and enjoying artworks recently reinstalled as they were in her own time! 

But the Museum’ eclectic collection is not only renowned for its beauty; twenty-eight years ago, it also became the focus of the world’s largest heist. In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the Gardner Museum, tied up the guards and stole 13 works of art. The entire operation took 81 minutes and the works have never been recovered. The Museum, however, remains optimistic and offers $10 million for any information leading to the stolen art.

This is the Dutch Room, on the second floor.  Six works of art were stolen from here, including a Rembrandt self-portrait; one of his finest narrative paintings, A Lady and Gentleman in Black; and his only seascape, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee; as well as Johannes Vermeer’s The Concert.

Empty frames remain in their original position, awaiting for the art to return.

This is where Vermeer’s painting The Concert stood. One of only 36 by Vermeer in existence, this is the most valuable stolen painting—and perhaps the most valuable stolen object—in the world.

Isabella Gardner purchased The Concert in 1892 at auction in Paris. 

The Concert (c. 1664)
Johannes Vermeer
Oil on Canvas 

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

May 4th, 2017

The Gardner, part II – Vatichino

We continue our walk with a brief stop by the Blue Room, one of the most intimate and personal spaces, with objects that reflect Isabella’s personal relationships. In the early days of the Museum the Blue Room welcomed concert goers, serving as the ladies’ reception area. We stop long enough to throw envious stares at the luxurious locks of the lady depicted in Howard Gardiner Cushing’s – aptly named – painting ”The Shower of Gold” (1908).

Next, we enter the ”Vatichino” (the Little Vatican), a small and narrow room, thus named teasingly by Isabella precisely because it is so tiny.

Here we can enjoy a collection of objects related to Gardner’s lifelong love of music.  ”An avid traveler, her musical tastes were shaped by experiences around the world. In diaries and letters, Gardner described the sounds of different cultures – from the soaring voices of the Bayreuth Festival in Germany to the raucous singing of boatmen on the Nile. When in Boston, Gardner regularly invited friends and family to concerts at her home, often printing beautiful programs for her guests.”

Program for a concert, 10 May 1900
Ink on polychrome Japanese woodblock print

”At her homes in Boston and Brookline, Gardner hosted musical performances and concerts for a range of audiences. While they were private events, they set an important precedent to the public musical performances that would be hosted at her museum after 1903. This program for a concert at her Brookline estate, which as known as Green Hill, features work by her friend Charles Martin Loeffler.”

Victor George (active early 20th century)
Tamaki Miura, 1915
Platinum Print

”Tamaki Miura was the first internationally celebrated Japanese soprano. After training in her native Japan and in Europe, Miura was cast in the title role of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in London in 1915. Acclaimed for her performances, Miura toured the United States to reprise her role for American audiences. Gardner was a great fan of the opera and friend to many singers; the fact that she collected a photographic portrait of Miura denotes her admiration for the path-breaking soprano.”

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

May 4th, 2017

The Fabulous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

How come it is already one year ago this week, when we stepped into the secret world of wonders that is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum? That eclectic structure, inspired by Venetian Palazzos but integrating Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance elements – and more recently a new glass wing by (you guessed it, again) Renzo Piano –  and still managing to look harmonious?

Indeed, Isabella and her husband Jack, loved Venice so much they wanted to bring it back home with them. And so they did! They bought columns, windows, and doorways to adorn every floor, as well as reliefs, balustrades, capitals, and statues.

But it was not just Venice. The Gardners travelled all over the world, from Paris to the Middle East, Egypt to the Far East and across America, collecting on their way paintings, photos, statues and other objects of art and craft. Their collection grew so big, the Gardners had to think about a new home for their treasures. That’s when plans for a new museum were first laid. But Jack’s sudden death in 1898 found Isabella pursuing their common dream all by herself.

And she certainly pursued it. Not only she was present at the site every day, she gave orders, demonstrated exactly how she wanted the building to look like down to the slightest detail. When ceiling beams arrived for the Gothic Room and were too smooth for her liking, she took an ax in hand and hacked away to achieve the desired result.

It took us the best part of the day to walk through The Gardner; it will take us a good full week to revisit it here on The Humble Fabulist. I hope you enjoy this series as we take a look into the wonderful world that Isabella Stewart Gardner built for us.

Let us start with the Courtyard, visible from every gallery in the museum, with its Ca’d’Oro balconies dating from 1845-1855 and Roman sculpture garden where plants change almost every month. For most of the them are grown in the Museum’s temperature-controlled Hingham greenhouses, then trucked here on rotation so that the garden is always in full bloom. Notice the hydrangeas in these pictures?  They are often grown from cuttings taken the previous year and are on view between May & June.  This is ”Sentient Veil”, a sculptural sound piece created in 2017, by Philip Beesley (b. 1956). Small glass ampules containing gold and blue liquids hang in clusters from a digitally fabricated textile, along with LED lighting and miniature acoustic resonators. “Sentient Veil” is silent until visitors enter the gallery; movement in the room triggers a mixture of whispers, mechanical clicks and gentle tones, creating a quiet chorus.

The Spanish Cloister –

Isabella Gardner herself spent hours assembling the nearly 2,000 painted and glazed tiles into the appealing pattern we see today on the walls of the Spanish Cloister. Her friend, the artist Dodge Macknight, bought the tiles for her in Mexico in 1909 from the Church of San Agustìn.

And, finally for today,

EL JALEO, 1882
Oil on canvas

During his travels in Spain in 1879, Sargent was mulling over a major work of art in which he could express his love of Gypsy music, dance, and picturesque costumes. On his return to Paris he set to work on a wide horizontal picture whose proportions simulated the shallow stage space of popular musical establishments. He named the painting El Jaleo to suggest the name of a dance, the jaleo de jerez, while counting on the broader meaning jaleo, which means ruckus or hubbub. The painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1882 with the more explicit title El Jaleo: Danse des gitanes (Dance of the Gypsies).

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

May 4th, 2017

That jagged red line

Our stop at the Harvard Art Museums was an enlightening and entertaining experience. Walking through the galleries with their surprisingly large and varied art collection, it is easy to forget that this is, first and foremost, a teaching institution. For the Museums’ collections and exhibitions may be admired by the art loving general public but their main purpose is to serve as catalysts for teaching and research projects and encourage active learning and thinking across disciplines and cultures.

We leave the galleries with two ladies that, in my view, personify this intercultural dialogue; so far apart in time and style, yet so similar in their delicate, minimalistic technique; their differences and those red subtle details, only bringing them closer together.

Zhang Xiaogang (b. 1958)
Portrait, 1996
Oil on canvas

”Painted from a photograph, Zhang’s Portrait situates the subject in an eerie grey dreamscape. By imbuing the precision of photography with the modulated tones of a painting, Zhang imparts a surreal quality to the work. The portrait belongs to the artist’s Bloodline: Big Family series, based on family photographs taken before and during China’s Cultural Revolution. In the 1980s Zhang was part of a group of artists and philosophers opposing government repression and advocating for humanism, individual freedom and democracy. Despite its formal portrait conventions and the ubiquitous collared jacket, the painting represents an individual. Yet the notion of collectivity, central to the Cultural Revolution, still permeated Chinese society, as is evident in the repetition evoked by this series of paintings. The jagged red line, a reference to the bloodlines that tie a family together, cuts across the subject like a wound, imparting a subtle violence to the cool grey portrait.”

Ammi Phillips (1788-1865)
Harriet Leavens, ca. 1815
Oil on canvas

”Phillips was an itinerant, self-taught painter who spent much of his career travelling through small towns in the Berkshires and the Connecticut River Valley. An able marketer, he promoted his portraits in local newspapers as having been done ”in a correct style” with ”perfect shadows and elegant dresses in the prevailing fashion of the day.”
This portrait, among the most celebrated and widely recognized works in Phillips’ oeuvre, depicts the eldest daughter of the Leavens family of Lansingburgh, New York. She is portrayed as a slender, stylish young woman dressed in a gown in the Empire style, which as adopted from France.
With its simple geometries and pastel palette punctuated by flashes of blue, orange and red, the portrait looks forward to the modernist abstractions of the early twentieth century. Phillips’ work held particular appeal for American painters of that era.”

Harvard Art Museums, Boston

May 3rd, 2017

East meeting West in the Harvard Museums of Art

I already mentioned in the first part of this series, that the Harvard Art Museums collection spans centuries, styles and continents. Even a brief walk through the galleries proves this to be quite true. See, for example, how the display of objects from ancient Eastern civilizations is arranged so that they blend seamlessly with art from the 18th century.

Head of a Buddha
Gandharan, Kushan period, 2nd century AD
From Pakistan. Dark grey schist

”With small mouth, slender nose, crisp, planar intersection of forehead and eyes and wavy locks of hair, this idealized image of a Buddha bears all the Classical features of Greek-inspired Gandharan sculptures.”

Attributed to Kaikei (active c. 1183-c. 1236)
Left Hand of a Colossal Amitābha Buddha (Amida)
Japanese, Kamakura period, late 12th-early 13th century
Wood, lacquer and gold

”The third and fourth fingers of this enormous left hand in the centre of the gallery, sculpted in a palm-up posture, would originally have curled upward to the thumb as part of a symbolic hand gesture, or mudra. Recent scholarly detective work has established that this hand belonged to a 16-foot standing Amida Buddha, installed at Shin-Daibutsu-ji Temple in Mie prefecture in central Japan. The sculpture’s right hand would have been held pendant, palm facing outward to complete the mudra, which is known in Japanese as the sakate raigō-in, or ”gesture of welcome to the soul of the deceased with upturned palm”.”

Inkstone Box (Suzuribako)
Japanese, Edo period, late 17th-early 18th century
Lacquer on wood with decoration in gold, silver and sabi urushi (thick lacquer paste) utilizing the hiramaki-e (low-relief sprinkled design), takamaki-e (high-relief sprinkled design) and nashiji (”pear-skinned” ground) techniques, with applied kirikane (cut gold and silver) and with sheet-lead inlays; stone and metal fittings

Pair of Jade Circular Table Screens
Mounted on Cloisonné Stands
Chinese, Quing dynasty, 19th century
Dark green nephrite (so-called spinach green jade); stands made of enamels on brass

”Table screens such as this pair were intended for decorative display within a scholar’s studio.  The flamboyancy of these ornate, deeply carved screens and cloisonné stands suggests that they were likely made for a scholar’s studio within a palace, as the environs of a typical Confucian scholar’s studio would have been more restrained.”

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)
Susanna Steuart Tilghman (Mrs. James Tilghman), 1775
Oil on canvas

”Charles Willson Peale, who founded one of the first museums in America, began his career as a portraitist. He spent his early years in Annapolis and during the Revolutionary period enjoyed the patronage of prominent landed families in the area. Susanna Steuart Tilghman and her husband, James, helped fund Peale’s travel to London where he studied with the expatriate American painter Benjamin West. Emulating the grand patrons of Europe, the Tilghmans and their peers helped launch Peale’s distinguished career, which would include commissions from important dignitaries and would culminate in the founding of the Philadelphia Museum. Housing natural history specimens and portraits of Revolutionary heroes, the museum opened in the city’s Independence Hall in 1786.”

Otto van Meurs (1714-1783)
Case, mounts and face by unidentified artists
Long Case Musical Clock, ca. 1750-75
Oak with burl walnut veneer, mahogany inlay (possibly with later additions), walnut moldings and a gilt brass mount; silvered, gilt and pained brass dial

”Crafted by one of the leading clockmakers in 18th-century Amsterdam, this clock displays important information but is also a richly symbolic object. Its elaborately ornamented dial keeps time and indicates the day of the week, the month, the phase of the moon, the lunar date and the tides. The case, inlaid with woods imported from around the world, is adorned with a gilt brass mount showing Father Time holding an hourglass. Finials representing Atlas and a pair of trumpeting angels rise at the top of the pediment.
The true marvel of this clock is its music. To mark the hour, a set of ten carillon bells powered by an internal gear train sounds on of eight popular tunes.”

Paintings on the left & right side of the clock are by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
Left: Sarah Morecock Boylston (Mrs. Thomas Boylston), 1766 – Oil on canvas
Right: Thomas Boylston II, ca. 1767-69 – Oil on canvas

John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
Major General August de la Motte, 1787
Oil on canvas

Colonel Ernst August von Hugo and Lieutenant Colonel von Schlepegrell, 1787
Oil on canvas

Colonel Gustav Friedrich von Dachenhausen, 1787
Oil on canvas

”In 1783, the City of London commissioned Copley to create a large public painting commemorating Britain’s victory over the French and Spanish navies at the Siege of Gibraltar in 1782. These portraits were preparatory studies for that painting.”

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
Young Girl Reading, ca. 1770
Oil on canvas

On loan to the Harvard Art Museums from the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Harvard Museums of Art, Boston

May 3rd, 2017

More Harvard Art

”So this is their home”, I silently exclaimed! A lot of the art in these galleries has been bequeathed to the Museums by former students. Please enjoy a fraction of this unimaginable wealth!

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin, 1888. Oil on canvas. Dedicating this work, van Gogh inscribed it ”To my friend Paul Gauguin” and send it to him. Shortly afterwards, however, their friendship deteriorated and Gauguin sold it for three hundred francs.
Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), Astor Hotel, 1933. Mezzo-fresco (lime wash on plaster). Marsh’s Depression-era work focuses on urban landscapes and everyday life in America; his subjects include burlesque performers, unemployed workers on the Bowery and Coney Island beach scenes. He was particularly concerned with the exploitation of the nation’s millions of unemployed women and portrayed them as independent figures.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Seated Bather, ca. 1883-84. Oil on canvas. Renoir painted this figure and her drapery differently from the landscape, so that she appears to float in the setting. He also left her right foot unresolved where it meets the fabric, signaling that his pictorial approach was no longer a purely naturalistic enterprise.
Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973), Mother and Child, ca. 1901. Oil on canvas. Following his visit to the Saint-Lazare prison hospital, an institution for Parisian prostitutes with venereal disease, Picasso produced a number of paintings of destitute mothers embracing their small children. This painting was executed on a reused canvas and another composition lies beneath this scene. That painting is a portrait of Picasso’s friend, the poet Max Jacob, who sits in his study surrounded by books. Some evidence of the image is still visible, particularly the contours of the face, which is roughly the same size as the mother’s head and is located above her knees.
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Three Pairs of Shoes, 1886-87. Oil on canvas. Made at a time when van Gogh was deeply engaged with still life, this composition is painted over another image of a large bouquet of flowers in a vase. It is one of a series of five paintings of shoes by the artist.
Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973), Woman with a Chignon, 1901. Oil on canvas. Picasso painted this portrait during his early-career ”Blue Period”, so named for the colour that predominated in his work at the time. The muted palette, blocks of interrupted colour and abstracted forms with strong outlines typify the artist’s approach at this stage, one of the most celebrated of his career.

Harvard Art Museums

May 3rd, 2017

Mass || Worker

Hanging together, side-by-side, as if they were made for each other.

Perhaps they were.

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (1894-1933) Mass, 1931. Oil on wood
Heinrich Hoerle (1895-1936) Worker (Self-Portrait in Front of Trees and Chimneys), 1931. Oil on paper, mounted to board

”In the 1920s and early 1930s, Seiwert and Heinrich Hoerle were a the core of the gruppe progressiver künstler (progressive artists’ group), more commonly known as the Cologne Progressives. Unlike exact contemporaries Willi Baumeister and the Bauhaus artists, the group believed in the unification of modern art and radical politics.

In Mass, Seiwert depicts seven figures in a wide range of paint colours applied in distinct planes with thick, visible brushstrokes. The purest white is reserved for the head of the centermost figure, creating a forward thrust to the group. Despite the absence of symbolically raised fists or, in fact, any arms at all, the figures are clearly joined in collective demonstration. The rectangular planes that flank the group may refer to farm fields and factory buildings. Seiwert hereby challenged the common embodiment of revolution in an idealized singular socialist ”hero”. As critic Enrst Kállai described it at the time, this ”patchwork” forms ”an undividable unity: all for one, one for all”.”


”In an age of new technologies such as film and photography, Hoerle and his close contemporaries, known as the Cologne Progressives, remained committed to the medium of painting as a means to unite artistic form with radical left-wing politics. Their work challenged the notion of the subjective, expressionist brushstroke by embedding it in a strict compositional structure. Hoerle meticulously painted Worker on a horizontal plane, laying the surface flat on a table. Questioning the privileged status of the individual artwork, he conceived the painting as part of a larger numbered series. His aim was to combine multiple painterly concepts into murals — larger, public formats he found more suitable for collective experience. Understanding the role of the artist as vital in the establishment of a new society, in this self-portrait he divides his surroundings and himself into two distinct realms: industry and agriculture. The artist, spanning both, embodies the utopian vision of a classless society, thought achievable only by the combined efforts of industrial workers and farmers.”

Lines @ Harvard Art Museums

May 3rd, 2017


The Yard & The Art

Everything about Harvard commands respect: the Institution, the studies, the buildings and – my personal favourite – the art. If Harvard were a car, it would have been a Rolls-Royce. As things stand, Harvard is one of the top Universities in the world and, as we are about to find out, boasts an astonishing art collection that can be viewed at the Harvard Art Museums. The use of plural is intentional, because there are actually three Museums – the Fogg, the Busch-Reisinger and the Arthur M. Sackler – consolidated under one roof just outside the Harvard Yard, in the newly renovated building on 32 Quincy St., re-designed and extended by (you guessed it) Renzo Piano.

John Harvard (1607–1638)

Max Beckmann (1884 – 1950)
Self-Portrait in Tuxedo, 1927
Oil on canvas

Franz von Stuck (1863-1928)
Wounded Amazon, 1905
Oil on canvas

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)
Self-Portrait with Cat, 1920
Oil on commercially woven cotton fabric

Victor Grippo (1936 – 2002)
Analogia I, 1970-71
electric circuits, electric meter and switch, potatoes, ink, paper, paint and wood

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Eugénie Graff (Madame Paul), 1882
Oil on canvas

Robert Gober (b. 1954)
Untitled, 2009-10
Plaster, beeswax, human hair, cotton, leather, aluminium pull tabs, enamel paint

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Seated Bather, c. 1883-84
Oil on canvas

William Holman Hunt, (1827 – 1910)
The Miracle of the Sacred Fire, Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem / The Miracle of the Holy Fire, 1892-99
Mixture of oil and resin on canvas

Hunt, a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and a painter of religious subjects, made four trips to the Holy Land. This painting represents the annual “miracle of the sacred fire” at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Denounced as a fraud for centuries, the event continued to attract thousands of pilgrims, who eagerly awaited the rekindling of the flame over Christ’s purported tomb. Hunt found the scene, with its crush of bodies, to be distasteful and heretical, but was keen to capture its “dramatic, historic, and picturesque” qualities. When the painting was exhibited in London in 1899, he was obliged to provide a key to the complex array of figures. The flame, borne by a priest to the right of the shrine, is barely visible. An English woman at the lower right, protecting her children from the spectacle, serves as a surrogate for the curious viewer and a contrast to the expectant pilgrim family in the foreground.

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Eternal Idol, 1893

The Renzo Piano effect

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Victor Chocquet, c. 1875
Oil on canvas

An employee at the Ministry of Finance, Victor Chocquet (1821–1891) met Degas in 1875, and by the second impressionist exhibition, in 1876, had become an avid supporter of the progressive artistic movement, collecting works by Renoir, Monet, and Cézanne. Here Renoir paints his new friend and patron dressed in casual attire. With his hands informally clasped across the bottom left corner of the canvas, Chocquet’s pose suggests the sitter’s closeness with the painter. Chocquet had identified Renoir as the inheritor of the romantic painter Eugène Delacroix’s approach to color. Renoir acknowledges this compliment and pays homage to the celebrated colorist by including one of Delacroix’s preparatory studies from Chocquet’s collection in the background. The study was for a lunette in the Hôtel de Ville (Paris city hall), which was destroyed in 1871.

There will be more art from the Harvard Art Museums in the coming days, the collection is vast and spans centuries, styles and continents.

May 3rd, 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.