Saturday, December 5: Today, Mike and I drive down to Richmond for several “events.” Mike is going to meet some friends for the University of Richmond vs. William & Mary football game. I don’t enjoy football even though it’s my alma mater playing (W&M); I’d rather have lunch with my adult children, which I’ll refer to as my “kids.”
The kids are busy for much of the day as final exams are next week at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU); Alex has to attend a biology study group and Sarah has a big paper due and has to work on it all afternoon before going to work at 5:00. So I meet Alex and Sarah for lunch at Fresca…on Addison. We chat mostly about Sarah’s paper. She’s writing a literary analysis of Katherine Porter’s short story “The Theft,” which she had me read over Thanksgiving. We’ve already discussed it at great length and now we discuss it some more. I miss analyzing literature, which is all I did during my four years as an English major at William & Mary.
The kids take off to meet their obligations, and I have some time to kill before I pick up Mike from the football game. Later, we’ll pick up Alex and his girlfriend Ariana to go to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden for the Dominion Gardenfest of Lights 2015-2016. We plan to take them out for dinner after we walk through the light show.
In the meantime, I have several hours to kill, so I visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which I haven’t done in a long time. I have forgotten how huge it is. I mistakenly thought I could see the whole thing in several hours. That simply isn’t possible unless you rush through.
I decide I’ll make my way through from top to bottom, so I begin with the South Asian collection on Level 3. This gallery has art from India, Nepal and Tibet. It takes me back to my travels through India in 2011 and Nepal in 2013. I still haven’t been to Tibet, though I’d love to go!
One room is completely occupied by “Garden Pavilion” from 19th century Rajasthan. Elegant arcaded pavilions were standard features in royal gardens and palace complexes in India between the 17th and 19th centuries. Large examples could accommodate a ruler and his court assembled for business or entertainment. More intimately scaled pavilions such as this one were used for private retreat, pleasure, and contemplation (from a plaque at the museum).
I saw many pavilions such as these when I traveled around northern India and Rajasthan.
I’m fascinated by the Mughal paintings. According to a plaque at the museum, “no event was more crucial to the history of Indian painting than the Mughal conquest of north India in 1526. This dynasty from Central Asia would endure in India until its last leader was deposed by the British in 1857. From about 1550-1700, the so-called Great Mughal emperors were the undisputed masters of much of the Indian subcontinent. Great sponsors of the arts, they developed in their royal ateliers a sophisticated visual language that was both beautiful and awe-inspiring.”
Next, I explore the Art Deco collection.
I wander into the European collection featuring French art and French Impressionism. Below, Eugene Boudin characteristically explores the theme of modernization as known in the late 19th century. His rapid brushstrokes capture the windblown clouds and white-capped waves as a fishing fleet is under sail on a windy day off the coast of France (from a plaque at the museum).
The barely tamed Arabian stallion portrayed here by Carle Vernet captures the Romantic interest in both the “exotic” and the supremacy of nature over humankind.
This is one of four paintings of poppy fields that Claude Monet painted during the summer of 1885 in Giverny, where the artist resided from 1883 until his death almost 45 years later.
This view from Vincent Van Gogh’s hospital window is one of many versions he painted while recovering from a serious emotional crisis. The artist suffered from attacks of mania — perhaps stemming from a form of epilepsy — throughout his life, but they became more pronounced after his unsuccessful collaboration with Paul Gauguin in Arles.
Kees Van Dongen, a Dutch painter active in France, shows his whimsical sense of humor in the comical contrast between the woman’s flamboyantly oversized hat and the miniscule dog.
During World War II, Raoul Dufy took refuge in his atelier in Perpignan in southern France. The quiet optimism in the power of art — here, a bouquet painted from life takes form on the artist’s easel — is greatly at odds with the tumultuous reality of global conflict.
By 1953, Pablo Picasso had long since departed from the hard abstraction of Analytic Cubism, however, this painting — though decorative in tone — retains the broken forms and skewed perspective that are characteristic of the artist.
Here, Pierre Bonnard greatly monumentalized a commonplace piece of household furniture. Presented almost as a secular altar, this table seems to embody the very idea of family, household and bourgeois abundance.
In one gallery, I find the ballerina by Edgar Degas, similar to the one I saw earlier this year at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
Next, I wander into the Art Nouveau gallery, where I admire the Tiffany lamps.
Finally, I go downstairs to Level 2 and walk through the McGlothlin Galleries which feature the American collection. This huge oil on canvas by Edwin Lord Weeks is the first painting to greet me. He was the first known American artist to visit India. This painting dates from Weeks’ second India excursion. Depicting the Moti Masjid built by Shah Jahan — the Mughal emperor associated with the famed Taj Mahal — this painting won a gold medal in the 1889 Paris Salon, where the artist’s works created a public sensation.
George Inness was a leading figure of the Hudson River School and is best known for his serene renderings of landscapes that resonate with the ideal of America as the New Eden. Evening captures two men, one piling wood and one driving his livestock home, after a long day’s work.
This painting features the greatest steam yacht of its era, the Namouna, built in 1881, breaking through the waves, the oblique angle of the bow tilting the viewer toward the rush of surging white foam.
This painting channels Edith Wharton’s famed interior design guide, Decoration of Houses (1897), a bible for genteel taste during the Gilded Age.
Of all the places Sargent encountered in his travels, perhaps none captured his attention like Venice. Beneath the Grand Canal’s Rialto Bridge, ornament is secondary to action. Here the flow of traffic enlivens the painting with a sense of movement.
Theodore Robinson was instructed in a centuries-old manner that emphasized the laborious sketching of live models in a variety of traditional poses. In the Sun features one such model lying in a field of grass, blanched by the summer sun. Marie, as she was known, was Robinson’s romantic companion and prospective wife. Sadly, the artist died unmarried just four years later at the young age of forty-three.
May Day festivals in New York City featured schoolgirls dressed in white parading through Central Park. This painting identifies the parade with all socio-economic levels, and includes the diverse group on the same canvas.
After leaving the American collection on the 2nd floor, I head straight through the East Asian, Ancient and European collections to the African collection. By now I am getting tired and my feet are sore from walking and standing on the unforgiving stone floor. I do a quick walk-through of the African gallery and the Mid- to Late 20th Century Gallery.
Marsden Hartley’s Franconia Notch is a quintessential expression of the leading modernist’s self-proclaimed “Americanness” at a time of growing cultural nationalism.
Ecuadoran Oswaldo Guayasamin, a leading Pan-American painter, focuses here on Latin America’s indigenous heritage and various ethnic groups, especially the poor and dispossessed.
Edward Hopper’s House at Dusk is set at the “exquisite hour” of dusk, that most transitional time of day. The painter introduces a suspenseful narrative element with the figure of a woman silhouetted by artificial light, seemingly unaware of the subtle afterglow taking place behind her apartment house.
After this, I’m exhausted from all my walking and there is still much to see in the museum. I will have to return several more times to take it all in. But for today, I leave and head out to Richmond’s west end to pick up Mike at the University of Richmond. After a quick stop at Starbucks, we head into the Fan to pick up Alex and Ariana to head to the Gardenfest of Lights.
All brief descriptions of the art are taken from plaques at the museum. 🙂