I haven’t read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler since I was in elementary school, but I have always remembered the premise of it. Two kids run away from home and hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. How great would that be?
So here’s the blog post wherein I pretend to be an art historian and show you pictures of the art that stole my heart during my visit to the Met and tell you what I love about them. Let’s get this started because I still have a whole season of Dance Academy to watch on Netflix (Dance Academy is my latest obsession. I watched the whole first season this weekend.)
Saint Tarcisius by Alexandre Falguiere
This sculpture tells about a boy who was told to carry the Host (the Eucharist… or consecrated bread) along the Appian Way. He is affronted by some horrible boys and is stoned to death, but he never lets the Host fall to the ground and remains faithful to the end. I love the way he clutches it to his chest and the peaceful look on his face… meeting death with confidence that he did his best.
Pair of 18th Century French vases.
I just couldn’t get over the color of these vases! Part of it has to do with the wall color behind it (so vivid!), but I just loved it. In general, my personal taste is much more simple than this, but I love how intricate it is. But mostly the colors!
18th Century French room.
I love the rooms at the Met. It’s so wonderful to feel transported to a different time and place. I also love that it gives our everyday surroundings the name of “art.” I mean, sure… it’s easy to see why these antique vases and chairs and sofas and place settings, etc. would belong in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it’s not hard to imagine that our own (yours and mine) domestic, everyday objects could also be art.
Beheading of John the Baptist (I forgot to write down the artist or date)
I always mean to spend more time with Medieval or Proto-Renaissance (or hey, even Renaissance) art when I return to the Met, but I end up just looking at my favorites (19th and 20th Century European and American paintings) again and again. But this piece is in the Robert Lehman Collection, so I happened upon it. Don’t you love how brutal it is? I mean, look at John the Baptist getting his head sliced off on the left… so much blood! And then it’s carried in on a platter to the feast.
I forgot again to write down the info, but this is a detail of an annunciation painting.
In this one, the Virgin is sculptural (see the heavy drapery that looks like marble, even the book blends in). Everything is calm and muted. The dove (the Holy Spirit) seems almost frozen. Although it’s flying, there is no real movement. I just loved the feeling of this piece.
At the Racetrack, 1950s by Kees van Dongen
In this piece, I loved the flat areas of color. It’s a technique that I’m always drawn to. I also love that neon horse and the patterned clothes in the lower-left corner. Oh, and the dog.
Beach at Deauville by Kees van Dongen
Here again are those flat patches of color, but this time the palette is quite different. It’s much more muted. I think it’s an interesting choice for the beach, where I would have expected more vibrant colors, I think.
detail from Princess Albert de Broglie by Ingres
I didn’t end up taking a full shot of the following painting, but you can find it here. With Ingres, I’m much more interested in the details. I can never get over how silky he makes the dresses look or how delicate the lace is.
Can you guess this artist? Without letting your mouse rest on the image, I mean (that’s totally cheating). Did you guess Renoir? Because you would be right. I feel like I can tell a Renoir from a mile away. There’s something so distinctive about his brush work. I’m not sure what it is or why it’s so uniquely his, but take a look at this detail.
detail of Sea and Cliffs by Renoir.
And here’s something to compare it to.
Ok, so it’s not a perfect comparison. The Valley with Fir above was painted a few years later than the Renoir and in a different style, but still… it’s interesting to look at the difference in brushstrokes and see the kind of effect it has on the overall painting. And aren’t you amazed that just a few tiny brushstrokes can give the impression of a boat or a woman? I am. Here’s a detail of Valley with Fir.
detail from Valley with Fir by Henri Edmond Cross
Let’s look at some patterns.
Espagnol, Harmonie en Bleu by Henri Matisse
I actually really want that tablecloth. I love how the woman stands out, despite wearing a flower (that should blend into the wallpaper) and her rosebud mouth. She still feels very distinct. It must be the blue.
We’ll return to some 15th Century art for a moment. I had never heard this story before.
These panels tell us about the miracle of Godelieve, a pious young woman who was forced to marry a rich man. Her mother-in-law didn’t like her and made her live in a narrow cell with very little food. The mother-in-law also convinced her son that his wife was a witch. So two men took her and strangled her…
and drowned her in a well. I was confused about where the miracle part happened because that is where the story ends on the panel. But wikipedia tells me that Godelieve’s husband remarried and had a daughter who was born blind. Godelieve supposedly cured her. Which was really generous of Godelieve considering her husband had her murdered.
Let’s visit the new American wing. The last time I was at the Met, the American wing was under construction and all of the American paintings were shoved into an out-of-the way spot. Now the American wing is rather beautiful with lots of space. It also has this cool feature where you get to walk through several hundred years by visiting rooms decorated from different periods in American history. These columns, which I believe are Tiffany, are in a gallery that leads you into the American wing.
It seems like whenever I’m at a museum, I fall in love with a new artist. On this visit, it was Maurice Prendergast. And not just because he has an awesome name. Here’s the first of two paintings on exhibit.
Central Park by Maurice Prendergast
There’s a lot going on in this painting, but it’s still orderly and balanced because there’s a repetition of form. For example, look at the wagon wheels at the top and how the circle is repeated again in the bushes just below them on the right.
Picnic by the Inlet by Maurice Prendergast
I think I just love how busy these are and yet they are controlled. Here’s something on the other end of the scale.
Across the Room by Edmund Chalres Tarbell
The most notable thing in Across the Room is the empty space that takes up most of the canvas. I bet my 19th Century Art History professor (whom I loved… that class was maybe the best class I ever took) at Smith would have said it was “pregnant” with something. He always used that phrase. Does it symbolize the painter’s emotional distance? Whatevs. I just like that the composition is unique.
Lady with the Rose by John Singer Sargent
I love this portrait. I love the somewhat cross, bored look on the subject’s face. But if I were going to have John Singer Sargent paint a portrait of me, I think I’d be a little annoyed if this is how it turned out.
In the Laboratory by Henry Alexander
I don’t know much about science, but I know I am a sucker for lots of beakers and science-y looking things. I mean, look at all those colors! And how they are translucent.
detail from In the Laboratory by Henry Alexander
Science is pretty.
Out of all of the amazing paintings I saw that afternoon, though, I think this one (and a few similar ones) was my favorite.
Office Board by John F Peto
I know… it’s super simple. And how can it compare to all of the other masterpieces? Honestly, it doesn’t. There are way better paintings, but I loved this one. I like how it took something so every day and turned it into art. I love how it tricks the eye by making photographs and bulletins and elastics look real. Here’s a closer look:
detail from Office Board by John F Peto
It reminds me of Maira Kalman’s illustrations, which I also love. But more than anything, I think it’s the first thing at the museum that really made me want to create my own art. I know I could never be a Matisse or Renoir and honestly, I could never be a Peto or a Kalman, but it feels much more accessible somehow.
Are you burnt out on paintings? I just have a few more that I want to share.
Story of Golden Locks by Seymour Joseph Guy
I love this painting of an older sister telling a bedtime story. Mostly I love how her shadow almost looks like a bear, and I love how terrified her little brothers are.
detail from Story of Golden Locks by Seymour Joseph Guy
There is no way that kid is going to sleep that night. Big sis must be a good story teller.
And finally… I loved seeing all the Cezannes and Van Goghs etc. but this time I looked at them a little differently. This time I read names like Aix-en-Provence and Antibes and Arles and saw scenes like this…
Gardanne by Cezanne
and I thought… I am going to be there in less than 3 months! I will get to see those places for my very own self. And then I smiled.
I actually went to the Met for a very specific purpose. I was meeting up with an old friend from junior high and high school who works there. I haven’t talked to Benny in years, though we’ve kept in touch via facebook. I was a little nervous, to be honest, about meeting him again. It can be strange to meet up with people from the past. You forget that they don’t know about everything that has happened in the 15 plus years since you’ve seen them (and that’s a lot of living). But it was seriously the best to catch up with him.
We talked for a little while when I first met up with him, but then he had some meetings to attend and we decided to get together again after he was done with work. Luckily, I could easily entertain myself at the Met for several hours (I never even left one wing). And then we pulled up a bench in Central Park and talked for an hour or two. It’s crazy how he’s exactly the same as in junior high/high school, but more grown up. Later, I met up with him and his boyfriend for a movie and ice cream. I had lots of fun experiences while I was in New York, but the hours I spent with Benny and Malan were my favorite part of the trip. It was just so perfect to reconnect.
And it helps that it was the most gorgeous evening in Central Park.