Thursday, September 27, 2012

Day 17/60: Philadelphia Museum of Art

Tuesday, 9/25

By the time we awoke this morning, there was no denying that Dan had a cold; a bad cough sapped his energy all day. Even though the Philadelphia Museum of Art is near our motel, he decided we should take a taxi so that he didn't have to deal with the car. The weather was gray and damp.

The Philadelphia Art Museum is a big time art museum. What that means in practical terms is that it is overwhelming; there is way more to see than we could cover in the one day we allowed in our itinerary. We had been there twice before, so we thought we could just skim the highlights this time. We dashed about separately with our cameras, trying to find our old favorites, watching for changes and additions to the collection.

The museum has some of the most important paintings in art history. It is pretty hard to top van Gogh's Sunflowers.

Sunflowers, 1888-89
 by Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890)
Dan's photo
A common theme in painting has long been "bathers," figures of nude and semi-clad women or men on the banks of a stream. Renoir's interpretation shows three female figures; they are monumental in size, yet uniquely spontaneous and playful. Cézanne depicted a larger mixed group at a greater remove, so that their expressions and even their gender are insignificant and vague; he uses them to create an all-over structured pattern in a highly restrained palette.

The Large Bathers, 1884-87
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919)
Dan's photo
The Large Bathers, 1906
by Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906)
Dan's photo
The museum's collection of works by Marcel Duchamp is unparalleled. His name may not be as well known as some, but it would be hard to overstate his influence on other artists. His Nude Descending a Staircase is an effort to capture movement in a static painting.

Nude Descending a Staircase (No.2), 1912
by Marcel Duchamp (American, born France, 1887-1968)
Dan's photo

Duchamp was scornful of traditional art forms; his favorite thing was to shock the art community, not to mention the general public. He was the first to adopt existing objects like bicycle wheels and urinals as "found" works of art.

A group of sculptures by Marcel Duchamp
Jan's photo
Lest we think he was merely a glib commentator on modern life, he left us a glass sculpture that is sure to puzzle the most advanced thinkers. I can't figure it out, but I can tell you that when it was broken in transit to the U.S., he spent years gluing the shards back together, so it must have meant a lot to him.

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even
by Marcel Duchamp, 1887-1968

Pablo Picasso was working at the same time as Duchamp and in a similar spirit of turning convention upside down. The museum has his cubist depiction of three musicians playing jazz. This is one of the few subjects that Picasso portrayed twice in a similar manner; the other version is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Three Musicians, 1921
by Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Dan's photo

Born in 1887, the same year as Duchamp, Marc Chagall is often associated with floating fantasies of romance or depictions of Russian folk ways, but I'm especially fond of his painting of a poet after a long night's quest for inspiration.

Half-Past Three (The Poet), 1911
by Marc Chagall (French, born Russia, 1887-1985)
Jan's photo
Although Vassily Kandinsky comes from an earlier generation, his pioneering abstractions still feel radical and fresh, while retaining all the aesthetic harmonies.

Little Painting with Yellow (Improvisation), 1914
by Vasily Kandinsky (French, born Russia, 1866-1944)
Dan's photo
As for the big names that everyone loves in Impressionism and post-Impressionism, PMA is well endowed. Here are some less familiar examples.

Under the Pines, Evening, 1888
by Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926)
Jan's photo
The Battle of the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama, 1864
by Édouard Manet (French, 1832-1883)
Dan's photo
Le Bon Bock, 1873
by Édouard Manet (French, 1832-1883)
Dan's photo
Pont Neuf, Paris: Afternoon Sunshine, 1901
by Camille Pissarro (French, 1830-1903)
Jan's photo

Two Girls, c. 1892
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919)
Dan's photo
The Ballet Class, 1880
by Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Dan's photo

To be considered a really important museum, a good collection of European Old Masters is required; PMA has got the goods.

The Mocking of Christ, Early 16th century
Attributed to Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, fd. 1474-1516)
Dan's photo
Francis I, King of France, c. 1532-33
by Joos van Cleve (Netherlandish, fd. 1511-1540/41)
Dan's photo

The Annunciation, 1650
by Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1588-1664)
Dan's photo
Madame Du Barry, 1781
by Louise Vigée-Lebrun (French, 1755-1842)
Dan's photo

As befits an American museum, PMA also has a collection of important American paintings.

Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin (Sarah Morris), 1773
by John Singleton Copley (American, 1738-1815)
Dan's photo

Noah's Ark, 1846
by Edward Hicks (American, 1780-1849)
Dan's photo
Platte River, Nebraska, 1863
by Albert Bierstadt (American, born Germany, 1830-1902)
Dan's photo

A Huntsman and Dogs, 1891
by Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910)
Dan's photo

Between Rounds, 1898-99
by Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Dan's photo

The White Way, c.1926
By John Sloan (1871-1951)
Dan's photo

In the middle of the 20th century, abstraction was all the rage in America.

Painting with Two Balls, 1960
by Jasper Johns (American, born 1930)
Dan's photo

Untitled, c. 1960
by Joan Mitchell (American, 1925-1992)
Dan's photo

Though richly satisfying, the day was long and tiring, especially for Dan because of his cold. The museum building is huge and it has a confusing layout, that requires a lot of stair-climbing and retracing of steps. We had a nice lunch break at Granite Hill, "the museum’s pinnacle eatery." We both had fancy hamburgers with ultra-thin and crispy French fries.

When the museum guards shooed us out prior to closing, we easily snagged a cab for the return ride. When we got in, Dan went straight to bed, and he was out for the night. I napped for awhile. Then I went out and got some new cold medicine at a nearby store, which I administered to Dan when I returned. It suppressed his cough so he could sleep.

After dark, when I was about to return to sleep mode, I noticed a strange phenomenon: a large array of searchlights was playing about the sky, creating patterns of beams. I tried to photograph the sight, but the windows were streaked by a light rain. I wondered what the source or reason for the searchlights might be.

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