Monday, July 13, 2015

The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum

Women in the Garden, Claude Monet, model Camille Doncieux 

"The latest fashion . . . is absolutely necessary for a painting. It's what matters most."
—Édouard Manet, 1881

The Popular White Day Dress
A favorite past time of mine has always been to visit museums and to write about those trips and share them with you. In the spring of 2013, I heard about two traveling exhibits, one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and another at Brooklyn Museum. Both of these exhibits sounded interesting.

Other than changing planes at JFK airport, I had not been to New York City. For my first trip to the Big Apple, I wanted to have an experienced tour guide. So I called a high school friend who currently lives in New Jersey to see if she was interested in joining me for a few days of museum hopping. Being familiar with the city and always up for an adventure, she was more than ready to go. 

The adventure began by spending a couple of days exploring beautiful, historic Shrewsbury, NJ. A few days later, we took the early commuter ferry into NYC. It was a short 45-minute ride to the heart of downtown.  

As we walked to our hotel, I came to know why so many people fall in love with New York City. Yes, I made my friend walk! Jan wanted to hail a cab, I wanted to soak in the atmosphere of the city - the vibrancy, the trees, and parks, people on the move, the enticing aromas from restaurants and bakeries. It was all very compelling. My favorite sightings were the water towers for the rooftop homes. I enjoyed seeing all the plantings and imagining the rooftop oasis above our heads. What a fun place to live!  

Berthe Morisot, The Sisters
After dropping our luggage at the  W Hotel, I agreed to take a cab to the Met. It was a  very fast cab ride.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of our great treasures. It is also the largest museum in the United States and one of the ten largest in the world. The museum is vast, with a permanent collection that has more than two million pieces.

One of the exhibits that brought me to New York and specifically to the Met was Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity. The exhibit consisted of eighty paintings, including Camille in the Green Dress and Luncheon on the Grass by Monet. 

Madame Bartholome in the Conservatory
When entering the Met, it's difficult to determine where to start. For me, it's like being a kid in a candy store. It would be easy to spend several days getting lost in the galleries with all of the great work. The special exhibit we were visiting showcased quite a few paintings that had never been seen in America.

Actual Dress 
It was divided into eight galleries showcasing fashion en Plein air, coats, top hats, accessories, and a black and white room. Paris was then, as is now, a fashion capital. The exhibit featured paintings from Impressionist artists paired with period clothing.

The exhibition featured paintings paired in some cases with the actual dresses worn in the painting. To read much more about the exhibit, visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art

When we look at the time period of the mid-1860's - to mid-1880's, we see the importance that fashion played in the Impressionist paintings. No one shows this better than Claude Monet. Camille Doncieux, Monet's wife was featured prominently in a majority of his paintings wearing beautiful gowns. After Camille died, his stepdaughter, Suzanne Hochchede, became his favorite model. The period is summed up well by the following statement: 

"With the rise of the department store, the advent of ready-made clothing, and the proliferation of fashion magazines, those at the forefront of the avant-garde—from Manet, Claude Monet, and Auguste Renoir to Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Émile Zola—turned a fresh eye to contemporary dress, embracing la mode as the harbinger of la modernité. The novelty, vibrancy, and fleeting allure of the latest trends proved seductive." -The Metropolitan Museum 

If you want to read more on this time period, please read Claude Monet, William Adolphe Bouguereau, Paris and Impressionism.  (Note: Since photographs were not allowed, all photos of this exhibit were sourced from the Internet.)

Jean-Frederic Bazille, The Family Reunion

John Singer Sargent and the Brooklyn Museum 

The following day we awoke to the sound of pouring rain. The rain, however, couldn't dampen our spirits or our artistic adventure. We made our way to Grand Central Station and took the subway to the Brooklyn Museum for the John Singer Sargent Watercolor Exhibit

The Sargent exhibit featured works that had not been seen by the public in decades. It was a collaboration between the Brooklyn Museum and the Boston Museum of Fine Art and was curated from their private collections.

The exhibit consisted of ninety-three paintings. Of these, eighty-six were watercolor, and nine were oil paintings. In 1909, the Brooklyn Museum bought eighty-three watercolors from Sargent. The Boston Museum of Art bought forty-five of his watercolors.

The book John Singer Sargent Watercolors is a catalogue of the paintings prepared for the exhibition. The book, along with archival quality giclee's of Sargent's paintings, can be purchased from the Brooklyn Museum's Shop or The Boston Museum of Fine Art Shop. (Note: Since the Brooklyn Museum allowed visitors to take photographs, I took the photos of this exhibit.)

Sargent was an American born in Florence, Italy. He exhibited his artistic talents early in life and spent most of his early years in Rome, Vienna, Geneva, London, and Madrid. 

Sargent went on to have a brilliant career. He was a prolific figure and landscape painter whose style was fluid and painterly. During his career, he worked primarily in oil paints. It wasn't until the last two decades of his life that he began to work increasingly in watercolor. 

Paul Helleu Sketching with his Wife
Between 1900 and 1914, Sargent produced around seven hundred works in watercolor. These watercolors ranged from quick travel sketches to detailed and elaborate studies. 

Sargent's watercolors were painted primarily en Plein air. Paintings featured architecture, flora, and fauna, and statuary. His Venetian watercolors featured boats and lagoons. He enjoyed painting his perspectives from water level. 

His figurative watercolors featured relatives and friends resting in the sun, sitting, laying or playing in streams, reading, and painting. Other figurative pieces were of the Bedouins and their daily life. 

Santa Maria Della Salute
One of my favorite Sargent paintings is an oil from his Venice paintings. To my great surprise, it was included in the exhibit. No photograph in any book can show the true beauty of this painting. The Bedouin painting above also held me spellbound. It was as if he had painted it with butter. Just wonderful.... 

Another book featuring his watercolors is "Sargent Watercolors" by Donelson F. Hoopes (1970). This book features more of the Venetian paintings, the Bedouins, architectural details, and statuary. 

Trips to Museums are a great source of inspiration for me. This trip was no exception. To view such iconic paintings up close made them feel much more personal. After such an incredible experience, I was eager to return to my studio and work.  

Even though these exhibitions are over, the Met is currently offering new exhibits featuring Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends June 30 - October 4, and Van Gogh Irises and Roses plus more. If my plans work out I may be writing an article on the current Sargent exhibit. Wherever you travel remember to check to see what's available in nearby museums.

Monet, The Met, and Jan
Now let me introduce you to my friend, Jan, who attended these exhibits with me. She loves to have fun and was a perfect museum companion.  After arriving at the Met, Jan pulled berets and famous artists mustaches from her purse. What a surprise! So much fun ensued. We were asked by many people to have pictures made with them. The kids loved us, and everyone wanted to talk with us.

One guard asked if we had an extra mustache, so we shared. Many people thought we were performance artists. As we left the Met and began to walk towards Central Park and back to our hotel, we began to take off the berets and mustaches, and people began to cry "No!" It was truly a top ten day for both of us.

Rembrandt Van Rijn

By the way, the matching outfits were totally by accident. We didn't discover this until we were looking at the photos. Too funny!

The Brooklyn Museum and Rembrandt

Thanks for joining me, and please continue to send your comments. I enjoy receiving your emails, comments on the blog and Facebook. It's great to be bringing this to you. If you like this article please share this post with your friends or on Facebook.

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