Oct 31, 2007

Artsy Weekend

On Sunday, I joined Paul Bolinger and his lovely wife, Camille, for a trip to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. The museum's claim to fame is that it is "America's oldest public art museum." Their Web site describes their origins: "Hartford art patron Daniel Wadsworth (1771-1848) founded the Wadsworth Atheneum to share the wonders of art with the public. In the mid-nineteenth century, average citizens had little if no exposure to fine art, antiquities, or beautiful objects. Only the very wealthy purchased paintings or decorative arts, and then only for their own enjoyment. Thus, Wadsworth's generous gesture was an exciting turn of events that raised the cultural fortunes of an entire community."

This was a wonderful place. Not only is the collection spectacular, but it is exhibited in a most "visitor-friendly" way. At one point, I was studying a Picasso oil that was the size of a postcard. I realized that my face was about one foot from the painting. There were no barricades and the guards were observant but not oppressive.

We planned to have lunch in the museum's cafe. Quite frankly, I was expecting a soggy chicken salad sandwich. Boy, was I wrong! I had a Santa Fe chicken salad that was as good as any I have ever encountered -- crisp vegetables, delicious spicy chicken, creamy pungent dressing, and looking like an ad for the Food Channel. Paul and Camille raved about their lunches as well.

The museum's collection is so varied as to be difficult to describe. Their Web site describes it better than I could:

The European Art collection is a rich and diverse collection featuring approximately 900 paintings, 500 sculptures, 800 drawings, and 3,000 British and Continental prints. Paintings on display represent periods ranging from late medieval through the mid-twentieth century. Especially impressive are Baroque paintings, including masterworks by Caravaggio, Strozzi, Ribera, Zurbarán, Hals, van Dyck, and Claude Lorrain. Nineteenth century artists, particularly those working in France, are amply featured and include significant works by Degas, Cézanne, Renoir, Monet, Manet, and van Gogh.
The American Decorative Arts collection uniquely embodies the history of material culture in New England and America. From elaborately carved and painted seventeenth century chests to the modern masterpieces of Marcel Breuer and Frank Lloyd Wright, this collection is filled with works ranging from the utilitarian to the luxurious. Connecticut craftsmen are celebrated through the fine examples of Samuel Loomis (1748-1814), maker of Colchester/Norwich style furniture, and Eliphalet Chapin (1741-1807), Connecticut's most renowned colonial cabinetmaker. Unique forms come to life in the modern meets natural ethos designs of George Nakashima (1905-1990).

The American Painting & Sculpture collection is one of the most distinguished of its kind in quality, range, and historical importance. More than 600 paintings, 200 sculptures, and 1,200 drawings and watercolors by approximately 400 artists constitute a nearly encyclopedic survey of fine art in the United States. (Paintings, sculpture, and works on paper after 1945 are part of the Contemporary Art collection.) Extraordinary in quality and nearly exhaustive in scope, this collection includes the earliest known dated American oil, a portrait of Elizabeth Eggington, painted in 1664, by an unidentified artist. Also featured are concentrations of colonial-era portraits and history paintings, Hudson River School landscapes (the paintings are currently traveling as an exhibit in Europe, see Traveling Exhibitions), post-Civil War Era favorites, and fine examples of twentieth century movements including Ash Can, Modernism, Surrealism, and Realism.
Needless to say, it just goes on and on. You could spend many days enjoying this place and still not see it all. Highly recommended!

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