Friday, October 29, 2010

Part 2: Tour of the Boston Public Library Central Branch

The original site of the Boston Public Library was where the Colonial Theatre is today. The current site was built on what was once a swamp in Back Bay. Back Bay was filled in with hundreds of wood pilings before anything could be built on it. Many of the surrounding buildings are also structured above wood pilings sunk deep in the mud, and the water was extracted.

Inside the McKim building, the vestibule harbors a statue of Sir Henry Vale, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636-7. Three large bronze doors with sculpture reliefs designed by Henry French grace the entry way.

Iowa sandstone piers line three aisles of the entrance hall, which is a feast for the eyes. A vaulted ceiling displays thirty names of famous Bostonians, including writers, politicians, and community leaders, in marble mosaic. A seal on the floor of the lobby denotes the founders of the library, and signs of the zodiac in brass are inlaid in the center aisle. Everywhere there is marble and sandstone, in pale earth colors that are illuminated by mostly natural light from large windows from the second floor landing.

Connecting the Entrance Hall with the Main Staircase is a deep triumphal arch. The marble of the very polished steps is ivory gray Echaillon, mottled with fossil shells and the walls are a richly variegated yellow Siena marble.

The great twin lions, couchant, on pedestals at the turn of the stairs designed by Louis St. Gaudens are made of unpolished Siena marble. They are memorials to the Second and the Twentieth infantry regiments of the Massachusetts Civil War. My next installment will describe the paintings by Puvis de Chavannes at the top of the stairs.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Part I, Tour of Boston Public Library

I recently participated in a tour of the McKim building in the central branch of The Boston Public Library. The Boston Public Library Central Library is located in Copley Square, a major hub of activity in the city of Boston. Established in 1848, it was designed to be a free library for the people, which was unheard of at the time. It was the first publicly supported municipal library in America, the first to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room.

There are two buildings in the central library, the McKim and the Johnson buildings. Designed by McKim, Mead, and White, the oldest building known as the McKim building, is a huge mass of granite and marble with carvings and embellishments on the exterior and interior spaces that make it a work of art unparalleled today. McKim hired mostly American artists to create murals and sculptures that decorate the many rooms and lobby areas of the library, and the entrances. Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, graces the central keystone over the main entrance directly over the seals of the Commonwealth of Mass, the Library, and the City of Boston. The fa├žade is decorated with the names of the great masters of art, science, religion, and statesmanship, and two large statues that represent Art and Science flank the steps leading to the entrance.

The Johnson building is the modern part of the central library and is only briefly described in the tour. Its architecture is not as impressive as the McKim building, though it does have modern amenities.

My next post will describe the interior architecture of the McKim building, which is very impressive.

Friday, October 15, 2010

American Modernists on Paper

The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT is currently hosting an exhibit of 100 watercolors, pastels, and drawings on paper by leading American modernists, called American Moderns on Paper. Some of the artists exhibiting include John Sloan, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, John Marin, Salvatore Dali, and Andrew Wyeth. My favorites of the show were two watercolors by Edward Hopper, Captain Strout’s House, Portland Head, and Methodist Church – so like New England and very cool angles, perspective, and color harmonies,

and a painting by Georgia O’Keefe, Slightly Open Clam Shell. O’Keeffe’s subtle use of color and softness inspire a curiosity to open the clam shell and explore the mystery within.

Another drawing that I thought was interesting was William Glackens’ Far From the Fresh Air Farm (East Side). It was packed with so much information so that there was very little white space and really spoke of a typical New York city scene, fast paced and energetic, even then. Eugene Berman did some nice sketches for the theatre and Granddaughter by Andrew Wyeth was inspiring both with color choices and composition. There was a nice mix of abstract and realistic art that was separated by different eras in history. Sections included Progressive and Avant-Garde artists (Demuth, Marin, O’keeffe, Dove), Regionalism, Social Realism and American Visions (Burchfield, Hopper, Bacon), Surrealism and Neo-Romanticism (Paper Ball, Calder, Blume, Tonny), and Postwar Abstraction and resurgence of Realism (Tobey, Wyeth, Kelly). Each section had a nice summary of that period in time and described the way that history affected the art of that period. You can see a slideshow of the exhibit and take an audio tour by going to Exhibit goes on until January 17, 2011. Be sure to see it.
Photos courtesy of Wadsworth Atheneum.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Visit to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

I visited the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute  over the weekend and was very impressed with their collection of American and European art from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. There were fantastic paintings by Monet, Remington, Pissaro, Sergent, and Homer. What I really fell in love with was the Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931) collection. The Clark has the largest collection of Boldini paintings in America. His paintings at the Clark were mostly small, but done with an impressionist style that was intricate, colorful, painterly, and vibrant. He painted landscape and street life in Paris where he lived and was famous for his portraits as well.

Portrait of Mrs. Howard Johnston by Giovanni Boldini.
Sterling Clark settled in Paris and began collecting works of art, an interest he inherited from his parents. When he married Francine Clary in 1919, she joined him in what quickly became a shared passion. Together they created a remarkable collection of paintings, silver, sculpture, porcelain, drawings, and prints with complete reliance on their own judgments and tastes. In 1950 the Clarks founded the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute as a permanent home for their collection, and the museum first opened to the public in 1955. Since its conception, the Institute has had a dual mission as both a museum and a center for research and higher education. It is in this spirit that the Clark has expanded over the last five decades to become the influential institution it is today.

A variety of special exhibitions is offered throughout the year, bringing together works from collections around the world and presenting them in intelligent, enlightening, and visually appealing installations. Recent exhibitions have included Dove/O'Keefe: Circles of Influence; Toulouse-Lautrec and Paris; Like Breath on Glass: Whistler, Inness, and the Art of Painting Softly; The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings; Gainsborough, Constable, and Turner: The Manton Collection; Consuming Passion: Fragonard's Allegories of Love; and Remington Looking West.

The current exhibit is of John Constable, including works by his son, Lional. Coming in November, Albreckt Durer, the German Renaissance painter and printmaker. I highly recommend that you see this collection and their regular collection.

Picture courtesy of