Tuesday, Mar 14, 2017: Washington
A Day for Art and Artists
The day dawned white, quiet and still—the sort of morning that accompanies dire news of an impending snowstorm. With dread, I raised the blinds up in our room to survey the outside and found, to my deepest shock, that we had a mere sprinkle! What an anti-climax! Indeed, the area had no more than two inches in the worst-affected parts. It was not at all what we’d expected. Over breakfast of hot cereal and buttered toast with coffee, we decided to go ahead with our plans. Schools in the area were shut, many government offices would stay closed but public transportation was available and go we would.
Off to the National Gallery of Art:
Our plan for the day was to explore the National Gallery of Art, one of the world’s premier collections and one we have had the pleasures of perusal on multiple occasions. Still, it is always a joy to say Hello to old favorites and it was with enthusiasm that we took to the Metro after Corinne dropped us off to the station. We bought ourselves SmartTickets (which look like London’s Oyster Cards) and with Top Up As You Go options, we filled ten dollars in each of our cards and were off and away. Metro service was pretty sporadic as the snow had scared personnel away—they were, therefore, running a skeletal service which made it a bit uncomfortable as we had to wait a long time for our train on a freezing platform with no winter shelters. But finally, we were aboard and heading into the capital, getting off at the station and making our way to the museum.
Exploring the Collection at the National Gallery of Art:
The capital’s collection is so huge that it is contained in two buildings: the West Building is the older, marble-clad one that contains works from the Renaissance to the 19th century. The East Building, the newer one, designed by the Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, contains Modern Art from the 19th century to contemporary times. We decided to arm ourselves with audio guides which we obtained from the visually-stunning central hall or Rotunda. This is focused around a sculpture of Hermes (Mercury) that was completely surrounded by spring blooms: azaleas in the softest tones of pink, peach and mauve were amassed around the fountain and it was inevitable that we would pause there to take pictures.
Our exploration of the collection began with the Portrait called Ginevra de Benci—a 15th century Florentine aristocrat whose face (probably an engagement portrait) was painted in oil on wood by Leonardo da Vinci—it is the only Da Vinci work in North America. The back of the panel is equally interesting as it features the family crest with significant motifs. Using our audio guide, we walked ourselves around the work and then paused to take in the other significant Renaissance works in the same or nearby galleries: works by Sandro Botticelli, Fra Lippo Lippi, etc. For the next three hours, we lost ourselves in the wealth of magnificent art as the museum filled with more patrons. Among the many canvasses we saw, here are a few:
- Madonna by Giotto
- Wonderful busts and wreaths from Lucia della Robbia on whom there was a special exhibit.
- The Alba Madonna by Raphael
- St. George Killing the Dragon by Raphael
- Portrait of Saskia by Rembrandt
- The Old Man by Rembrandt
- Lady with a Red Hat by Vermeer
- Delft Courtyard by Pieter de Hooch (my favorite Flemish painter)
- Self Portrait by Rembrandt
- The Mill by Rembrandt
- Daniel in the Lion’s Den by Peter Paul Rubens (the most arresting of the lot)
- A Woman and Child by Renoir
Feeling quite peckish by 1.00 pm, we stopped and walked along the psychedelic lit walkway towards the East Building to get to the Museum café for lunch. In a cafetaria style setting, we chose the NPG Burger which consisted of a patty with grilled onions, blue cheese and other fixings. We also picked up sweet potato fries and a soda and found ourselves a comfortable table where, surrounded by printed art works from the collection and the company of a few souls who had braved the elements to appreciate art, we had a substantial lunch.
After lunch, we set off towards the East Building, pausing to appreciate the genius of Pei who has created a building that has distinct similarities to the Louvre, not just in the creation of the glass triangles but also in the wide open spaces that form the café and the gift shop. Here are the items we paused to appreciate in the Modern collection:
- The Couple by Gustav Klimt
- The massive Mobile by Alexander Calder in the main lobby
- Harlequin Family by Picasso (the first important group portrait of the 20th century)
- The Artist’s Garden in Vetheuil by Claude Monet
- The Japanese Bridge in his Garden in Giverny by Monet
- Portrait of a Little Girl by Renoir
- Madame Monet with a Parasol (and her Daughter) by Monet
- Children on a Beach by Mary Cassat
- Portrait of a Man by Cezanne
- Still Life with Oranges by Cezanne
- Self Portrait by Van Gogh
- Roses by Van Gogh
- Dancers at the Bar by Degas
- A Mound of Butter with Eggs by Vollot
- At the Moulin Rouge by Toulouse-Lautrec
- Views of Rouen Cathedral by Monet
- Reclining Gypsy by Cezanne
- On the River Stour by Constable
Of course, there were hundreds of paintings that we saw and at which we paused, based on the Director’s Tour that was part of our exploration with our audio guide. But by 4.00pm, we were physically exhausted and ready to call a halt. We had seen the best that the museum had to offer and felt deeply edified by the experience. It was time to go out and enjoy a quiet evening in another venue.
We took the metro back to Lorton, Corinne met us as the station and drove us home and after a quick cup of tea and a nibble at her place, we said our goodbyes and thank-yous and made the drive to Silver Spring, Maryland, as we would be spending the next two nights at the home of my cousin Laura’s daughter, Heather, her husband Chrys and their little boy, Jeremy. The drive took about 45 minutes. All highways had been cleared and since many people had stayed at home, traffic was rather light.
We arrived at Heather’s place and had a lovely reunion with her and her family. She lives in a large apartment complex in a two-bedroom apartment but is in the midst of a move as she has just bought a home and will be leaving it shortly. Heather plied us with wine and nibbles and then served us a home-cooked dinner of roast pork which was very comforting on the cold evening. We also made the acquaintance of her next door neighbor Maria who is a work colleague and who was interesting company. Soon Maria’s son and daughter joined us too—making for a very companionable evening overall.
It was not long before we said goodnight and took a well-deserved rest.
Until tomorrow, see ya…