American Masterpieces

At some point you go to so many museums it loses the thrill, and you wonder if you’re going just because it’s there and it’s a comfortable habit. In the span of a month, I went to the National Gallery, the Phillips Collection and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and Portrait Gallery in Washington; the Clark Institute and MassMOCA in Massachusetts; the Met, the Whitney and numerous other museums and galleries in New York; and last weekend the RISD Museum in Providence and the MFA in Boston. Fortunately, I’d been to the MFA only six months ago, so I felt no need to “do” the whole museum this visit. The special exhibition was a lovely show of 19th-century French pastels, highlighted by a dozen works by Jean-Francois Millet, well worth our time. Then, after lunch, I revisited the American wing and didn’t look at everything, just the best, and I was reinvigorated by a half-dozen paintings that, to my taste, were perfect.
I didn’t take notes and can’t remember them all, but some stick with me, maybe because they are so familiar: Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit”;
Hassam’s “Grand Prix Day” and “At Dusk”; Cassatt’s “In the Loge”; Homer’s “The Fog Warning”; Eakins’s “Starting Out After Rail”; Tarbell’s “Girl Reading”; Lane’s “Boston Harbor”; Bierstadt’s “Wreck of the ‘Ancon'”; Picknell’s “Morning on the Loing at Moret”; Coleman’s “Still Life with Azaleas and Apple Blossoms” (paired with a Lockwood DeForest chair). Any one of these I could take home and live with forever: they reminded me of the power and beauty of great art.

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