Today, as I wandered through the Boston Fine Arts Museum, I realized how closely connected Boston and Britain have been for several generations. When I found the AMERICAN ART WING at the museum, the greeting painting is this enormous portrait of the Prince Regent by Copley who left Boston in the 18th century to return to England to learn from other great painters of the age. Of course, every painter made attempts to paint these huge narrative royal portraits of which this is an example. These Americans were British subjects and had great ties to Britain. I have to admit that I was startled to see this impressive royal painting as the first painting in the gallery–painted by a colonial artist. It made me think.
The reason I go back and back to the Fine Arts Museum is to see the Stuart portraits of Martha and George Washington. They really touch my heart. As I was taking photos without flash, knowing I would get rather sad images, a young child came up to me and said: ”Did you know the reason they are not finished is because Martha didn’t like the portraits.” I smiled and thanked the child. Martha may not have liked them, but the world knows this portrait of George Washington on every one dollar bill and on almost one hundred other portraits. It is truly beautiful.
I have to say that I like the unfinished portraits; perhaps, it is that I am used to all the glorious empty canvas. This pair of Washington portraits are magnificent and are displayed in Washington D.C. half the time and in Boston the other half–funny arrangement which I am sure has quite a history. I am disappointed when I go to the museum only to find the portraits are on a trip to Washington.
The full length portrait of Washington and his horse by Stuart is inspiring. I could look at it for hours. It has been recently glazed and is in splendid condition. In style, it is certainly a royal portrait.
Sully’s portrait of ”Washington Crossing the Delaware” is overwhelming. It covers an entire wall. Imagine, this magnificent painting was in storage for decades until they realized that the Fine Arts Museum owned the original frame. When they put it all together, the museum had to raise the ceiling to accommodate the tremendous size. Confident, determined, and magnificent–almost “divine”–Washington upon his horse stirs one’s soul. Goodness, it is beautiful.
This original newspaper clipping of the “Boston Massacre” reminds us of tension between the colonies and Britain which erupted into the Revolutionary War, or the American Rebellion as my 18th century English history book calls the conflict. Fabulous image.
The “ceremony of tea” was an English tradition which was also very much a part of colonial life. The furniture was made in Boston in the 18th century, and the silver was made by Paul Revere, but the love of tea was as much British as Colonial Boston. I love the cups without handles and deep saucers where the tea was often poured and consumed. Handles came at the very end of the 18th century and certainly in the beginning of the 19th century in the porcelain production of Chelsea, Derby, Spoke, Rockingham, and Newhall. Beautiful image. Tea was very much a part of American history, especially in Boston Harbor.
Benjamen West was a colonist who painted narrative images about great events. When he left the colonies, leaving man splendid images behind, he arrived in England to become the favorite painter of George III who filled Buckingham House with the narrative classical paintings that West loved to create.
As the colonies came closer and closer to the Revolutionary conflict, many of the rich Boston merchants left the colonies and returned to Britain. They felt their loyalties were with the King and had no desire to break those ties. These families had earned great wealth in the New World, and they felt it was time to return to England.
When I saw this chair which was made in 1790 in Boston, I could readily see British taste which was expressed in the decorative items in a Boston household. Adams? Prince of Wales feathers? Amazing.
Examples of Kandler’s Meissen MENAGERIE are beautifully displayed in the European Art Wing of the Fine Arts Museum. I see them from time to time in places like the Victoria and Albert and in the Porcelain Museum in Paris, but these examples were really stunning examples.
Can you imagine an entire table set with Meissen with figures from Furstenberg, Hochst, Frankenthal, and Kandler’s Meissen factory. It is almost unimaginable. Fabulous.
The other reason for our visit to the Fine Art Museum today was to see the Degas exhibition: DEGAS NUDES. Room after room of amazing Degas studies and finished paintings as well as wonderful Degas bronzes dazzled a visitor. Degas’ female figures in twisted and unflattering positions are not my favorites, but the exhibition was very worthwhile and extensive. I was standing next to an elderly lady who was looking at the same pastel as I was when she said: ”I don’t think he liked women.” Made me chuckle. Some of the images I really enjoyed:
I particularly enjoyed the small bronzes:
Every time I return to the Boston Fine Arts Museum, I have to spend some time enjoying the fabulous John Singer Sargent frescos which I think are the treasure of the museum. For me, they are spectacular.
As I was leaving the Museum in a heavy rain, I thought to myself about the close ties between the Fine Arts Museum and the London museums. There is a DEGAS EXHIBITION in London soon. John Singer Sargent is one of the great attractions in the National Gallery London. Copley, West and other colonial painters found their way to London.
For me, Boston is the most British city in America. The city, the parks, the sense of history, the architecture all remind me of being in London.
It is a great feeling.
Thomas Moore email: TMooreSr@me.com Telephone: 801.791.9918