Friday, September 6, 2013

Day 51: Worcester Art Museum

Portland, ME to Worcester, MA—137 miles, 2:16 hours
Worcester Art Museum
Worcester to West Haven, CT—103 mi, 1:41

Today's plan was tricky. My objective was to see the Worcester Art Museum, in Worcester, Massachusetts, on the way from Portland, Maine, to West Haven Connecticut. That's three states, plus the highway also crosses the southeast corner of New Hampshire.

Portland to Worcester to New Haven
As I had planned, after a couple of hours of driving, we arrived in Worcester in time for lunch in the museum café. The café was very pleasant and the food was okay.

Worcester's art museum turned out to be even more interesting than I expected. It has art through the ages and around the world, but we skipped the Asian, Mayan, and Medieval sections, and focused on traditional art of Europe and America. Their collection is limited but high quality.

They got my respect right away by having a seascape by Hubert Robert. One of my favorite painters, Robert specialized in scenes of Roman ruins. I've never run across a seascape by him in our travels, and the museum agrees that this is probably the only one he painted; it was commissioned as interior decor for a chateau in France. It is about 8 feet tall and a spotlight created a glare, but I wanted to include this record shot.

Hubert Robert, 1733-1808
The Shipwreck, n.d.
A contemporary of Robert's painted a charming storytelling painting that I studied for a long time. In a composition full of signifying hands, the Neapolitan gesture of the title appears to be the young woman's hand to her chin as a sign of farewell. Her other hand is a pleading invitation to stay. These gestures are directed toward a suitor disguised as a peddler, who retreats regretfully. Between them an older woman reaches to remove the blanket covering his clothes, while simultaneously reaching an open hand across the maiden's middle in protection of her sexuality. For sentimental emphasis, two toddlers and a mutt cower in the corner; or, do the children belong to the tempted woman?

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1725-1805
Le Geste Napolitain, 1757
In the 1800s, storytelling and detailed realism went out of style and painting went through a well-known series of trends, starting with Impressionism. Camille Pissarro kept up with changing styles, and used them with grace and maturity. This is a subtle example of Impressionism.

Camille Pissarro, 1830-1903
L'Ille Lacrois A Rouen, 1883
Later, painters developed a sort of rigorous, theoretical approach to Impressionism called Pointillism. Paul Signac achieved particularly radiant effects with Pointillism.

Paul Signac, 1863-1935
Golfe Juan, 1896
Naturally there was a reaction to these styles that emphasized perception. Paul Gauguin wanted solidity and mass in his forms, broad plains of color, and subjects with emotional depth.

Paul Gauguin, 1848-1903
The Brooding Woman, 1891
In the 1900s, some painters gave up subject matter in order to experiment directly with abstract form. Worcester has a charming example of abstract art by Wassily Kandinsky.

Vasily Kandinsky, 1866-1944
Untitled Painting, 1936
Objective reality always holds a fascination for painters, but each is interested in a different aspect. Russian artist Boris Grigoriev tilted the visual plain and exaggerated the colors to create a striking image. I was happy to discover this powerful artist and I puzzled over how this painting ended up here.

Boris Grigoriev, 1886-1939
Portrait of the Artist's Son, 1920
Although we had enjoyed learning about Canadian art, it was fun to return to our study of American art, and to see new works by our old favorite artists. The museum had excellent examples of three completely different approaches to portraiture.

Alice Neel, 1900-1984
Julie and Aristotle, 1967

Beauford Delaney, 1901-1979
Portrait of Gaylord, 1944

Alex Katz, b. 1927
Ada with Sunglasses, 1969

Ellsworth Kelly followed the path of abstraction but he replaced whimsy and and expressiveness with rigorous statements about the fundamentals of shape, space, and color.

Ellsworth Kelly, b. 1923
Orange White, 1961

During the 1930s Worcester Art Museum had an opportunity to collaborate with four other art institutions in archaeological explorations in Antioch, a town established by Alexander the Great about 300 years B.C. in what is now Syria. The institutions divvied up the loot, and Worcester got several excellent mosaics that were created about five centuries later in the 200s A.D. The museum built the Renaissance court to exhibit them.

Worcester Hunt Mosaic, 3rd century A.D.

Detail of Hunt Mosaic

Mosaic Border from House of the Sundial

We were lucky to meet a couple of other people who knew something about art. We got into an interesting chat with a well-traveled senior with a gentlemanly bearing, trading tips about where to see our favorite artists. There was also a guard there who knew quite a bit about art and was eager to share it. Maybe I felt more chatty after we got back in the states.

We didn't pull ourselves away from there until 4 p.m. Captain Dan was afraid that rush-hour traffic on a Friday would be terrible, but by taking a route that skirted Hartford, we sailed right into West Haven with very little traffic, arriving a little after 6 p.m.

The Best Western Executive motel upgraded our reservation to a Deluxe King on the 7th floor, but it is right by the elevator.

We had dinner at the Texas Roadhouse, on the property next to our motel, a very popular place with very loud country music. The food was okay; I was sorry I ate the big puffy hot roll, because it made me feel hot and puffy, too. Dan's steak was okay. My veggie side dishes were okay. It is food for people who like fatty and spicy.

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