Thursday, September 12, 2013

Day 57: Lexington, Kentucky

Since we had been driving a lot and not doing any touring for a few days, we had a break to explore Lexington, a university town. The weather was warm and humid, but not awful.

After a morning of catching up on things, we started our tour with lunch at Joe Bologna's, a restaurant in a renovated church. The exterior shape and a few pretty stained glass windows are about all that remains of the old church. It was amusing to see a television occupying the spot where a holy statue once lorded over the devout.

Joe Bologna's Restaurant occupies a converted church

Our big objective was the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky. We especially wanted to see their collection of art sponsored by the Works Progress Administration during the depression, but they had stored most of their own collection in order to show Old Masters from the Speed Museum in Louisville, KY, which we had visited a few years ago. This small set of paintings was pretty thin in comparison to the Wadsworth Atheneum or Yale Art Gallery, but it had worthy tidbits.

For instance, in France in the 1780s and 1790s, there was a remarkable flourishing of women artists. Except for Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun, their work is rare in American museums. The Speed collection included work by two of these women. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard specialized in portraits of royal and aristocratic patrons.

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, 1749-1803
Portrait of Madame Adélaïde
, c. 1787

One family actually produced three sisters who were all recognized painters: Marie-Denis Villers, Marie-Élisabeth Gabiou, and Marie-Victoire Lemoine. The Speed exhibit included two by Lemoine.

Marie-Victoire Lemoine, 1754-1820
Portrait of a Young Girl, 18th century

Marie-Victoire Lemoine, 1754-1820
Portrait of a Lady, c. 1790

The style for portraits in France at this time was conventional; faces were generally idealized and personalities were sweetened. As an example of a boldly intimate and individualized portrait, here is a striking portrait by Anthony van Dyke from the previous century.

Anthony van Dyck, 1599-1641
Portrait of a Woman,  c. 1635

After the museum, we toured an estate called Ashland, the home of Henry Clay, a congressman and a senator in the early part of the 19th century. He was a lawyer who built up his fortune through wise use of his property. He was a good orator and had a lot of influence on Lincoln. His weakness was his dependence on slaves to work his land; he was unable to acknowledge that slavery was wrong. His home seemed typical of the period. The garden was very pretty and the Gingko trees were huge. Photography was not allowed inside and all my exterior shots were wrecked by cloud cover.

On the way back to our motel we passed the Red Mile race track, and stopped in to have a look around. Workers were grooming the track with a rake truck and a water truck. Trainers were putting trotters through their paces. A harness race was scheduled for 7 p.m. The light was pretty and the temperature was nice. I made some movies of the horses.

We had dinner together at Ramsey's Diner.  The food is Southern style, and fairly authentic. I appreciated the huge variety of vegetables, all a little on the fatty and salty side, which is okay with me. Dan loved his pot roast.

Dan enjoyed himself so much it was infectious. He took a table right by the door so we could watch the crowd. One animated group was obviously grad students and teaching assistants. A very intelligent girl of three or four was with them. I've seen so many petulant and demanding children on this trip that I was fascinated by how well she entertained herself. At the same time I noticed that her father was aware of her every minute. He would be talking about an article he was writing, but he would look her way every few minutes. If she was occupied he went on with the conversation. If she wanted her cup or a toy or to be lifted up or down, he was on it immediately; she never had to raise her voice, thus she didn't disrupt the night with that high-pitched whining. After awhile he lifted her into her chair and everyone turned their attention to her for awhile. He had taught her a few things about baseball that she could recite. What a model of how to treat a child.