Sunday, January 20, 2013

Still a Great Museum

You still usually watch all the other streetcars go by in the Park Street Green Line station in Boston when you wait for what used to be called the Arborway car to ride out to the Musuem of Fine Arts.  It's a cultural journey because on the way you pass the stops for Symphony Hall and then Northeastern University, and after the MFA, you'll hit Brigham & Women's Hospital and eventually Beth Israel. The streetcar is always packed, even though now it only goes to Heath St. I even saw parked on the side track at Boylston St. one of the old cars they used to run on that line with little doors at the four corners so you could find yourself trapped in the middle with seeming hundreds of Northeastern undergrads blocking your way out. Couldn't get off to see if the old watering hole near the ancient Boston Arena was still extant--Crusher Casey's was its name.

The MFA remains a fantastic museum.  Yes, they had trendy contemporary exhibits of some guy's photos of the British royal family and then art photographs of all sorts of celebrities, but after that, you can walk upstairs and spend your time with rooms full of John Singleton Copley and John Singer Sargent, and one amazing gallery that gathers wonderful Gauguins, Monets, Caillebotes, Van Goghs, Rouaults, Degas, Renoirs, and more, all in the same place.

They're not just examples--they are great pictures, some of the Monet haystacks and views of the Rouen cathedral, for example, or one of Van Gogh's last paintings in Auvers. I always enjoy seeing the Gilbert Stuarts of George and Martha than we used to have on trading cards when I was growing up, and the one that was used for the dollar bill, too.  And there's one of Washington on a boat that has it all over the famous Leutze in the Met in New York.

What the Museum of Fine Arts has in common with the other great museums of the world is depth--their American collection has the early people like the Peales and then the Luminists and Winslow Homer.  So too with their European section--you follow the development right from the Renaisssance through Delacroix and Titian and Velasquez and then a gallery of all the great Brits--Reynolds and Gainsborough and Ramsey and Van Dyck. All are surrounded by plenty of their less-renowned contemporaries that gives depth and texture to the whole experience.

I did like one temporary exhibition--one of European posters that made me realize how for so many years the poster was a key factor in publicity and was produced by so many greats and near-greats. And it was complemented by a show featuring a great collection of post cards--most featuring Parisian scenes but produced by specialty printers in Germany. There's good contemporary galleries as well--where the curators make their bets on what work being done now is likely to endure.

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