Holiday in Boston

(2005)  The five days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are an odd time of year. Between the hangover of one and the anticipation of the other. So when the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston offered a very reasonable room rate, we decided to spend the ‘tween time in Beantown.

I should mention that I grew up outside of Boston, and visited the Museum of Fine Arts and Gardiner Museum many times. But I was just a kid. And when I went to college there in the early 1970’s, I was too busy playing music to take advantage of the Art the city had to offer. So now I had the opportunity to show Marie around, while seeing everything I missed.

Due to weather and horrible traffic, the first day was shot just getting to Boston. Should have taken the train. After checking into our room in Park Square, and having dinner at Chau Chow’s in nearby Chinatown, we took a walk through the Boston Common to see the Christmas lights. Hate to sound old, but they just weren’t as good as they used to be.

The next day was cold, but not raining. We began with breakfast at the Paramount on Charles Street where, allegedly, Jay Leno hung out. We didn’t see any celebs, but had decent spinach, bacon and bleu cheese omelets.

The day was spent visiting sites along the Freedom Trail, and so for the sake of the Art Lovers, I will try to go lightly on the history. But I must say a little about the State House. The “new” one, was designed by native Bostonian Charles Bulfinch in 1795, built on land once owned by John Hancock, cornerstone laid by John Adams, covered by copper dome made by Paul Revere (later gilded), and topped with a pine cone as a reminder of the importance of the timber industry. (Hmm. Early lobbyists?) It was the “Hub of the Solar System,” as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it.

There were murals throughout the building depicting historic scenes, such as Battle of Concord in the Hall of Flags done by Edward Simmons, Henry Walker's 1903 depiction of Pilgrims on the Mayflower, and Robert Reid's 1904 rendering of Paul Revere's ride.

Concord bridge April 19 1775 by Edward Simmons
Memorial Hall

The floor of the Hall of Flags was streaked yellow/orange Italian marble. The ceiling was leaded-glass with the Seals of the original thirteen colonies (Massachusetts in the center, of course). There were photographs of a few flags displayed, replacing the glass cases packed with regimental flags on poles, with ribbons tied at the top, that were once there. Went into the House chamber and saw the large fish hung at the rear, the “Sacred Cod.” It was a gift from John Rowe (of Rowe’s Wharf fame) in 1766, to remind the legislature of the importance of the fishing industry. There was also a fish in the Senate. This one was impaled on the central chandelier. Called the “Holy Mackerel” by the guard. (I told you there were lobbyists.)

Across the street, on the edge of the Common, was the Augustus Saint-Gaudens bronze memorial to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry Regiment. This high-relief monument is often called Saint-Gaudens’ greatest work.

We walked past many historic sites, such as Granary Burying Ground (Paul Revere, James Otis, Sam Adams, Robert Treat Paine and all victims of Boston Massacre), and King’s Chapel with burying ground (John Winthrop).

On Washington Street, across from the Old South Meeting House (beginning of the Boston Tea Party), we saw the Irish Famine Memorial. There seemed to be disagreement as to the worst public Art in the City; whether it was this group of realistic bronze figures, or the Irish Famine Memorial in Cambridge, or the Arthur Fiedler bust at the Esplanade.

There was the wonderful Old State House and the site of Boston Massacre, which has been moved a couple of times, I think.

Faneuil Hall and the Quincy Market were just a couple of blocks away. Faneuil Hall was redesigned by Bullfinch, and was famous for the giant painting inside by George Healy depicting Daniel Webster Replying to Hayne, 1851. Also the scene of many meetings and rallies through the years. I was there on November 7, 1979, when Ted Kennedy announced his candidacy for President, from Faneuil Hall’s steps.

We stopped for lunch at the Union Oyster House (oldest restaurant in America, 1836) and the first place to use a toothpick. Had chowda (M had fish, I had clam) and dark Harpoon ales.

With the removal of the overhead highway, the North End became more accessible, so we wandered over in search of a cannoli. We visited Copp’s Burial Ground and Paul Revere’s House, and the Old North Church (“one if by land…)

Walked over the Charles River to Charlestown, saw Old Ironsides, climbed Bunker Hill (or was it Breed’s Hill), and had a beer at the Warren Tavern. Nice local crowd. Great to hear the accents. This was the first building put up after the British razed Charlestown during the Battle of Bunker Hill. Opened in 1780 by Capt. Eliphelet Newell, a participant at the Tea Party and admirer of Doctor/General Joseph Warren, fallen hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill. The Prime Minister of Great Britain described Warren to King George as "the greatest incendiary in North America". Visitors included Paul Revere and George Washington.

Took an MBTA water ferry over to Long Wharf (back in Boston) and walked over to the Noname Restaurant (run by same family since 1917) on the Fish Pier. Great scrod. On the way, we passed the still-under-construction Institute of Contemporary Art (since opened).

The next day we took the Red Line to Harvard Square. The usually vibrant hub was like a ghost town, with all the students home for the holidays. I enjoyed remembering my walks (carrying my bass) through Harvard Yard as a member of the Harvard Orchestra many years ago. We began with the Fogg, one of the Harvard Art Museums.

Not very distinguished from the outside, the Fogg has a wonderful Italianate courtyard, inside, with arches, columns and small windows on the third floor thrown open.

We almost missed seeing a painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder when we considered skipping the first room filled with religious paintings and icons. Hercules and Omphale was done in 1535. This museum had a surplus of riches and we were glad we spent some time with the works of less famous painters, as well.

Gare Saint Lazare by Monet, 1876-77

Originally opened in 1895, the Fogg is renown for many of its holdings. While the museum is made up of many collections and bequests, the gift from Grenville L. Winthrop (1864-1943) was astounding. More than 4,000 works of Art covering a wide range of interests. From Buddhist sculpture to Durer prints; he had more works by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres than any other private collector. It included works by Blake, Degas, Homer, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Rodin, Sargent, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Whistler.

Odalisque with a Slave by Ingres

In 1911 the Fogg mounted the only one-man museum exhibition to occur during the lifetime of Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas. The museum’s affinity for Monsieur Degas continued. Of interest was that Grenville L. Winthrop was the second son in the ninth generation of an unbroken line of Winthrop men stretching back to John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Grenville had two daughters.

Girl at the Dance by Berthe Morisot, 1875

Upstairs there were so many famous paintings that we almost didn’t notice that Sargent’s The Breakfast Table and so many others were on loan to other museums.

I was particularly impressed with one room filled with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings; the collection of Maurice Wertheim. Mr. Wertheim employed professional consultants, and I might add, reliable ones, while assembling this collection. There was no book printed, so I wrote down the names, not listed in any order, and unfortunately not complete:

Degas - The Rehearsal, 1873-78, as well as a small bronze of a horse and a small Arabesque
Toulouse-Lautrec - The Black Countess, 1881 and Hangover (Suzanne Valadon), 1887-1889
Monet - Skating, 1877; Eugenie Graff, 1882; Red Boats at Argenteiul 1875; Gare St. Lazare, 1876-77
Gauguin - Poèmes Barbares, 1896
Pissarro - Mardi Gras on the Boulevards, 1897
Seurat - Study for Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette, 1884-86
Renoir - Self-Portait at 35, 1896; Gabrielle in a Red Dress, 1908; and Seated Bather, 1884
Van Gogh  -Three Pairs of Shoes, 1886-87 and Self Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin, 1888
Picasso - One side: Young Girl Wearing a Large Hat, 1901 the reverse: Woman with a Chignon, 1901; also Mother and Child, 1901
Matisse - Geraniums 1915
Raoul Dufy - Racetrack at Deauville-The Start, 1933
Rousseau - The Banks of the River Oise, 1878
Maillol -  bronze of a large woman

Picasso's Woman with a Chignon, 1901
Monet's Eugene Graff,
Gauguin - Poèmes Barbares, 1896
Degas - The Rehearsal
Seurat - Study for Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette, 1884-86
Van Gogh  - Self Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin, 1888
Rousseau - The Banks of the River Oise, 1878

There were several interesting Rossetti paintings; bright, colorful, a little over-the-top. There were also Rubens, Georgia O’Keefe, a couple of Fragonards, and a nice yellow and black Jackson Pollack. As overwhelming as this list may be, the Art was even more so.

Il Ramoscello by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1865

On a wall facing the courtyard, we found a couple of Winslow Homers. One was of Zoaves throwing horseshoes with Civil War tents in background. The title didn’t mention Zoaves, just Tossing Coits. I asked a lady who was looking at the painting if she knew that the figures were called Zoaves. She had no idea. Both she and her husband thought the painting was of some exotic locale like Algeria. They had been to the museum before but never read the description, which did explain that they were Zoaves. (Zoaves were volunteer Civil War regiments who adopted the costume of the original French Zoaves who wore a short open-fronted jackets, baggy trousers, sashes, and oriental headgear.) She was interested and seemed pleased to have this new information.

The second floor connected to the Busch-Reisinger Museum - collections of German art. Secessionists Klimt and Munch were represented, as were more contemporary German artists.

Max Beckmann, Self-Portrait in Tuxedo, 1927

Had lunch at Grendel’s Den on Winthrop Street (tuna steak on French bread for $3.95) before heading back to the Sackler Museum, which was included with the admission to the Fogg (and Busch-Reisinger). The Fogg had staged a Degas show in the Sackler, but that closed the week before we arrived.

The Sackler was about Asian art plus Greek, Roman, Minoan, etc. Lots of Japanese prints, Chinese, and Indian. We were done at 2:50 and the cashier told us that Harvard’s Natural History Museums were free from 3-5, so we went to see the famous glass flowers, stuffed animals and birds, minerals, gems, dinosaurs, whales, sea monster, and a quick Native American tour.

Thursday morning we went up Newberry Street in search of breakfast and found Steve’s. Great pancakes, nice ambiance, good prices. Then took the trolley out Huntington Avenue to the Museum of Fine Arts. Crowds were already forming before it began to rain. Then there were long lines to the coatroom.

The MFA was more than I could possibly describe here. We began with an exhibit that included eight paintings by Arthur Dove, including Summer. There was also a preview for the upcoming Degas to Picasso show. There were lots of famous Copley paintings (154) and Gilbert Stuart (165). They’ve mixed cases of Paul Revere’s silvercaft in with the paintings. There are something over 650 pieces of Sargent including many sketches and murals in the museum.

Arthur Dove's Summer, 1935
Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley

John Sargent reached his mural-painting heights with his work for the rotunda of the Museum of Fine Arts. From 1916-25 he executed twenty panels, eighteen reliefs, and a slew of architectural decorations.

The museum facilities were jammed, so we braved the rain and found a pizza joint across Huntington Avenue; salad and ravioli. With a lessening of the rain, we walked through the Fens, to the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum.

Another big crowd but handled better. The 15th century Venetian courtyard with the Medusa mosaic in the center remains my fantasy place. Not much had changed, it seemed. Everything was very dark which made it difficult to see the Artwork. The majority of paintings were not identified including Cranach’s Adam & Eve (a variation on the painting in Brussels.) We did see Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait at 23.

Something I did not remember was a series of “cupboards” along one hallway that opened to reveal several panels, each covered on both sides with sketches. This was where the Rembrandt drawings were stolen from in 1990. Also taken were Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Vermeer’s The Concert, and others. Marie found a Degas drawing of a horse in the bottom cabinet.

Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee

Some of Mrs. Gardner’s rooms had been opened up to show the Art where it hung when she was alive. While John Sargent was doing the murals in the MFA, he stayed there.

We had dinner that night at a nearby Legal Seafood, a Boston institution even if it is a chain.

Reading Room

Friday was our last day, so we took a walk around Beacon Hill and then visited the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. This was the building shown as the courthouse in the television series Boston Legal. The great lions were on guard and mosaics of the zodiac lined the way to the grand staircase. It’s a great old place with lots of Art.  The library, designed by Charles McKim, opened in 1895.

Lions designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

The library is highly adorned with allegorical paintings of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes on the stairwells, the Arthurian legends recounted by Edwin Austin Abbey in his Quest for the Holy Grail cycle in the book delivery room, and the third floor featured John Singer Sargent's mural series on world religions.

Edwin Austin Abbey - The Quest and Achievement of The Holy Grail, 1895
John Singer Sargent's Prophets on East Wall Micah, Haggai, Malacchi, Zecharia
Gawain releases the Queens and maidens who have been imprisoned by Clinschor,. Mural by Edwin A. Abbey

Before leaving Boston, I had to stop at the Mary Baker Eddy Library to see the Mapparium, one of my favorite spots in the city. The Mapparium is a three-story high glass globe of the world, which one walks through the center on a thirty-foot glass bridge. It was done in 1935 and never updated.

Make Way for Ducklings was one of my favorite books, growing up, and I was delighted to see the bronze sculptures recognizing those denizens of the Boston Public Garden. Always one of my favorite places, we would ride the swanboats each summer, and look at the Art displayed throughout the Garden. In winter, it was less appealing, yet still home to the first equestrian statue of George Washington by Thomas Ball in 1869.

My sisters at the Public Garden

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