Thursday, August 05, 2010

John Singer Sargent Painting the Town

The Chinatown bus took only four hours to pull into South Station. It was easy getting to Hotel 140, on Clarendon Street, by subway. When SK arrived, from Montreal, we walked a couple of blocks to Copley Square. We ate a simple lunch and dipped our legs into the fountain. SK is a now a proud homeowner, with his partner, in Paris.

We both liked the Boston Public Library's McKim Building very much. Built at the end of the nineteenth century. it was a library in a palace. The entrance hall had a vaulted ceiling, on which were lettered the names of thirty famous Bostonians. A deep triumphal arch connected the entrance hall to the main staircase. The steps were made of ivory gray Echaillon marble, mottled with fossil shells. The walls were a warm yellow Siena. From the landing, through a big window, the courtyard and pool could be taken in.

In the Sargent gallery, the American painter decorated its walls with the mural sequence Triumph of Religion. Many of the murals featured beautiful naked young lads. The compositions were highly original (particularly the Virgin and Jesus, and the dethroned king entangled in red cloth), but the gallery was narrow and dark, and so the overall effect was rather gloomy. Livelier was the Abbey Room, in which the American artist Edwin Austin Abbey painted a richly colored mural sequence depicting The Quest of the Holy Grail. The figures here--knights, ladies, queen--were dramatic rather than allegorical. The sequence was a gigantic storybook. The ornamental rafters made the ceiling very striking.

After leaving the library, we walked to the Museum of Fine Arts. I did not like the staid grey building, but the new American wing, to be opened in 2011, poured out of one side in sun-lit glass. I liked the Velazquez portraits of the two-year-old prince and his dwarf, and of the Infanta Maria Theresa. Van Dyck's Saint Matthias was also very powerful, with his deep sidelong look. I also loved the early Matisse nude, seated on a chest of drawers, strongly modeled in the light, looking out so boldly. There was also an exhibition of John Singer Sargent's drawings for the MFA murals. He drew a wonderful African American nude, Thomas E. McKellar, whose body became the model for the painting of Atlas and other classical heroes and gods.

In the evening, we picked up a chicken, cranberry and walnut salad, cheese, bread and bottle of Gewurztraminer and picnicked at the Hatch Shell along the Esplanade before listening to Beethoven's Symphony 2 and Bach's Concerto for Two Violins. Performed by the New Symphonia Orchestra as part of the open-air Landmarks Festival, the music was a stirring accompaniment to the sunset over the Charles. Later that night, we had a drink at Club Cafe, where a fundraiser for LGBT prisoners was transitioning into a karaoke session, and gyrated to the Latin beat at Rumor.

1 comment:

Shropshirelad said...

It sounds like a very pleasant evening!

I used to always go to the Pops concert on the esplanade on the 4th of July. I once was nearly arrested climbing a fence so I could get a better look at the howitzers firing during the finale of the 1812 Overture. You know how I love a big bang.

Anyway, I was with my friend Jimmy, who was an ensign in the navy at the time. He showed the police his naval ID so they let him stand next to the artillery.

Me, I had to climb back over the fence. I was just a lowly librarian. I still am.