Big. Huge. Vast. Jumbo. Massive. A cornucopia of American art.
My wife and I met two friends for Sunday brunch at the Museum of Fine Arts. We hadn’t been to the MFA since the opening of the new Art of the Americas Wing and Shapiro Family Courtyard last November. To their great credit the folks at the MFA succeeded in making themselves the next new thing in Boston, not a small achievement for an organization that has been around as long as the MFA has. There’s something very un-Boston in the way the MFA emphasized size and quantity in the retooling of the visitor experience. We’re more accustomed to places that are compact gems, like Fenway Park and the North End. In the new courtyard and wing there is a “wow” moment around every other corner.
This is a super-sized MFA, from the spaciousness of the glass-enclosed courtyard with its ground-level eatery to the stunning presentation of certain paintings amid related sculptures, furnishings, and other pieces of decorative art. Displays run from dense salon-style galleries to near-scenic vistas featuring massive landscapes, historical narratives, and portraits. One painting, “The Passage of the Delaware” with Gen. Washington on horseback, measures 17 x 12 feet. Thomas Sully’s painting was commissioned in 1819 for the North Carolina State House, but miscommunication between the Governor’s Office and the artist led to the creation of a work too large to fit in the State House. The painting wound up on display in Boston. Now it fills a prime spot in the MFA’s new wing, coming in at about half the size of a drive-in movie screen.
“The Passage of the Delaware” by Thomas Sully (1819). Web photo courtesy of boston.com
While expansive as a whole, the new wing contains many mid-sized galleries, each with a prominent name inscribed high on one wall, a model of naming-opportunity fundraising. These are filled with works that I don’t recall seeing in my years of visiting the MFA. And if I’ve seen them, the way they are encountered now makes for a sense of discovery. The American folk art gallery appeared to be all new. Unexpected wall colors like burgandy and royal blue give paintings and art objects a fresh look. Old favorites like “Watson and the Shark” (1778) and “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” (1882) take their places like family elders.
If you have been to the MFA in Boston 20 times before and haven’t been for a while, you should consider going to see the new and improved MFA. I doubt that you will be disappointed. This is a spectacular addition to Boston. We are fortunate to be so close to such a treasure.
“The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” by John Singer Sargent. Web photo courtesy of csmonitor.com