“A Visit to the Harvard Art Museum” by Nancy Pitkin

Just in time for those with a few days off around Christmas and New Year, Nancy Pitkin writes about her recent visit to the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge:

On 22nd December 2014, we visited the newly renovated Harvard Art Museum buildings on Quincy Street. The Fogg and the Arther M. Sackler museums are as the write up said very open and full of light. The three floors of exhibits are a bit bigger than what I remember from previous trips and there are still the rooms with famous painters and sculptors. A good representation of European art from pre-Renaissance to contemporary is also on display.

One item that was on display encouragingly was that the John Adam portrait by John Copley.  I found this interesting, since in 2001 when the David McCullough book ‘John Adams’ was published I had read the account of this painting being done in London.  I had taken note in reading this section because I had thought I had seen the painting in another place. I was able to find that I had, in Peter Shaw’s “The Character of John Adam’s” where the painting is in black and white. It turns out that David McCullough also put a copy of the painting into his book. But in seeing these two copies I want to see the 7+ foot original, so we took a trip to the Harvard Museums. At that time the Copley painting was not on view, but in asking about it, we were allowed into the vaults to see the stored painting. That the museums can now display this painting, along with a similar painting of John Quincy Adams by Gilbert & Sully is very beneficial.  We can see in the two painting basically side by side the change in the 18th century depiction of John Adams and the 19th century depiction of John Quincy Adams.  The former was with sword and European symbols of power, the latter rather plain as we tend to view American’s of that time. I found this contrast interesting since the painting of John Adams caused him great political loss, since it was said he desired a monarchy. (Note: The paintings are on display in a hallway on the second floor overlooking the atrium and there is a large opening between them. This makes it hard to stand back from both paintings and view them at the same time. Nancy)

In addition to the later European works and American works, the museums also include many works from ancient times on display. We did not spend much time viewing these items, but will on another trip. You can view the floors virtually on the internet to plan a trip.

The Harvard Art Museums provide a great place to see many first rate works by artists, in a light and airy setting. And if you saw the MRT production of “Red” there is a Mark Rothko exhibit also on exhibit. We would highly recommend a day trip to see the exhibits.

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