When travelers tell us they plan to spend a week in New York, our initial response is to suggest that a 10-day visit to Boston and New York City would be ideal. For art lovers, Boston is a relaxed place to contemplate “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” (shown above), the monumental mural Paul Gauguin painted on heavy burlap in Tahiti between 1897 and 1898. Across the Charles River from Boston, in Cambridge, amazing portraits by the greatest painters from the 17th- through the 20th-century await your gaze at the Harvard Art Museums.
Gauguin’s Tahitian masterpiece “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” (detail above) is displayed among other iconic works of art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which also owns 35 oil paintings by Claude Monet and the world’s most comprehensive collection of John Singer Sargent’s oeuvre. Founded in 1870, the Museum of Fine Arts moved in 1909 to its present location near the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum — a fine example of Venetian Gothic Revival architecture with an enchanting glass-covered garden courtyard (pictured below), the first of its kind in the United States.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
In the 1890s, Isabella and John Gardner realized that their home on Beacon Street in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood was too small to house their growing collection of art, which included Fra Angelico’s “Assumption and Dormition of the Virgin” (below left), paintings by Botticelli, Titian, Velázquez and Sargent, and a drawing by Michelangelo. Following John’s death in 1898, Isabella purchased land in the marshy Fenway area to realize the couple’s shared dream of building a museum to house their art treasures. The museum (below right) was completed in 1901 in the style of a 15th-century Venetian palace and opened to the public two years later. 13 artworks (including Vermeer’s “The Concert” and Rembrandt’s only known seascape, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee”) were stolen from the Gardner Museum in 1990. A $10 million reward remains in place for information leading to the recovery of the art, as this crime remains unsolved.
“Isabella Stewart Gardner constructed her art museum to center horticulture as a ‘living art,’ placing the blooming Courtyard at the heart of her galleries and cultivating numerous species of plants to establish a living collection that still exists today,” according to the Gardner’s website.
Boston Public Library
The Public Library opened in 1854, and the Central Library’s McKim Building (an architectural masterpiece in Copley Square opposite Trinity Church) was completed in 1895. Art lovers are drawn to this Back Bay neighborhood to see murals created by the American Edwin Austin Abbey and the Frenchman Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. John Singer Sargent, born in Italy to an American family, felt close ties to Boston and spent 29 years painting mural panels that adorn the Sargent Gallery inside the Boston Public Library. While Sargent considered this commission an opportunity to create a masterwork, the final central panel along the East Wall (intended to illustrate the Sermon on the Mount) was never completed and remains blank to this day.
Cambridge Lies Across the Charles River from Boston
The Harvard Art Museums Are Now Free for All Visitors
Harvard Art Museums
The Fogg Art Museum, opened in 1896, is the oldest component of the Harvard Art Museums (part of Harvard University) which includes two additional museums and four research centers. The three museums were integrated into a single institution in the 1980s — with an amazingly strong collection of Italian Renaissance, Pre-Raphaelite, 19th-century French and 20th-century Austrian/German Expressionist paintings — and, fortunately, united in the renovated building at 32 Quincy Street (opened in 2014) to allow greater access to the 250,000-piece collection, which also includes Chinese jades and bronzes, and works of art in all media from the ancient Mediterranean world.
We wish to thank Channing Page for her assistance and all-important advice with regard to our selection of venues for art lovers in Cambridge and Boston. In addition to being a true friend and source of inspiration, Channing possesses a thirst for knowledge combined with an appreciation for all of the arts as an amelioration of the human condition, a source of healing and joy. Channing cherishes her family and friends, and is a devoted daughter.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Founded in the capital of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1870, the Museum of Fine Arts (abbreviated as the “MFA Boston”) is the 20th-largest art museum in the world (measured by public gallery area). More than 8,000 paintings are on display in the MFA Boston, which possesses one of the most encyclopedic collections in the United States consisting of 450,000 works of art.
The “Portrait of Roswell Gleason” 1848 (above) by Edward Dalton Marchant is displayed in the museum’s rooms from the Roswell Gleason House — built circa 1840 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The formal Dining Room (in the background) and a sitting room were purchased by the MFA Boston in 1976 from a descendant of Gleason, a prosperous pewter manufacturer. The acquisition of these two rooms represents a most auspicious use of the museum’s Period Room Restoration Fund — the Roswell Gleason House burned in 1982.
The Exhibition “Fashioned by Sargent” Will Close on January 15, 2024
Organized with Tate Britain, the special exhibition entitled “Fashioned by Sargent” explores the painter’s complex relationships with his clients who commissioned portraits. John Singer Sargent often chose what his sitters wore, and he altered details of attire to express the social position, gender identity and distinctive personalities of the men and women he painted. Dozens of period garments, alongside 50 paintings by Sargent, are now on display at the MFA Boston through January 15, 2024.
Art of the Americas Wing
“An Artist in His Studio” (above) is a reprise of the picture-within-the-picture theme Sargent introduced in 1885 when he created “Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood.” The subject of the artist at work appealed to Sargent, though he typically depicted his colleagues painting outdoors. This painting is exceptional, completed at a time when Sargent was showing a renewed interest in interior scenes. According to the MFA Boston, “Like other such images, Sargent crafted ‘An Artist in His Studio’ with large, vibrant brushstrokes, impasto, and brilliant light. The bravura brushwork belies the painting’s careful creation: Sargent worked tirelessly to compose and build his paintings, adding flashing strokes only at the very end of the process to give the impression of effortlessness and spontaneity.”
Martin Johnson Heade
Colonial America & the War for Independence
History buffs will find the finest collection of Colonial-era furniture and paintings at the MFA Boston. One of the turning points during the American Revolutionary War (1775 — 1783) came on the morning of December 26, 1776 after General George Washington led his troops across the frozen Delaware River at night to surprise the enemy’s forces at Trenton, as depicted by Thomas Sully in 1819 in “The Passage of the Delaware” (below). You will notice that Sully calls attention to people of color who participated in the American Revolution by including William Lee, an enslaved man, on horseback at right.
John Singleton Copley
More than 60 paintings by Copley (1738 — 1815) are normally on view at the MFA Boston, including the portrait of “Mrs. Richard Skinner” (below) from 1772.
William Merritt Chase
Mary Stevenson Cassatt
James McNeill Whistler
Philip Leslie Hale was among the first American artists to travel to Giverny, France, to work alongside Claude Monet. Beginning in 1888, Hale spent several summers in Giverny. He advised Monet to visit the USA to “try his hand” at painting the rapids at Niagara Falls.
BELOW: Valley of the Creuse (Gray Day), 1889 by Claude Monet
A Superb Collection of Impressionism at the MFA Boston
Paul Cézanne & His Influence on Post-Impressionism
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