Hey, wanna hear a funny story?
On the day I went into town to visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum, it was raining. Not like pouring rain, but drizzling steadily. It had been raining for a while, and so everything was fully wet. I had an umbrella, so that was no big deal. This was the second to last day I was there, so I was an “expert”. I got off the train at LeEnfant Plaza, as usual, and hopped on another line, to the Smithsonian station, and when I got out, I unlocked a scooter and told my phone to give me directions to the museum. Ugh.
It was a full mile. Even going 10mph on a scooter that was going to be 6 minutes in the rain, probably with the scooter spraying water up from the wheels. And although I am not an expert in fluid dynamics, I know that going faster in the rain does, in fact, keep you from getting as wet as if you go slowly. Not by much, but I don’t like to get wet. Of course, I am also standing in the rain thinking all this through, five feet from the protection of Metro entrance canopy, so I’m not quite as smart as I would have you believe. Anyway. I was on a schedule. I had a timed entry ticket. I needed to eat something before I went to the museum. My phone showed a McDonald’s across the street from the museum. My camera bag backpack is nearly waterproof. It’s only drizzle. I love zipping around on the electric scooter. I have an umbrella. Science says I won’t get very wet.
Off I go with my umbrella in the drizzle and the wet pavement on my 10mph scooter.
First of all, the same science that said I wouldn’t get very wet also says that an umbrella at 10mph is a lot like a sail and will be hard to hold on to. Science also says that scooter wheels slip and slide more on wet pavement than dry. And science says it’s hard to steer a scooter in the rain at 10mph with one hand.
I don’t how I got through that mile without wiping out or getting splattered by a car or a bus, but it sure as hell wasn’t science, and I was more or less soaked by the end of it. So I pull up to the McDonald’s and run in and grab myself some quick lunch, then I come back out and lo and behold, what do I see, right in front of me?
Well, sure, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, obviously. It’s a pretty building, isn’t it? This particular picture is from Google street view, that’s why it’s a clear day. I wasn’t about to stand in the middle of the street in the rain getting even more wet to take a picture, not even for a funny story. Here, let me help you out….
That right there is the Gallery/Chinatown Metro station. Conveniently located almost on top of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Enjoy the art!
In general I am fond of bronzes, but this one really spoke to me. I walked all the way across a room straight to it.
In the hopes of initiating a more active musical life at the White House, Teddy Roosevelt commissioned this piano from Steinway & Sons. It expresses patriotic pride through eagles, garland, and shields with the coats of arms of the first 13 states.
I really love this one. I was disappointed that there was no way to get high enough to really get a look at her face.
An Undine, also spelled Ondine, is a mythological figure of European tradition; a water nymph who becomes human when she falls in love with a man but is doomed to die if he is unfaithful to her. Take a look at her face. I think that tells you what happened.
I love this painting, and I cannot explain why. Maybe because it looks like Aubrey Plaza.
I also love marble sculpture. It’s all I can manage to not touch them.
The golden light in this painting is just mesmerizing, particularly on the sails of the many boats gathered tightly at the base of Gibraltar.
What I love about this painting is that I was drawn to the boat and the sliver of brightly lit water to the right, and then as I started to turn away, I saw this little person, and thought “I wonder where he’s going?”
Clytie was a water nymph, daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. Look at that perfect ear.
The picture below is a breathtaking 10 feet wide by six feet tall. It is truly spectacular. From the card next to the painting: “Bierstadt’s beautifully crafted paintings appealed to an international market captivated with the idea that the West represented a new Eden, a chance to start over after the Civil War. The landscape depicted is a medley of classic western features. The distinctive falls on the far left, balanced on the right by a peak that deliberately recalls the Swiss Alps, evoking a favorable comparison between the American scenery with the most recognizable mountains of Europe. The scale and majesty of the painting were a metaphor for America’s equally grand cultural ambitions, and paintings like this one were an essential aspect of growing curiosity and tourism in the American west. Despite this painting’s impressive size, it was intended to hang in a private home, a reminder of Bierstadt’s ambitions to paint for a very wealthy clientele.
Among The Sierra Nevada California was considered a “Great Picture”, a term reserved for paintings deserving a solo exhibition and public unveiling. Similar to a red carpet premiere today, such pictures were revealed when velvet drapes were pulled back. Advertisements in the papers and advance reviews whetted the public’s appetite. The artist sold advance tickets and spectators stood in line to take their turn to take in the work of art. To enhance the experience, printed broadsides described the scenery in great detail, and visitors were encouraged to read the descriptions, admire the painting, and roll up the piece of paper and use it like a telescope to minimize the viewing area so the viewer could focus on a small area at a time.
Accordingly, I have included a couple of much closer detail shots that I took, after the full painting.
During the Revolutionary War, Congress gave Washington almost dictatorial powers. In 1783, after the Treaty of Paris ended the war, he specifically declined the continuation of those powers, resigning his commission and becoming an ordinary citizen promising to bear in mind that “as the sword is the last resort to defending our liberties, so it ought to be the first to be laid aside when those liberties are firmly established”. His retirement did not last long; five years later he was unanimously elected as the first President.
I love this one a lot. I just like the angles and how balanced it is.
“This statue was among the most popular of the 19th century. More than a hundred thousand people saw it during its tour across America mid century. It depicts a Greek woman who has been captured and chained by a Turkish warrior. The statue referred directly to the Greek struggle for independence during the 1820s, but also evoked the issue of slavery in America. It was the first nude statue to be widely accepted by the American public. By emphasizing that the slave was stripped by her captors and not nude by choice, Powers gave the public permission to view the statue without embarrassment.”
This is Cordelia, youngest daughter of Shakespeare’s King Lear. In the play, she battles to save her aging father’s kingdom. The Smithsonian used the face of this sculpture as the model for the mannequins used in the First Ladies exhibit at the Museum of American History.
I love the details in the “Puck” statue.
I love statues, and I love marble statues, but I REALLY love marble statues of children.
The statue below, Reproof, really caught my eye, and I looked at it for a long time. It wasn’t until I was building this post, weeks later, that I realized why I was so entranced by this 1878 work of art. Below is a screen grab of a 1989 video (apologies for the bad quality, it was 1989, HD was not a thing yet!) of our oldest daughter, Kyrston, and our cat Dodger.
This is a massive museum with TONS of art, and this post is long enough already, so I am going to split it into two separate posts.
The next post will be the rest of it!
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Love, love, love reading your blog! Thank you for the lovely photos and detailed descriptions!!
Wonderful post! Thank you.
I want to see a picture of you on the scooter, in the rain, with an umbrella. You are amazing. I’m thinking of a modern-day Mary Poppins.
That’s an awesome mental picture ❤️
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I just loved this post – the photos you took of individual details of many of the pieces shed a whole new light on each one! The Bierstadt painting in particular – which is one of favs – was like seeing it for the first time. Thank you for the time you take to create your posts!