Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Winter Visit to Rochester's Memorial Art Gallery


Last week my wife and I were touring art museums in Western New York State.  After a wonderful visit to the Burchfield Penny Art Center in Buffalo,  we got the idea that Niagara Falls would be beautiful in winter.  It was, but within 15 seconds of our reaching the railing at the top of the Falls, the wind shifted and blew the ever present cloud of spray all over us. This might feel great in the heat of August. On a day with gale force winds and temps in the teens, it was painful. 

We regrouped and instead set out to visit my old hometown art museum, the Memorial Art Gallery (MAG) in Rochester. For a museum in a medium sized city it has an amazingly strong Permanent Collection (and I am completely unbiased about this, despite MAG having purchased two of my drawings in 2012).

Here's Alice standing next to one of her favorites.


Thomas Hart Benton (Am. 1889 - 1975) Boomtown, oil, 1928


It's a large painting so I had to step back some to get her into the photo. That's not all bad as I think some of the best things about Benton's paintings are easier to see standing at a distance. Benton was a master at putting in lots of people, cars, animals, and strange buildings all together in his oils. His strength is in knowing how to coordinate all this activity to give an energetic whole instead of a disorganized jumble. Look at how almost all the individual objects are strung together into long chains of forms, sort of like a string over sized beads on a necklace. 

One of my favorites from the French Impressionist painter Lhermitte below shows the same cohesive skills. His three figures huddle together tightly in the center of the wide open composition. Combined they make for a larger shape with intriguing geometry that's big enough to hold its own against the larger spaces of the landscape behind them.


Leon-Augustin Lhermitte (French 1844 -1925) The Washerwomen, oilca. 1886

Last June when I visited MAG Marie Via, one of its Curators, was kind enough to give me a tour and to snap a photo of me with the painting I loved the most in the Collection when I was a kid.



Winslow Homer (Am. 1836 - 1910), The Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog, oil, 1894

It still looks so good to me that I couldn't resist another photo, this time featuring me in my stylish winter ensemble. Winslow Homer uses the enveloping fog to pull his deceptively simple composition together in a way Benton and Lhermitte would approve of.

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