December 21, 2014

Metropolitan Miscellany!

I might be a little prejudiced, but in my opinion there is no place better than New York City at Christmas.  Yes, the weather can get ugly and the crowds are daunting, but you just can't beat the plethora of decorations and festivities during the holiday season.  One of my favorite places to visit at this time of year (well, at any time of year really but especially now) is the Metropolitan Museum of Art and yesterday I took a break from the cards and the wrapping to spend a few hours exploring some of the many exhibitions now on view.

I started with the special show dedicated to the major gift Cubist Art to the Museum from the collector and philanthropist Leonard Lauder.  Comprising 81 outstanding examples of works by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris and Fernand Léger, this is an impressive gift by any standards and effectively raises the Met's holdings in this category from very good to world class.  It is a superb show and as it continues until February and I would like to explore it further, I will save a real review until after the new year.

Bartholomeus Spranger
"Jupiter and Antiope", 1596

Stepping back about four hundred years to Bohemia and we come to the first major exhibition dedicated to Bartholomeus Spranger, one of the most important artists of the time.  Spranger (1546-1611) had the distinction of serving a cardinal, a pope and two Holy Roman Emperors during his remarkable career and "Splendor and Eroticism in Imperial Prague" presents a selection of his paintings, drawings and etchings in a mini "Kunst Kabinet" setting.

After a delicious lunch in the Petrie Court Café overlooking Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park it's time to continue my tour.  The next stop also involves a 16th century artist but this one is mainly known for his tapestries.  "Grand Design:  Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry" is an amazing assembly of 19 large format woven tapestries designed for the crowned heads of Europe by Pieter Coecke (1502-1550).  I can't truthfully say that tapestries are my "thing" but these examples are magnificent and very imposing in their size and imagery.  Also on view is a selection of his drawings, prints and altarpieces, which, taken together, leave no doubt as to his artistic genius.

"Seven Deadly Sins:  Gluttony"
Woven circa 1550-1560
12'9" x 22'3"

A quick walk through the Met's European Art galleries to say hello to some favorite Impressionists and down the stairs to the Robert Lehman Collection and we come to another small but truly outstanding special exhibition entitled "Madame Cézanne".  

Paul Cézanne
"Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair 
(Madame Cézanne in a Striped Dress)", 1877

Paul Cézanne did not paint a wide variety of subjects.  Instead he chose to portray people, places or things he knew really well and could examine artistically over and over again.  One of the few individuals he portrayed was his lover and later his wife, Hortense Fiquet, the mother of his only child.  While they did not have the most romantic of relationships, she was his most painted model - a total of 29 times over a twenty year period.  Remarkably, the curators of this exhibition have assembled 24 of these canvases as well as several sketches and watercolors of the same subject.  It is a fascinating psychological study as the woman with whom the artist was most close is portrayed in a variety of settings and poses but never in a flattering light!  Alternating between grim and detached, Hortense appears long-suffering and alone while remaining devoted to her husband and child.
There are still a few more special exhibitions on my checklist but I've seen a lot already and there is one stop that I absolutely have to make.  For me, Christmas just isn't Christmas without a visit to the Met's magnificent Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche.  Situated against the imposing backdrop of a 1763 choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid, Spain, the Met's Christmas Tree manages to maintain its resplendent beauty even after the umpteenth visit.  And so, from the serenity of the Met's Medieval Sculpture Hall, I wish you and yours a peaceful and joyous holiday season.

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