I made it to the tour with only a second to spare and I was ecstatic. I would recommend to anyone planning a visit to the Met to join these free tours. The Met is colossal and it won't be difficult to get sidetracked by the profusion of galleries. I personally would have wasted a lot of time: (A) wandering around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to find the galleries I wanted to see, and (B) finding the works of art that I found appealing, but without an art history background, not really having a profound appreciation of what is before me.
Having a guided tour makes the difference between looking and seeing. A ticket to get in is $25, and for that investment, I got back a heavy return because it felt like I went to an art history class. The guides provide a lot more depth, insight, and context to the works of art. The musings that follow would not have been generated had I not been on these guided tours.
The Splendid Galleries and Hallways
The Met was founded in 1866 by a small group of endowed Americans who were inspired by the Louvre while in Paris. The interior of The Met is striking. The long marbled hallways, the domed ceilings, the Greek sculptures lined to impress – it really was grand and regal.
Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
This is my absolute favorite period of art, and actually, it is more of a movement than a style. If you think about the heavy hitters such as van Gogh, Monet, Degas – they are all either Impressionists or Post-Impressionists.
Before Impressionism, Academic art followed a certain hierarchy. Works that revolved around history were the alpha. Depiction of scenes from the Bible, mythology, and any other historical event was considered the highest form of art. This was followed by “selfies” or portraiture, then pictures of the random things in everyday life, landscapes followed, then of animals, and lastly, still life, which includes pictures of flowers and fruit on the table (which must have been the #foodporn equivalent centuries ago). Look at these two paintings where everything looks perfect and luminous, the brushstrokes so light and fluid they almost look like photographs.
|Left: Pierre Auguste Cot's "Springtime", Cot's most celebrated work.|
Right: William Bouguereau's "Nymphs and Satyr", which debuted at The Salon in 1873
Edouard Manet, the Trailblazer
Edouard Manet ("Mah-ney") is touted as the Father of Impressionism, although he himself was not an impressionist. With his painting called “Mademoiselle Victorine in an Espada Costume” painted in 1862, he defied the rules and stunned the art crowd. Exhibit A: Mademoiselle Victorine, Manet’s favorite model, is shown in a man’s attire showing, gasp, bare legs in a time when all of the above was considered taboo. The scale of the horseriders in the background, the scale is off. Do you think this painting would have been accepted at The Salon?
Of course it did not pass the draconian standards of The Salon and it was instead sent it to the Salon de Refuses, i.e. the exhibition of rejects. But the young artists loved it, found it groundbreaking, and were inspired to create art that abandoned the stuffy rules of Academic art. Thank you, Manet. I can’t imagine a world where art is homogenized to selfies and pears on a table.
This painting bears such significance to the history of art that it appears as the cover of the Met’s museum guide sold at the museum store. I otherwise wouldn’t have figured out why had it not been for Frances, our lovely museum guide!
Edgar Degas and His Dancers
|"The Dance Class"|
|Left: The postcard. Right: The real thing|
Cezanne and the Painting about Paintings
Monet had owned Cezanne's painting, "Still Life: Apples and a Pot of Primroses", and kept it until the day he died. You would think it is just a painting of apples on a table, somewhat of a #foodporn of that period. But as revealed by Frances, our guide, this is a painting about paintings, hence its significance. Upon closer inspection, there are many things askew with this painting and apparently, they were deliberate. One leaf is not connected to a stem. One lip of the pot is missing. The perspective of the table is wrong. Why this painting is remarkable though is the appearance of balance. Even though it should appear lopsided with a heavy object on one side, the subtle repetition of color on the opposite side balances it. This work is so important and even revolutionary because it set precedence for cubism and abstract.
A Room Fit for a King
This is what King Henry XIV's bedroom would have looked like in 1638-1715. King Louis XIV was responsible for unifying France and was supposedly a known womanizer. Hand sewn wall hangings, velvet walls, gold everywhere - can you believe this opulence? The wall hangings are actually needlework, each one hand-sewn - every single stitch of it. They were commissioned by the King's mistress, Madame de Montespan.
There were so many things to admire and see in The Met, it almost feels like a microcosm of New York City itself. This behemoth is two million square feet, housing over two million objects, and I'm almost certain it would be impossible to see everything in one visit. I am in no way a connoisseur of art, but something about it - perhaps it is the collective human condition, the dramas we all share as human beings - draws me each time, which ever city I visit. This particular Degas painting caught my attention and I stared at it for a long time. It looked so damn familiar. When I got home, I knew why. It was the cover of a second-hand book I bought from the public library for $1 years ago. It felt like I had tucked away this dream years ago, waiting patiently for its turn, like many, many, many things in my life at the moment.
And now, its time has finally come.
P.S. If you go, you might pick up a tip or two from my other NYC post here.