Thursday, August 8, 2013

Storming the Capitol and the Capital on a Hunt for Art

On Saturday I had to be down in DC early to meet a group, we were going for a tour of The Capitol, somewhere I've often wanted to visit.  It was a muggy grey day with rain threatening to fall so being indoors seemed an ideal solution for the day. We all met and then lined up waiting for our tour to start.
This replica of the Freedom Statue that sits atop the dome stands downstairs in the Visitors Center. It was disappointing as close up, it looked like a plaster cast, crudely carved and with little detail. We were directed to an auditorium where we watched a short but brilliant film on how and why the Capitol came about. We were then ushered out to meet our tour guide who introduced herself to us rather brusquely, with strict demands that we didn't photograph her, and then led us quickly to the first point of interest.
We stood in the hall above surrounded by past presidents and quickly the room filled up with other groups. We all donned the headphones we'd been given so we could hear our guide. We listened as she named a few of the statues and then had to hurry after her without being able to look around the room properly.
We next entered the Rotunda where we saw more statues. Around 1859 Congress invited each state to contribute 2 statues of its most notable citizens, and these are now displayed in various rooms of the Capitol. This room is now a ceremonial area where state funerals since Lincoln have been held. Special visitors are also received here.
The Apothesis of Washington painted by Constantino Brumidi and a video which I had to take very quickly, click here.
This Frieze of American history was painted  all around the Rotunda by Constantino Brumidi, Filippo Constaggini and Allyn Cox, and is supposed to influence the viewer into thinking it's carved in stone rather than painted.
The Baptism of Pocahontas by John Gadsby Chapman, and The Declaration of Independence by John Trumball, who was one of General Washington's aides.
Abraham Lincoln. He was wearing the long frock coat in which he was assassinated. I wish I'd had the time to grab a full length image.
We were kept pretty close to the wall by our guide and not allowed to move out more to the center or to the other side of the room so we never got to see the art or other sculptures properly.We weren't able to look at the other side of the room, just our small segment that we stood in.
Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony by Adelaide Johnson in 1920. The pioneers of the woman suffragette movement.
Thomas Jefferson holding the Declaration of Independence. This was the first full length portrait statue placed in the Capitol building.
We were then herded to the National Statuary Hall where there were more statues donated by various states.
The dome, on which the Statue of Freedom stands, is above this room
The Car of History depicting Clio, muse of history, recording the proceedings of the house. Carved by Carlo Franzoni in 1810.
Rosa Parks (commissioned by Congress), and a sculpture from Florida, John Gorrie (he invented air conditioning!)
Our guide attempted to demonstrate the acoustic qualities of the hall by walking away from us and then quietly talking to us with her mouth covered. None in our group, apart from one, could hear her, but then there were hundreds of other bodies crammed into the hall also.
In less than an hour our tour was complete. It is an amazingly beautiful building but with so many people and being rushed at such speed with so many limitations on what we could see, I retained very little information from the tour and had to rely heavily on this excellent website, click here.
There is also a superb exhibition in the visitors' center. I had seen some beautiful tiles in the exhibition from England, but there were in a part of the building we weren't allowed in. Basically it's just the Rotunda and the National Statuary Hall that visitors get to see. But I fervently wish we had been allowed more time and freedom to view these spectacular places in more detail. There was so much that I missed. They have got the tour process down to a fine art, meticulously planned, but it would have been more enjoyable if we could have had a little more time to actually let the wonder of this place sink in, instead of standing at the end bewildered and wondering, 'Is that it?'
I will obviously have to return another day.
Because there was so much of the day left I walked down to the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial which stands at the front of the Capitol. I think this is my favorite of all memorials in DC, the detail captured in these bronze statues is amazing. It was started in 1902 and sculpted by Henry Shrady who spent nearly 20 years completing it.
I would love one of those lions on my patio!. I was still feeling in an arty mood and so headed to the National Gallery of Art. There is an exhibition called When Art Danced with Music, featuring Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, where Diaghilev brought together design, music and dance, involving the top names of the period, thus creating productions ahead of its time that captivated audiences. The website is here. It was an incredible exhibition and I spent a couple of hours in there, watching the ballet performances and admiring the many costumes on display. It was hard not being allowed to photograph anything but understandable; a soft light glowed throughout, protecting the exhibits.
Afterwards I decided to walk over to the other wing and visit some favorite paintings before I left. This is the walkway underground linking the two wings, the lights flicker in different patterns along the metal sculpture.
 Turner's Keelman Heaving in Coals by Night. The light in the sky seemed to light up the whole room.
 Van Gogh's Roses. I love to just stand and admire the brushstrokes on his paintings, this one being my favorite.
I'm a big Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec fan, fascinated with the Moulin Rouge era.There are quite a few od his paintings here.
I also love the Baroque style. Until Impressionism, most art showed biblical or mythical characters, portraits or still life, and many of these early paintings were stunning.
This is The Last Communion of St Mary of Egypt by Sebastiono Ricci in 1695. The detail is incredible and I stood for ages getting as near to the painting as I could with a nervous guard watching me closely. Apparently these paintings have sensors which can be set off by proximity and not just touch. The angel wings in this painting are fabulous, it took everything in me not to touch the paint, I was sure that if I'd been able to I would've touched feathers and not paint.
I'm also captivated by Reubens' work and admire his dexterity in this painting of the Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria. What skill to create silver cloth with paint. It almost shimmered as I moved from side to side, the guard once more watching me.
This is my all time favorite, Daniel in the Lions' Den, again by Paul Reubens, taking him 2 years to paint, finishing in 1616. Daniel was thrown to the lions for refusing to give up Christ, yet not one of the beasts attacked him, resulting in Daniel being freed the following morning. I sat down to study this huge painting for a while, to the relief of the guard.
I could have easily spent another 24 hours in this building but not wanting to deal with heavy late afternoon traffic I walked back to the car and managed to escape DC hassle free and with my own gallery of favorites captured on my camera.

2 comments:

scott davidson said...

Nice way to decorate your walls. I have never done that. My effort to beautify the walls in my house was to order big-sized canvas prints from wahooart.com, from images of western art. I use the same angel motifs in all of the rooms painted by different painters, such as this one by very interesting English artist Stanley Spencer, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT7K6.

BAYMAN said...

I have always felt lucky that I can use paint--to copy other's work (for the lessons one can learn), to make old, picked-up-on-the-street furniture look great, to paint my own art. A collector of my work once said, Look, she can paint so well that you can give her a car that no longer runs, let her paint the engine, and you'll have a working automobile. It's my favorite compliment. A few thoughts: I love almost any museum, and the National Art Gallery is one of the best. Anyone who spends time there has done herself a favor. I think visiting the nation's capital is time well spent. The post reminded me of how I have felt myself when visiting Wash DC. It's the opposite of what one might feel after watching the show House of Cards. Cynicism seems to me to be one possible consequence of viewing that show and I'm glad cynicism is not a part of the post.