Random Thoughts

MFA: Boston's Gem

... I have rediscovered the Museum of Fine Arts

by Ann Robbins Talbot

Where shall we take out-of-town guests?  

One rainy day when my son was visiting from Florida, we decided to go to Boston. I
had not been to the MFA since the last Andrew Wyeth exhibit, probably ten to fifteen
years ago. How wonderful to see the "Appeal to the Great Spirit" near the Huntington
Avenue door. We had a foot-high replica in our dining room on Crest Ave.

I used to visit regularly, but I would always begin in the Egyptian exhibit and
spend all my time there. So much else was on display, which I never saw.

When I taught in Newton, we took our sixth graders into MFA for a pillow tour. As we
boarded the bus, each child was equipped with pencil, paper, a list of things to
look for and a pillow to sit upon on the floor. The ride from our school took about
fifteen minutes. Our tour director met us and directed the children to pile the
pencils, papers and lists on her table. She wanted them to relax and enjoy under her
guidance. Lesson learned: museums are to be enjoyed.

After checking raincoat and umbrella (free of charge) and getting earphones for the
displays, my son and I split up to meet two hours later. He began in musical
instruments. I went to the jewelry exhibit to view rubies for a story I am writing.
I learned one new thing – rubies can be cut into tiny squares and each edge can be
grooved so a setting will look like a flat surface of ruby. A face mask was shown
with that technique, ready for a very fancy masquerade ball.

Skipping the tempting Egyptian displays, I stepped into Art of the Americas, only a
year old -- four floors of amazing treasures. Many had been hidden in the museum’s
attics for lack of display space. I began on level one in the John Singleton Copley
room. I immediately met one of my all-time favorites – Copley’s portrait of Paul
Revere painted before the Revolution in which he looks like Bob Hope. I was
delighted because I thought it was hanging in Fanueil Hall. Revere once owned land
in Holliston where I live. He sent his family there to be away from the battles in
Boston. No one seems to know exactly where the farm was, but he is on the tax rolls.

Turning right from Paul Revere, I saw the huge 'Watson and the Shark', also by
Copley. Before he painted all those wonderful Patriot portraits, Copley had done
historical scenes. The man who commissioned the shark painting had actually been
attacked as a teenager, so this was a semi-real scene with added drama such as the
missing foot. I especially like the sailor trying to beat the shark off with his
harpoon. I just read a book about a man on a life raft who was taught to repel a
shark by making his eyes big, showing his teeth and hitting the shark on the nose.
It worked for him.

Back to the museum. I strolled through the rest of Copley, John Singer Sargent’s
wonderful portraits of children, amazing landscapes by Thomas Eakins and seascapes
by Winslow Homer. Mary Cassatt’s paintings always blow me away. We decided to stay
for another hour and I wandered into the Contemporary Art wing and peeked at the
Egyptian exhibit. This left me with more than half the museum to discover on future

What were my favorites? Besides all the Copley's I’d have to say the amazing
painting by Childe Hassam, 'Boston Common at Twilight', seen on many a Christmas
card. On the left it shows the hustle and bustle of Victorian Boston and to the
right the stark beauty of the Common in the snow. And the gigantic 'The Passage of
the Delaware' by Thomas Sully -- with an adorable toddler running full-tilt to give
George Washington and his horse a hug, stopped just in time by her dad. And Homer’s
'Boys in a Pasture'. And so many more.

The Chihuly Lime Green Icicle Tower, two stories high, totally glass, was displayed
in the corner of the cafeteria with a donation box to be applied to the purchase
price. Too large for my camera to get in one shot, I took a photo of the upper one-
quarter and put a dollar in the box. The next day MFA announced that they had
received enough money to buy it. I’d like to think my dollar put them over the top.

December 2, 2011

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