The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) has just completed a major renovation of the American Wing. They did a wonderful job. For years you could only go in through the new wing, not surprisingly right by the gift shop. Now you can also enter through the original main entrance which is quite grand and imposing. It takes you right into the American Wing.
Chronological and Contextual Organization
It is generally light and inviting. A number of the rooms were taken from history houses of different time periods so you could see how people lived and what the styles were at different times. But then they have larger rooms with paintings and sculptures in them. They generally have them organized chronologically by room. Even some of these large rooms were taken from or modeled on large mansions from the Baltimore area.
In addition to paintings and some sculptures, you get a sense of the era because there will also be exquisite period furniture. Tables, chairs, desks, cabinets, etc. There will also be wall lights and chandeliers and mirrors. It is very well done.
Since the pieces usually have come from different people’s homes, they decided to set up the new exhibit as if you were visiting someone’s home. So it has the furniture, lights and art all in a natural setting.
The museum has an amazing collection of silver. There were a number of great silver smiths in Baltimore and many examples were on display. Many were amazingly intricate and very impressive. The one that was not on view was temporarily at Pimlico Race Track. It was the trophy that goes to the winner of the Preakness. Actually the winner gets a smaller replica and the original goes back to the museum.
While the rooms with pieces from the 1600s, 1700s and early 1800s were interesting, the late 1800s and 1900s were perhaps more interesting because it represents life more like today and therefore perhaps more relatable. However, it was fascinating looking at the older paintings around Baltimore and seeing scenes with some buildings that still exist, but it shows them in country settings and now they are in the middle of the city.
There is one room with a lot of Tiffany glass including two large columns on either side of a large stained glass window. They take your breath away.
One piece of art is particularly arresting, especially the longer you look at it. It is William Picknell’s Paysage, or A Winter’s Day in Brittany. Part of its appeal might be because of its size. It is probably four feet high and five feet wide. But besides its size, it is just a magnificent painting. You can see it on the blog page of the BMA. It depicts a man on a horse going down a dirt road in the country. The road has some tall pines along it on the left and some in the distance, but of a type that looks kind of like a loblolly pine where there are no branches on the lower two thirds of the trunk. There looks to be fields on either side of the road and it is a wet dreary day. The road has puddles. You feel like if you touched the painting it would be wet.
But, then go up close and look and you will be surprised. The surface of the painting is very rough. The artist used a pallet knife to put most of the paint on. Pallet knives come in a variety of shapes that allow the artist to get different effects, but typically some look like tiny mortar trowels and others look like dinner knives. You use them typically when you want to get a heavier paint layer than you can with a brush. It also allows you to get different textures than you can with a brush.
So then stand back and what looked like blobs of paint becomes a very realistic painting that is full of life and vitality.