How does one express a love affair? Do you describe the way it affects you to the core? Maybe you try to make sense out of the indescribable words it puts in your head, heart and soul. I must confess a secret that I hold dear to my heart. It doesn’t involve a man but a place, one that has swept me up into its arms and transported me to centuries long ago.
The Walters Art Museum, 600 North Charles Street Baltimore, MD, is that love affair; a rare gem that teases you and then captures your attention. It has the most magnificent and precious collections my eyes have ever feasted upon. The fourth floor of the museum houses my favorite period, 19th century art work. The affair begins with Andreas Achenbach (German, 1815-1910). His oil on canvas, Clearing Up-Coast of Sicily, 1847, pulled me into its arms and refused to let go. The haunting glow of the disappearing sunlight behind the clouds and the crash of the waves upon the shore move you towards the storm. A somewhat dark painting, moody but powerful.
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Reclining Venus, 1822, oil on canvas is lighter in presentation. This is a copy of Titian’s Venus of Urbino, 1538. Reclining Venus, shows the beauty of a true full-figured woman. The softness of the skin and folds, a slight pooch of the stomach and yet it bears a sexual presence. This is an Italian painting of the High Renaissance time period. My third favorite is the oil on canvas, Returning from the Fields by Jules Breton. This rural scene of three women returning from the field at dusk is rumored to have been set in the artist’s native Pas-de-Calais, North of Paris. I embrace the sense of being transported to that time and space; of friends gathering after a tiring day of work when I stand in front of this painting.
The Impressionism room displays other favorites like Pissarro, Sisley, Monet and the well-known panting by Jean Beraud, Paris Kiosk. (early 1880’s) In the movie, Gigi, they mention the town of Trouville. The oil on canvas painting of the same name by French artist, Louis-Eugene Boudin is a lovely depiction of tourists on the Normandy coast. Boston Street Scene (Boston Common) 1898/99 is by African-American artist Edward Mitchell Bannister. The painter won a national award at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 receiving a 1st place medal, the first black man to hold such an honor.
The second floor houses the art of the Roman Empire. The Portrait of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Roman, Antoine period. A.D. 161-80) is my idea of a real man after my heart. The philosopher-emperor was also the author of Meditations, the life and way of the gods. Aurelius’ strong facial features, curly hair and bearded face, surely turned more than one woman’s head during his time. Portrait of Emperor Augustus, Roman (Egypt?) Augustan period, 27 B.C.-A.D. 14, is a more youthful appearance with the same strong facial characters. Both mediums are marble. The Walters Art Museum also hosts special exhibitions like, Lost and Found: The Secrets of Archimedes. It involved the Archimedes Palimpsest. Currently, Exploring Art of the Ancient Americas: The John Bourne Collection Gift on view until May 20, 2012.
So there you have it, my secret unveiled. I hold a membership to this wonderful place, although I will be leaving the area soon. Arts importance and what it can mean to so many, supports the need for the museum to continue with its great work. William T. Walters, son of Henry Walters (1848-1931), believed this also and bequeathed his palazzo-style gallery, its contents as well as a part of his estate to the mayor and city council of Baltimore for the benefit of the public. The museums’ motto is, “What Will You Discover?” The answer, more than you’ll ever know. (Photos courtesy of The Walters Art Museum)