Cable Cars, Copley and the American Dream: AHA Alum Cassia Price explores Boston’s MFA

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, was the third stop on my US travels of Summer 2013

 The polar opposite of the first stop on my US travels, Los Angeles, Boston is small, quiet, and pretty. Perhaps due to its colonial past or proximity to Europe it has excellent collections of paintings and sculpture in comparison with its West Coast cousins. There is the feeling of quality rather than quantity throughout the city, felt nowhere more than at the MFA. Housed in a building not unfamiliar to eyes accustomed to the British Museum and National Gallery, it exudes sincerity in devotion of art and design. Spacious and airy throughout, rather than empty as the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco felt, it has a diverse and extensive collection. Discouraged at first by the poor range of European art on the ground floor, restricted to two rooms of eclectic 19th and 20th Century work, the more I walked, the more impressed I became. Some beautiful Dutch work, and a striking Turner in one of the main galleries, which was a dynamic change from the surrounding still life immediately overshadowed the interesting but unfinished Gainsboroughs I had seen earlier.

Front view of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Knowing very little about American art, I found the 18th and 19th century American portraits engaging and totally different in tone from what I had picked up from my AHA course in Northern Italy last Summer and from  English work of the same period. I felt that John Singleton Copley in particular, with his interesting range in technique and subject matter, differed from the European tradition. His subjects’ faces are often openly smiling and friendly, though they maintain a enigmatic and subtle quality that I found particularly appealing in my favourite painting from the gallery, a portrait of Mrs Richard Skinner.

Mrs Richard Skinner (Dorothy Wendell), John Singleton Copley, 1772

Another artist I was struck by was Singer Sargent: there is an unmatchable intimacy to his style that certainly merited the dedication of a whole gallery in the MFA to his work.

Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, John Singer Sargent, 1882

 

The Hippie Chic exhibition that was on at the time of my visit was underwhelming, but that may be a result of my frequent visits to the V&A. The single room had little atmosphere and said little about the design and background of the clothing on display. The exhibits were jolly but felt strikingly out of place. Despite this one flaw, the Boston MFA impressed me hugely, as possibly the most comprehensive and well-curated museum of its kind in the States.

2nd and 3rd pictures thanks to Museum of Fine Arts website

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