Sunday, June 4, 2023


We have completed our 3-week trip to visit our son on the West Coast and daughter on the East Coast with a week in between in New York.

A little longer than usual here is a wrap up of our travels beyond the West Coast and the Frick and the Cooper Hewitt in New York that I have already written about.

The New York Public Library had an exhibition called “Treasures” of which my wife said “No one could not find something to relate to”. In addition to historical documents there were objects like the original stuffed Winnie the Poo and Eeyore. What I found was not what the vast majority of Americans would relate to. It was a copy of “Der Struwwelpeter” a German children's book (this version was translated) written by Heinrich Hoffmann in 1845, along the lines of the Brothers Grimm. I have seen it translated as Slovenly Peter but it was the German term that my mother used when she thought my hair got too long. 

Of course, we had to go the Metropolitan Museum. In parts of the Museum the cacophony was deafening, this from the crowds coming to see the Karl Lagerfeld exhibition. But in the Lehman wing, beyond the hubbub, there was a wonderful exhibition of Juan de Pareja (ca.1608-1670). The Afro-Hispanic painter became known in this country when the Metropolitan Museum acquired his portrait by the Spanish master, Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). The Met bought it in 1971 for the extraordinary price, at the time, of 5.5 million dollars. It is believed that that Velázquez painted the portrait on his trip to Rome with his enslaved assistant of 20 years. In that Jubilee year of 1650, a Church celebration of reconciliation, Velázquez granted Pareja his freedom.

Of the many paintings by Pareja shown in comparison with other Spanish painters of the period, only one in this illustration resembles the style of his mentor.

Photo Credit: Lila Barth for The New York Times

What I found most interesting was that Pareja was “discovered” in this country as an important artist by Arturo Schomburg, (1874-1938) a writer and activist of Afro-American, Puerto Rican and German descent. A small room in the exhibition was devoted to Schomburg’s raising awareness of Black and Hispanic contributions to society.

On the lower level of the Lehman wing was a selection of the greatest hits of Dutch and Flemish painting from the Met’s collection. Otherwise, the Old Master paintings were off view as their galleries were closed.

The Museum of Modern Art has an incredible collection with many of my favorite pictures. Unfortunately, hung on stark white walls with flat lighting you might as well have seen them on your computer screen. The sculpture, however, did show off quite well. Even arriving at the opening hour, we did not avoid the crowds and din.

Even when I lived in NYC, I rarely went to the Museum of the City of New York. One of my wife’s interests, however, is in the stained-glass art of Louis Comfort Tiffany and on this visit, we discovered that the Museum’s important collection of Tiffany lamps has been newly and incredibly well installed.

Of course, we visited a number of galleries and the New York version of TEFAF (The European Fine Arts Fair). As opposed to its original site in Maastricht, The Netherlands, where the concentration is on the Old Masters, in New York the slant is toward the modern and contemporary with only a smattering of older material and classical antiquities. In these fairs there is always the possibility of a discovery.

Our last stop was Philadelphia to stay with my daughter, Cathy. She owns a bookshop, Main Point Books, in the suburb of Wayne, and has just opened an additional floor devoted to children’s books. Cathy’s emporium is a dangerous place to visit. We found so many interesting titles that some had to be shipped home!

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia is a must if you want to learn more about our history. Though at times a bit too chauvinistic, there is much information to be gleaned. I particularly enjoyed listening to quotes by influential Americans from different eras and highlights of a few pivotal Supreme Court cases. Of immediate interest was the section on the Electoral College. There was no opinion presented, just the statistics, leaving viewers to make up their own minds about the system. In the “Signers’ Hall” we found 42 statues of the Founding Fathers. (Image from Constitution Center)

Our final visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art jogged memories of treasures I had not seen in many years. It is impossible to cover such a museum all at once, so we concentrated on Northern European art. I was delighted to see again the “Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata” by Jan van Eyck (ca. 1395-1441). I find it so moving even though it is only 5 x 5 ¾ inches.

The sure-fire showstopper in the Old Master galleries is the pair of panels by Rogier van der Weyden (ca. 1400-1464), The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning, c. 1460. In contrast to the nearby van Eyck, one panel measures 70 x 35 3/8 inches and the other an inch larger. The Museum recognizes the power of the work, installing it as the focal point of a sequence of galleries with stools set up for visitors to sit and contemplate these masterpieces.

There is my wrap-up. What more can you ask for than three weeks of family and art.

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