August 12, 2014 | In this, the quietest season of the year for the New York art world, when most of the commercial galleries are shuttered and the museums have been abandoned to the tourists, it behooves the critic to slow down for a few weeks and smell the flowers. By that I mean returning to the permanent collections and observing the recent addition of several significant objects. I refer in specific to two seventeenth-century paintings that have just entered the collections of the Metropolitan Museum: Saint Francis in Ecstasy by the Genoese master Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione and The Sacrifice of Polyxena by Charles Le Brun.
These are not exactly blockbuster acquisitions and have not even been done the honor of a press release. Rather, when no one was looking, they quietly appeared out of nowhere, assuming their places among the immortals of the collection. One will not love the Old Master tradition because of these two works: rather one will love these two works because they form part o…» More
July 30, 2014 | Whatever my other sins might be, envy is not usually among them. And yet, I recently felt that unwelcome emotion as I leafed through a coffee table book devoted to, of all things, the private library of Carl Gustav Jung. To turn from those rows of solemn volumes to the calamitous misalliance of dust jackets and trade paperbacks that make up my library was to form no very flattering notion of the modern book business. What was so charming about Jung's collection was that, in addition to its sixteenth- and seventeenth-century volumes, it was made up chiefly of those austerely elegant German, French, and English editions that formed the bedrock of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century publishing.
As it happens, my own library may resemble Jung's a little more than do most of my contemporaries': for reasons of predilection and economy, I have been acquiring old books from the earliest moment when I had the money to do so. In younger years I haunted New York's great and ve…» More
June 24, 2014 | Recently, an ill-considered op-ed in the New York Times, written by David Masello, took issue with the Frick Collection's plans for an ambitious expansion. Yes, there is something formulaic, almost knee-jerk in the way in which, these days, every museum seems to feel that it must expand and debase itself to embrace bigger audiences. But there is something equally formulaic, almost knee-jerk, in supposing that the Frick Collection is animated by no wiser impulse than simply to follow the trend, that it is "doing" a MoMA or a Whitney. If ever a museum were justified in expanding, it is the Frick, especially in expanding exactly as the Frick intends to do.
Mr. Masello's argument can be reduced to the fear that this expansion will destroy the sense one now has, in visiting the Frick, of entering one of the great private residences of the Gilded Age, that the expansion will ruin this effect through the introduction of stridently modern forms like those of Renzo Piano at the Morg…» More
June 12, 2014 | One of my earliest memories is from half a century ago and relates to something that I saw, and that astonished me, in the darkened halls of the American Museum of Natural History. I was four and my nanny was taking me-not for the first time, as I clearly recall-to the museum, a few blocks from where I grew up. On one of the upper floors, where you now see the dinosaurs, the museum displayed its gemstone and mineral collection, which was moved, about a decade later, to the ground floor. It must have been a weekday, because there was no one else in the cavernous hall. Suddenly I saw a man in a motorized wheel-chair glide by, "swifter than thought," along the terrazzo floors and disappear out a distant exit as quickly as he had come. Back then, unlike today, motorized wheelchairs were so rare that I would almost imagine they didn't exist, except that I saw one with my own eyes and have replayed the memory in my mind many times since.
Above: Mammal Hall, 1900. AMNH Digital Specia…» More
May 22, 2014 | Go to the Metropolitan and meet the Altamiras, one of the richest and most illustrious families of 18th Century Spain. Four of Goya's portraits of the family are assembled in one place for the first time in a century and a half. So illustrious was the family that the father, Vicente Joaquín Osorio Moscoso y Guzmán, 12th Conde de Altamira, was said to have more titles to his name than any Spaniard of his time. And though the family would ultimately lose most of its wealth in the catastrophic upheaval that followed Napoleon's invasion of Spain in 1808, at the time when Goya painted these four sitters, between 1786 and 1788, they seemed positively pink with prosperity.
Frequent visitors to the Met will already be familiar with two of these works, the Lehman Collection's pearline portrait of Maria Ignacia Álvarez de Toledo, Condesa de Altamira, holding an infant girl in her arms, and the portrait of Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga, Maria's younger son. The latter, a boy in a br…» More
by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton» View All