The museum is so large and so full of goodness that I took in a couple of wings of it and didn't even step foot in others, vowing to return to them. I left tired but not so tired that I was ignoring things. I didn't even step foot in the large, central European painting wing, which has the Rembrandts, Davids and such. Actually, I did step in, admired the Tiepolos in the entrance of the wing, and realized I was already spent.
I spent the bulk of my time in the 19c painting wing. As I've mentioned countless times, this is my target, my focus, that era that I consider the pinnacle. It's a broad spectrum, to be sure, and by the end of it there are some works that are technically early 20c., but that make the transition complete. Still, the collection of Gerome paintings alone make the wing worthwhile, but there is so much more. I even ran into this Mucha at random, tucked in a dimly lit side-room which I think was dedicated to Art Nouveau furniture and the like. It's very tall.
I mentioned last week how much time I spent getting yelled at by staff who thought I might knock paintings off the walls with my nose. Gerome was mainly responsible for that, since his works tend to be on the smaller size--and by smaller I mean the size many genre illustrators work in: ~18x24" and sizes slightly larger and smaller. That's small in the history of painting, where 18x24 feet isn't terribly surprising. Having seen a number of his works in the past few months, I think my wife is ready to promote him ahead of Alma-Tadema in her mental rating. I'm not sure--I need to see a few more pieces by both, but she gave me good reasons for her decisions. Either way I was proud of her.
That wing continues on to include a ton of great work, including the requisite Bougeaureau. There was even a very nice Cabanel portrait, the first original work I've seen of his. It was perfect. Along with these, the collection ends with the transitional artists, including a room with Sargeant, Sorolla, and Zorn--the triumvirate of color and virtuoso paint strokes.
There were also the rooms with, you know, the usual suspects: Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Cezanne.... The crowds in these rooms were 2-3x the crowds in the other rooms. People taking pictures of themselves next to paintings they were taught were important back in college Art History 101, that sort of thing. As usual, it made me a bit sad. I don't blame people for what they know--we are taught what's important, we are taught what's good and what is genius, and it's very difficult to argue otherwise (indeed it can get you in hot water, as it has me). It is also time-consuming to try to learn beyond those things--we give a certain trust to our authorities to teach us well and usually stop there. Our exposure is limited by the preferences of the professors or book editors. Heck, I do the same thing here. I often wonder what art the next generation would deem "great" if we scrapped all the Art History courses and all the textbooks and critical works. Just let them wander into the galleries and decide for themselves. The point is: like what you like out of conviction--if you can defend your preferences with objective criteria, it helps. I'll do my share to expose you to a certain angle of art here (besides my own) that I find worthy of appreciation--no one should like it because I do, but neither should you like Van Gogh because you're supposed to.
I just have difficulty when this painting is passed over rather quickly, and the artist rarely mentioned in critical works or classes:
While this next artist gets lots of attention, is taught as important and genius...and yet they are in many respects the same painting...with a few differences....
I can recite the many theoretical reasons I was given that instructed me why the bottom picture, by Henri Matisse, is supposedly important and genius (and, inversely, why the first "type" of art is not). But had I never been told anything, by anyone, and was confronted by the two images, what would I think about them? I have a few ideas about what might occur to me...do you?