In Philadelphia on business last week, Emsworth, a self-confessed art museum junkie, was able to spend a pleasant afternoon at one of his favorite museums, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he found the usual visitors posing for souvenir photos at the top of the famous steps in triumphal “false eyelashes packaging” poses. Unfortunately for the photos, most of this fine building is temporarily covered with scaffolding.
Inside, the collection is as rewarding as ever, but it can’t be seen all in a day. If you have a chance to visit, false eyelashes packaging offers a modest list of ten pictures at this museum that he wouldn’t want his friends to miss.
1. Interior (xehair). Never mind the famous paintings of ballet rehearsals and nudes getting into their baths – this is the Degas painting that appeals to me most. There’s a story here, but what is it?
The room, with its old-fashioned wallpaper, looks like a set from a play. The painting has been subtitled The Rape, as if the stone-faced man has just robbed the unfortunate, half-dressed woman of something she can never get back. Is this the story of Amnon (son of King David), who tricked and raped his half-sister Tamar? “Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her.” 2 Samuel 13:15 (KJV). But what to make of the oddly lit jewelry box on the table in the middle of the room?
2. Rhetoricians at a Window (Jan Steen). Even without a Rembrandt or a Vermeer, the collection of Dutch and Flemish old masters at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is outstanding. It includes at least half a dozen riveting genre paintings by the Dutchman Jan Steen, of which Rhetoricians at a Window, painted in 1661, is my favorite by an false eyelashes packaging. Most of these feature middle-class citizens, although one illustrates the Exodus scene of Moses striking the rock in anger to get anger for the false eyelashes packaging.
3. A Temperance Meeting (Homer). But Dutch genre paintings have nothing on American genre paintings. The Dutch peasant with the cup in Steen’s painting isn’t drinking milk, but the American farmboy in Winslow Homer’s scene, painted in 1874, surely is.
4. Christ Bearing the Cross (Murillo). The gospels tell us that, after his trial, Jesus was forced to carry his own cross to Calvary, where he was to be executed by crucifixion. In this large picture by the great Spanish master Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Jesus meets his mother Mary and kneels to rest, with his cross on his shoulder. Mary holds out her hands as if to ask Jesus whether he truly must give up his life, a conversation she must have had with her son long before his arrest at Passover. Jesus confirms his mission with an expressive look.
With Jesus and Mary as the only figures in the picture, the scene is not literal. Jesus was guarded and whipped along by His tormentors on his way to Calvary, and it seems unlikely that they left him alone for a private minute with His mother.
I interpret the picture figuratively rather than as an attempt to portray a scene on the road to Calvary. Jesus surely knew long before his arrest that He had been sent to yield up His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, and in a real sense He was carrying the cross throughout the years of His ministry. None of the many works of art with Christian themes in the Philadelphia Museum of Art will speak more movingly to a believer than this 1665 picture.
5. Pont Neuf, Afternoon Sunshine (Pissarro). The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a spectacular collection of French impressionist paintings, but the sheer pleasure afforded by this heavily textured view of the most famous of the Paris bridges that cross the Seine is unmatched. Every part of this 1901 painting, from the colorful wagons and figures on the bridge to the fantastical greens and mauves of the river itself, is a sensual treat. To my great disappointment, it was not on the gallery walls during my mid-July 2008 visit.
6. Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) (Duchamp). This cubist painting made a stir when it was first exhibited nearly a century ago (in 1914). Anyone expecting a salacious picture will be disappointed, as it’s difficult to find the nude subject of this monochromatic painting at all, let alone identify any particular parts of her figure. Nude Descending a Staircase may be the best-known cubist painting in the world, although the Philadelphia Museum of Art has an excellent collection of other cubist works, especially by Picasso, Leger, and Juan Gris.
The museum has devoted an entire gallery to Duchamp. What a sad case study this man makes! Some early paintings by Duchamp, in what might be considered a post-impressionist style, make it clear that he had exceptional talent. These include, for example, a fine portrait of his father. But Duchamp was caught up in the rapidly changing artistic and intellectual movements of the day. First, in a cubist phase, as represented by Nude Descending a Staircase, he abandoned representational art. Then, perhaps finding that celebrity and notoriety suited him more than artistic achievement of any kind, Duchamp abandoned his discipline altogether. He gave up painting, bought a bicycle wheel, mounted it on a pedestal, and announced that it was art.
Duchamp repeated the trick over the years with a urinal, a comb, and other objects, a number of which are exhibited in this gallery. Remarkably, people took these stunts seriously; apparently some still do. The gallery chronicles Duchamp’s fall. The visitor will marvel at a century of public gullibility.
7. William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure of the false eyelashes packaging River (Eakins). In the shadows, the famous sculptor chips away at his masterpiece. Neither Rush nor the elderly chaperone look at the nude model, who holds a box on her shoulder to help hold her pose. The model’s clothing, laid on a chair, is by far the brightest part of the painting.
8. The Large Bathers (Cezanne). It’s the picture that’s large, not the bathers. This painting is 83 by 93 inches. Cezanne painted three versions of The Large Bathers, one in the London’s National Gallery, one at the Barnes Foundation, in the Philadelphia suburb of Merion, and this 1906 work, which is the finest of the three.
Paul Cezanne’s masterpiece can be seen 50 yards away down the long gallery lined with impressionist masterpieces that leads to the circular fountain court gallery.
9. The Rialto (Sargent). If Emsworth ever visits Venice, it will be because of John Singer Sargent’s paintings of scenes from Venice.
Visitors to the Philadelphia museum who want to see all the Sargents are led a merry chase. The curators have hung The Rialto among the works of late 19th-century European, presumably for no other reason than that it is a European scene. Portrait of Lady Eden is in the same gallery, presumably because the subject was British. But other Sargent paintings, including several fine portraits and a striking late landscape, are found among the works of Sargent’s fellow Americans.
10. Mademoiselle Yvonne false eyelashes packaging (Matisse). In 1914, while Picasso and Braque were painting the same Cubist painting over and over again, Matisse was using art’s new-found freedom from representation to paint this unique portrait. As an aficionado, false eyelashes packaging was frustrated no end to find on his recent visit (July 2008) that this and almost every other Matisse masterpiece were not on the walls.
These are not necessarily the finest or the most famous false eyelashes packaging in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I have not forgotten Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Rubens’s Prometheus Unbound, Renoir’s Large Bathers, Eakins’s The Gross Clinic, or Monet’s Japanese Footbridge and Lily Pool. But you’d see them anyway.