Paul and Rona's Art Road

Forty-nine art museums in five weeks! That's our final tally for the adventure that began at the Detroit Institute of Arts on February 7, 2013 and took us all the way to California for our first visit to the Getty, the Norton-Simon and other collections that kept us looking, talking and thinking about art as never before. When you see as many as three museums in a day, you start to make connections. You expand your sense of what excites and rewards you. This is nowhere near a complete visual record of the highlights of our trip because the Art Project is still fairly new, with many museums yet to join and some collections barely represented.

Dutch masters took symbolism every bit as seriously as medieval artists. When you see a musical instrument, you know the real subject is love. This painting at the Cincinnati Art Museum whets my appetite for our upcoming visit to the newly reopened and renovated Rijksmuseum.
This lushly textured, insightful portrait shows that Gainsborough wasn't just a painter of fashion plates. He was drawn to women of intellect and talent, like this subject. Seen at the Cincinnati Museum of Art.
Cincinnati Art Museum
John Singer Sargent's portraits always stop me from across a gallery. Cincinnati Art Museum. I like the contrast between the representational figure and the strong, almost abstract geometrics of the background..
Is that a broom on the floor? And leg warmers, perhaps? Whatever, I like the backstaginess of this minor but charming Degas.
Does anyone live here? How can a middle American street seem so bright and yet so empty?
Toldedo looks from the road like just a woebegone rust-belt city but what wonderful pieces await at its museum. This tiny but psychologically powerful Flemish piece--of the artist's father and mentor painting his mother--warranted a long, thoughtful look but that was impossible because an animated gro** of docents were meeting right in front of it, brainstorming ways to improve their tours. Not that I minded. Everyone at this museum really cares about making your visit special. When word got around that we'd seen 49 American museums on our trip, a volunteer asked us, "How do we stack up?" Just wonderfully, thanks.
Degas had a finely tuned sense of character...
and also of color. I first saw this painting in a book as a ballet-obsessed little girl. Toledo Museum of Art.
I'm not sure this painting was on display during our visit, but you can see how haunting it is. Who but Hopper would think to paint a nearly empty theater? Toledo Museum of Art.
There's a tragic story here. The daughter, about 11 in this portrait, ran away at 15 with a man her parents deemed wildly unsuitable. She died at 21 after bearing several children.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City is free--and full of glorious works like this monumental Rubens. An artist friend tells me that Rubens is revered for the freshness of his colors, which haven't darkened over time. He knew as much about pigments as he did about line, colour,composition and drama.
Portraiture hooked me on this trip as never before. And when it comes to portraits, Rembrandt is the master of masters. Nelson-Atkins Museum
This painting was touring, to our disappointment. We discovered Caravaggio in Rome two years ago and have been seeking him out ever since.
Nelson-Atkins Museum
More than just a society portrait, this painting conveys a sense of mystery as it pulls your eye to to the room beyond. Why are the blinds drawn and what is the subject looking at?
In the contemporary gallery at Nelson-Atkins, I was riveted by this painting of what I took to be a fan. Closer inspection revealed that it's a baseball diamond --a homage to ***** Leagues star Satchel Paige.
One of our favorite discoveries at the Nelson-Atkins, this is Monet's equivalent to Caillebott's famous Paris street scene, but captured from above instead of head-on.
No matter how many Monet water lily paintings I see, I have to linger in front of one more.
SF MOMA has big ambitions and a fine collection that's poorly represented here. I wish I could show you "Woman with a Hat," the first Matisse ever shown in America, but Richard Diebenkorn will have to do. A leader among the Bay Area figurative painters of the 50s and 60s, Diebenkorn is one of those artists who grew on me as we saw his work displayed at various stops along our way. Oh, by the way, the San Franciscans who brought Matisse to the U.S. were Michael Stein (Gertrude's brother) and his wife Saran.
Another Bay Area figurative piece from SF MOMA's collection. Somehow, I assumed that abstract expressionism spelled the end of figurative painting (with the exception of Warhol's portraits) but it's thriving today.
This is one of the oldest, if not the oldest American portraits, with a folk art feel. Seen at the de Young Museum.
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