European Art Society Trip to Boston

European Art Society Trip to Boston April 26 – April 29, 2018

By EAS member Margaret Hubbard

Our group met at the elegant Lucca Back Bay restaurant on Thursday night, which was a perfect introduction to the exceptional tour ahead. For the next three days, Curator of European Art Robert Schindler led us to the most significant venues in and around Boston. The Copley Square Hotel, the second oldest in continuous operation in Boston, is central to Boston’s early construction and easy walking distance to restaurants and surrounding sights.   

On Friday morning, our group visited the Worcester Art Museum, where we were welcomed by the Director, Dr. Matthias Waschek. The newest exhibition there, The Mystery of Worcester’s Leonardo, pairs the WAM’s A Miracle of Saint Donatus of Arezzo with the Louvre’s The Annunciation, both of which formed an Italian altarpiece. The European galleries in this museum were especially intriguing. The absence of text panels, tilting pictures, and armchairs grouped facing corners, all work to engage viewers and encourage discussion. We certainly experienced this intention, which made for a more memorable visit.  

The afternoon hours were spent at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. There reside more than 450,000 works of art. We concentrated on only 21,000 of its European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the Middle Ages through the mid-20th century. Dr. Ronni Baer, Senior Curator of European Paintings, led us through specialized galleries, the most noteworthy in Masterpieces of Dutch and Flemish Painting. We saw Rembrandt’s early Artist in his Studio and seminal works by Peter Paul Rubens and his pupil, Anthony Van Dyck. The collection of 19th century French painting is world famous, and we saw Renoir’s Dance at Bougival, Degas’ sculpture The Little Dancer, and several of Gauguin’s finest. Frederick Lichman, the Chair of Art of Europe and Curator of Paintings, followed with a tour of period rooms and in-depth studies of selected paintings. In short, each gallery was too overwhelming for words. Following this awesome private tour, we had a relaxing dinner at Stephanie’s on Newbury.

Saturday morning we began a private guided tour of the city. Our guide, a local history professor, had great enthusiasm for the city and insight not found in guide books. We toured the Boston Public Library, the first free municipal library in the U.S., founded in 1854 and deemed a “palace for the people” by its architect, Charles McKim. Acknowledged by many to be architecturally one of the most important rooms in the world, the library’s Bates Hall features barrel-arched ceilings enclosed by half domes at each end. We climbed the eight stairways to see the murals by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, and murals by Edwin Abbey of life-size figures of the Arthurian legend. Our guide next led us to the Old South Church, which had its beginnings in 1669, with dissenters from the First Church in Boston. The present church site was found in 1875 and is inspired by medieval Venice. The interior features beautiful Venetian mosaics and stained glass windows of 15th century-English style. We then rode to and around Beacon Hill, and from there strolled through the iconic Boston Common. It was lovely.

In the early afternoon, we traveled to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. There, we saw the special exhibition Fra Angelico: Heaven on Earth, in our private guided tour with Curator Nathaniel Silver. This exhibition reunites the Gardner’s Assumption and Dormition of the Virgin, acquired in 1899, with its three companions from the Museo di San Marco, Florence. The four pieces tell the story of the Virgin Mary’s life with superbly detailed figures in a transformative style showing the creator’s unique craftsmanship. We then toured the Museum, which Isabella built in the style of the Renaissance palaces of Venice, in 1898. Its purpose was to house the couple’s art collections, as Isabella was a voracious collector, arts patron, socialite, and philanthropist. Her personality shines through many of the rooms and complements the collection. We saw Titian’s Rape of Europa, Isabella’s crowning glory and said by Peter Paul Rubens to be “the greatest painting in the world.”

That afternoon we traveled to see the Jeffrey and Carol Horvitz private collections. The couple’s mansion in Beverly Farms overlooks the ocean, with a beautiful beachfront. Jeffrey and Carol were our most gracious hosts and Jeffrey gave a history of the Edgewater mansion and his own evolution as a dealer and collector. Jeffrey guided us through each room with his collections:  one of the world’s finest French Old Masters drawings, Chinese cinnabar lacquer, Vietnamese porcelain, and Khmer bronzes. Carol, experienced in collecting antiquities, showed us her collection of Japanese ceramic water jars. Jeffrey and Carol were most generous in sharing their life’s work with us, and revealing how their pursuits in collecting have impacted their lives. Jeffrey is among the top 200 collectors in the world, and Carol is busy with global interests and their collections’ exhibits.

On Sunday morning we rode across the bridge to Cambridge to visit the Fogg Museum, the oldest and largest of the Harvard Art Museums. Inside the Georgian Revival-style structure is a state-of-the-art facility with the 2008 – 2013 addition of a glass, pyramidal roof and glass-walled floors surrounding the lobby below, six levels of galleries, classrooms, lecture halls, and study areas. Our private tour guide amazed us with her presentation of the functions of this addition.  We moved on to the museum’s renowned holdings of Western paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photographs, prints, and drawings from the Middle Ages to the present. We marveled at the collection of Italian Renaissance, British Pre-Raphaelite, and 19th century French art, and 19th-and 20th century American paintings and drawings. Most notable is the Wertheim Collection’s impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces, including paintings and sculptures by Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent Van Gogh.

If you ask any member of this EAS tour group what their favorite venue was, you will get as many different answers. This trip truly offered more than expected for everyone at all times. One can honestly say that everyone was pleased. Considering the breadth of our visit, how could anyone say otherwise?