Sunday, January 31, 2016

Treasures of the National Gallery

Today let's take a quick tour of the National Gallery in Washington D.C.  The National Gallery of Art was given to the people of the United States by Andrew W. Mellon who became Secretary of the Treasury in 1921.  He believed that the U.S. should have a national art museum the same as other great nations.  He wrote to President Roosevelt saying that he would donate his sizable collection of art in order to create such a museum and further, would build the building to house it with his own money.  Construction began in 1937 and completed in 1940.  It was dedicated in 1941 with Paul Mellon, Andrew's son presenting the museum to the public.

The massive entrance to the museum under the rotunda is centered by a huge fountain with a statue of Mercury taking the center spot.  When I visited it was December so the flowers surrounding the fountain were beautiful red and white poinsettias.

The National Gallery is the home to the one and only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in America.  It is a portrait of Ginevra de Benci, a 16 year old model.

This nude statue by Auguste Rodin was first exhibited at the Salon in Paris in 1877 where it created a bit of controversy because people accused Rodin of casting the statue from a live model instead of sculpting it.  Rodin denied the accusations but the controversy worked to his benefit because people were eager to see the statue for themselves.

Walking from one room to the next, I was struck by Whistler's grand portrait called "Symphony in White, No. 1".  It is a portrait of a young woman standing on a polar bear rug against a white curtain while dressed in white herself.

The fountain room on the west side of the gallery is adorned with a fountain topped with two cherubs.  There are numerous benches in this area and people take advantage of this quiet place to rest for a bit.

I was struck by this marble sculpture called "Head of Bull" by Gaetano Monti of Milan.  I liked all the exceptional details down to hairs on the face and in the ears.

And, of course I had to stop for a look at the Edward Hopper painting called "Cape Cod Evening".  I'm a huge fan of Edward Hopper so I look for his paintings in galleries wherever I go.

This painting of sunflowers might make you think of Vincent Van Gogh but, it is in fact a painting by Monet called "Jerusalem Artichokes"

I hope you enjoyed this quick little spin around the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.  It's an impressive museum with many, many wonderful things to see.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Heart of Florence

The Piazza del Duomo can easily be considered the very heart of the city of Florence Italy.  The dome of the Cathedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore can be seen over the roof tops in every direction.  Commonly known as Il Duomo di Firenze, it is one of the main attractions of this beautiful city.

Construction on the church was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style.  The facade is covered in marble panels of shades of green and pink surrounded by white.  The front of the church is quite stunning to see.  The church wasn't completed until 1436 when that magnificent dome was placed on top.

The inside of the church is quite simple and might even be called a bit plain compared to the outside. However, it is still a very impressive place to admire.

The cathedral complex is composed of a total of three buildings, the cathedral, the Baptistery, and the Campanele (bell tower). The three combined have all been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.  Those bronze doors on the Baptistery were designed and constructed by Lorenzo Ghiberti who also bid on the job of designing the dome however that job was given to Filippo Brunelleschi who engineered a spectacular dome that was one of the most impressive of the Renaissance.  The Baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in Florence constructed between 1059 and 1128.

The dome inside the Baptistery is something amazing to see.  The ceiling is covered in mosaics depicting the Last Judgement, stories from Genesis, stories of Joseph and others.  Looking up at it is breathtaking.

Visiting the duomo is a must on any trip to this city rich in art, history and amazing beauty.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Touch of Class

About fourteen years ago, I had the pleasure of staying at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.  The opportunity came up not because I had a sudden windfall but, because tourism to New York was at an all-time low.  It was the spring of 2002 and many New York hotels were offering special rates to bring tourists back to the city.  I happened to find a wonderful deal on a three night stay at the Waldorf Astoria, a hotel I had never set foot inside before.
I must say, there is something quite satisfying about stepping into a cab at the airport and telling the driver to take you to that famous hotel.  You suddenly feel a little less ordinary.

The lobby of the hotel is very comforting in an “old world” sort of way.  You feel wrapped in the warmth of the dark wood and the soft lights from the table lamps as you ease yourself into one of the plush seats.  It’s one of those places where you can sit for a long period of time just watching the ebb and flow of the smartly dressed people making their way around this elegant space. 

In a prominent position in the lobby stands the bronze Waldorf Astoria clock set on an octagonal base of mahogany and marble.  The clock was created by Goldsmith Company of London for an exhibition at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.  The Waldorf Astoria purchased the clock and has made the two-ton instrument a focal point of the hotel ever since.  It stands nine feet tall and is topped with a Statue of Liberty.  Around the eight sides of the base are oval portraits of Queen Victoria, Benjamin Franklin and six American Presidents, Cleveland, Harrison, Washington, Grant, Lincoln, and Jackson. 
I took advantage of the hotel’s amenities having drinks in the dark but friendly bar before heading out to dinner and on another evening enjoying a drink and entertainment in the bright lounge where I met and talked with a woman who told me she was Walter Conkite’s personal assistant.  
I thoroughly enjoyed my short stay at this famous hotel.  It was like stepping into another world but one I was completely comfortable in.

I brought one souvenir home from this trip that I still own and use today.  My Waldorf Astoria bath robe hangs in my bathroom and reminds me of a perfect weekend getaway. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Island Cruise

While visiting Southern California a nice way to spend some relaxing time is to rent an electric boat and take a little cruise around Balboa Island and Newport Beach.

You will encounter other boaters in the bay area like these kayakers passing by.  And you will get to see the ferry crossing the bay with a load of cars (in the background of the above photo).  That ferry has been in operation since 1919 running between Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach.  There is a bridge to cross on to the island but, for some commuters it adds about 6 miles to the trip so they choose this fun way to cross instead.

You will also see many graceful sailboats gliding into the bay after a day on the open waters.

Of course there will be some extra large yachts that pop into view.  Some arriving after a day at sea and some tied up next to the grand homes that line the shoreline.

Wouldn't this be a great place to live?  The boat rental company will provide a map with some descriptions of some of the homes.  If you look carefully, you will find John Wayne's old Newport Beach home.

You will pass other electric boats enjoying the views in the shadow of the Newport Beach high-rises.  

And, you will need to watch out for the brave paddle-boarders who paddle around amongst all that activity.

And, an occasional pelican will be out on the water keeping an eye on things from his vantage point.  There is lots to see on this quiet little cruise around the bay and it's a perfect get-away from the Arizona summer heat!  

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Temple of Canova

Sitting at the top of hill on the edge of Possagno Italy is this spectacular temple built by the sculptor Antonio Canova and people of Possagno.  Although Canova began his sculpting career at the early age of 9, it wasn't until he was 63 that he laid the first stone for this temple to the Holy Trinity.

It was built in a severe neoclassical style with grand columns and a round rotunda. 

While the Doric columns bring images of the Pantheon in Greece to mind, the body of the temple itself is more reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome.

The view from the entrance looks out over the Grappa Range and onward toward the Alps.  

Construction began in 1819 and was completed in 1830.  Canova spent his own money to build this monument which became his tomb when he died 1822.  The people of Possagno completed the temple after his death.  

There are many works of art inside the temple including this painting by Luca Giordano above the altar.  

You might notice a person standing on the roof in the second photo above.  There was a very narrow spiral staircase in a hidden corner of the temple and believe it or not, I climbed to the top to take in the view.