The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston is one of the largest and best encyclopedic museums in the United States. Considering how great the collection is, and in spite of their best efforts (many free days, open until 9:45, free live music, knowledgeable and extremely helpful guards, one of whom walked me to a painting I asked about), their attendance isn't all that good. The MFA attendance for last year was 911,216 — way down the list in 54th place, less than half that of San Francisco’s M. H. de Young Museum, which isn’t nearly as important.
|European Painting Gallery, Boston Museum of Fine Arts|
In 1981 the MFA tried to fix the uninviting design.
|The Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art.|
|The Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard seen from the Art of the Americas Wing.|
While I think the courtyard is ridiculous, the exhibition area of the new Americas Wing can’t be better. In fact, it’s kind of a relief to get away from the courtyard and enter this quiet, intimately proportioned, well-lit space. Each floor has a central spine, with rows of galleries (53 in all) on either side, which makes it easy to locate where you are, and also allows for a great variety of displays.
|MFA Floor Plan with the Americas Wing on the right in blue.|
|Replica of a 19th-century salon exhibition.|
|Wall with Thomas Sully, The Torn Hat, 1820, oil on canvas.|
|John Singleton Copley, Portrait of Paul Revere, c.1768-70, oil on canvas, 35 x 28 ½ inches|
|John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Bolt, 1882, oil on canvas, 87.6 x 87.6 inches.|
|Thomas Eakins, The Dean's Roll Call, oil on canvas, 1899, 84 x 42 inches and detail.|
|John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778, oil on canvas, 72 x 90 ½ inches -- ya gotta love it!|
|American Gothic Landscape Revival, early 19th century|
|Mayan burial urns, earthenware, 650-850 - about two feet high.|
Even though American artists prior to the 20th century had a conflict between their democratic ideals and the Old World royal and religious art they thought was decadent, they nevertheless admired and learned from that art, and adopted it as their own. In fact there really wasn’t an American School in the way there was an Italian, French, Dutch or English School until Abstract Expressionism in the 1940's and 1950's. (Ironically, many of the Abstract Expressionists were influenced — or so they claimed — by Native American art.) Except perhaps for 19th-century landscape painting, American art was provincial and consisted mostly of moralizing allegories, pompous historical subjects or the soft porn of idealized nudes — all with an emphasis on showy virtuosity. American art needs to be seen in the context of the European art from which it derives.
The MFA finally got the space right with this new addition, but they got the curatorial concept wrong.