The Best Museum You’ve Never Visited

“The best museum you’ve never visited.” This was the lede for Susan Stamberg’s piece on the Norton Simon Museum
in Pasadena, Calif., which aired this morning on National Public
Radio’s Morning Edition. If you’d like to listen to the story, click here.

Hearing
it reminded me of a 2006 special feature Robert K. Carsten wrote for
the magazine about the U.S. museums with the best pastel collections.
Here’s what he wrote about the Norton Simon:

Believing that, in
his words, “One of the most profound means of communication is through
visual art,” Norton Simon amassed one of the most extraordinary,
private collections of art in the world, and did it in less than 30
years. In the 1960s, his foundation lent his art collection to museums
around the world. Then, in 1974, Simon assumed leadership of the
financially failing Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, and thus, a
permanent home was found for his large and distinguished collection.

Pastels
in the collection include a self portrait by Maurice-Quentin Delatour
and drawings by Alexei Jawlensky (Russian-born, 1864-1941), a German
Expressionist and member of the avant-garde group “The Blue Four.” The
highlights of the collection, however, are the exquisite works by
Degas. Senior curator Sara Campbell explains: “Degas was one of Mr.
Simon’s favorite artists. We have more than 100 works by this artist in
several media, of which about 16 are pastels.”

One has only to look at the exquisite Dancers in the Wings
to appreciate both Mr. Simon’s keen eye and Degas’ absolute mastery of
the medium. Composed of 10 pieces of paper, this great work shows the
artist’s versatility in applying a medium in both traditional and
innovative ways. Campbell notes that research of the design layer
specifies pastel, pastel paste, gouache, distemper and drained oil
paint. The color and light effect is unequivocally brilliant.

Looking at the enchanting and boldly designed At the Circus Fernando, Rider on a White Horse
by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901), Campbell relates, “I
think it’s fascinating that it looks like there’s so much movement
going on. It’s a white horse, but the horse is anything but white; it’s
green and lavender and everything else. Maybe he’s trying to evoke the
circus lights or the excitement of the arena. The background glides
past in a blur … Toulouse-Lautrec admired Degas’ work very much and I
think it’s interesting that it’s very much like The Star: Dancer on Point
by Degas [also in the collection] in that a good deal of the action
takes place on the left; there’s a huge negative space, and it all
balances so well.”

Generally, you’ll find approximately a dozen pastels on display at the museum at any time. The Norton Simon Museum, 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91105-1825. Tel: 626/449-6840. 

The “Best Collections” articles ran as two parts in the October and December 2006 issues of The Pastel Journal, available now as digital downloads here. Or on CD here. You can also get the entire first 10 years of The Pastel Journal on CD. Click here for more information.

 

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