Showstoppers: Washington DC

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My family’s recent trip to Washington, D.C., was a whirlwind tour of the nation’s capital: the Air & Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Capitol Building, Washington National Cathedral, the National Zoo, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson memorial—you get the idea. It was wonderful, but the whole trip felt a bit like what museums have come to call the “highlights” tour, a guided map to key holdings in the collection for those who want to taste a little bit of everything.  

And while this is a good approach to visiting a city as a tourist, I’ve not generally been a fan of the Highlights Tour concept in art museums, preferring instead to follow my own impulses as I wander through galleries. But, in the case of the National Gallery of Art, I’ll tell you, I was in a bit of panic. So much to see! What a treat, then, to be able to begin with the museum’s current exhibition “From Impressionism to Modernism: The Chester Dale Collection.” The Dale collection consists of more than 300 works of art, and the 81 selections on display essentially make up a grand “highlights tour” of the masters of French and American art from the 19th and 20th centuries — Degas, Monet, Cezanne, van Gogh, Picasso, and many many more. Some of my personal favorites: William Merritt Chase’s A Friendly Call, 1895; Amedeo Modigliani’s Gypsy Woman with Baby, 1919; Edouard Vuillard’s Theodore Duret, 1912 (his use of a background mirror to expand the interior enthralled my 9-year-old); Vincent van Gogh’s The Olive Orchard, 1889; and Odilon Redon’s Pandora, 1910/1912, and Saint Sebastion, 1910/1912. All breathtaking.

The exhibition is on display through July 2011. Meanwhile, you can visit the NGA website  for a lot more information, including an online tour of “highlights” from the “highlights.”

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OTHER RESOURCES

You’ll find a number of art and creativity books on the “sale tables” at the North Light Shop, including a fun title that’s part book, part game called Master Pieces, written by Thomas Hoving, former director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book is a variation on a game Hoving was introduced to early in his career when, once a week, a different curator would bring a bunch of photographs of
details taken from works in the collections. The players would then try
to match the details to the appropriate work.  On sale now for $8.

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