Tuesday, April 19, 2016

El Museo Nacional de Belles Artes - The National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires

19 April 2016

We had a pleasant trip back from Montevideo, and I managed to get a photo of our ferry as it was coming in to port.  There's really no way to go outside on the ferry, which I find disappointing.  I prefer being outside on any kind of boat - but this really is a huge catamaran-hull ferry, so I understand why they want to keep people inside.  With the operating room booties on our feet.

Buenos Aires is decidedly chilly and wet in the autumn, and I guess April is similar to late October in the northern hemisphere.  It rained all week, and temperatures hovered between the 50s and 60s F (10-15 C).  I know, not horribly cold.  But the kind of cold where you feel chilled all day long.

There have been protests going on nearly every day.  The day we came back, the taxi drivers were protesting about Uber drivers.  Then there was something about a crooked judge.  Another about some legislation, or maybe it was another politician that the public thought should be prosecuted.  Today, there was some kind of demo in the afternoon.  It has become commonplace for us, not a big deal.  (The daily demos do make me wonder how any work gets done, though.)

So I went to the Museo Nacional de Belles Artes on Sunday.  Here's their website:  http://www.mnba.gob.ar/en 

There weren't any special exhibits open the day I went, which was okay with me.  I wanted to see the collection of European art, and browse through the Argentinian artists.  Going to major museums in out of the way places is great for seeing artwork by not only local artists but also lesser-known works by well-known artists.  (Smaller museums don't have the humongous budgets that major museums in international capital cities have, so they can't compete for purchasing the best-known items that are considered masterpieces.)

There was a section with artwork from the Renaissance, a few Italian pieces but mostly Dutch and Flemish (where the Renaissance was a bit later).  That's one of my favorite periods of art, and there were some lovely items.  There was a painting by Tiziano Vecellio (known as Titian in English), though it wasn't anything special.  

My favorite piece in the Renaissance section was a round ceramic piece, a rondel, from the workshop of Benedetto Buglioni.  My art friends will recognize this as looking very similar to the ceramics by della Robbia, who is much better known.  I was curious about this, because I originally thought this was a della Robbia.  Turns out that the della Robbia family developed this style of bas relief sculpture in clay with special glaze techniques to create their signature look.  Luca and Andrea della Robbia became famous for this unique way of working in ceramics, and had a workshop in Florence.  (Luca developed the technique, and taught his nephew Andrea, who actually is better known.)  

Benedetto Buglioni was a contemporary of Andrea della Robbia, and lived in Florence as well.  Son of a sculptor, Buglioni and his nephew Santi worked in ceramics.  

At some point, Luca della Robbia moved to France to escape the plague.  According to Giorgio Vasari, an artist who chronicled the lives of the Italian Renaissance artists in his "Lives of the Artists," Buglioni learned the ceramics and glazing secrets of della Robbia from "a woman who frequented della Robbia's house."  Yeah, the implication is a prostitute, though Vasari doesn't come out and say that.  For all we know this was the cleaning lady who learned the secrets while scrubbing out the clay studio.

Don't you love it???  Renaissance gossip and intrigue!

Then in the Baroque section there was a wonderful El Greco, always sort of dark and warped with his distinctive elongated figures.  And a sweet Madonna and child scene by Rubens, whose style always seems to have Impressionist elements, with those vague and fuzzy outlines.

Then the French Impressionists, my personal favorites.  Camille Pissarro, our Virgin Islands compatriot, and one of the first impressionists.  I was thrilled to see that his birthplace was listed as "Saint Thomas, Antilles" and then his nationality listed as "French."  Too many museums leave out the fact that he was born on St. Thomas, but went to live in France as an adult.  Other museums list him as Danish, because the USVI were owned by Denmark at the time of Pissarro's birth.  This museum got it right!

A lovely landscape by Monet.  Vibrant ballet dancers, by Degas of course.  A sensitive boudoir scene by Berthe Morisot, one of the Impressionists' few women paintings (and with a much lighter hand than Mary Cassatt, who might be better known but I really don't think she's as good as Morisot).

Plus an early van Gogh, before he developed his short and frenetic brushwork.  This windmill is sad without the energy of van Gogh's later work, but I don't think he ever created a happy looking painting.

Then we had some art by other Impressionists, and contemporary artists who didn't quite fit into the Impressionist grouping - good old Paul Gauguin, with his bright tropical painting (and one that was a French scene), a few Henri Toulouse Lautrec paintings including this oddly wistful portrait, and some August Rodin sculpture.  The marble "Earth and Moon" looks unfinished, but I think he meant it to look anchored in the rock, to represent Earth as, well, grounded.  And the moon, while out in space, is tied to Earth as well.

His more famous "The Kiss" was plaster, and I thought may have been a mold.  The woman had a square in the middle of her back, filled in, but rather jarring to me.  I'd think if the sculpture was built on some sort of armature, any opening would be on the bottom, keeping the inside hollow.  (For both minimizing the weight as well as allowing the materials to dry fully.)  Turns out this is a plaster cast made specifically for this museum (after Rodin's death).  And for fans of Dante Alligheri, "The Kiss" represents Francesca da Rimini, the 13th century Italian noblewoman who falls in love with her husband's younger brother, and who, in Dante's Inferno, is in the second circle of Hell for cheating on her husband.

There were also paintings by Argentinian artists, though nothing moved me as much as the paintings by these artists, my old friends.

I enjoyed one section that focused on Argentinian metal work.  There's a fascinating drink here, maté, which is some kind of leaves or bark steeped in hot water.  People carry around thermoses of hot water and containers of maté, and special cups.  The plant matter is crushed and put in the cup, the boiling water poured on top, and then people have a metal straw with a filter on the bottom, so they can drink the maté without having all the leaves come back up the straw.  It's sort of like a reverse colander or tea ball.  Anyway, we see these in stores, but the antique sets were really gorgeous, in silver and enamel.

And yes, this museum allows visitors to take photos of the artwork, provided the photos are not for commercial use, and that a flash is not used.  Fortunately, no one was using a selfie stick either!

All of that was on the ground floor of the museum.  By the time I completed just this section, my brain was full and I needed lunch and a break.  But it was Sunday, the museum doesn't have a café, and nothing nearby was open.  It was raining.  So I caught a taxi back to our hotel, and went to our neighborhood Starbucks for Pacific Northwest comfort food.  (A tea latte and a sandwich.)  

We head back to Santiago, Chile, tomorrow morning.  So I'll sign off now.  And keep you posted on any excitement once we get there.

Artists (in sequence shown)
Workshop of Benedetto Buglioni
El Greco 
Peter Paul Rubens
Camille Pissarro
Claude Monet
Edouard Degas (two)
Berthe Morisot
Vincent van Gogh
Paul Gauguin
Henri de Toulouse Lautrec
Auguste Rodin (two)

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