Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Visit to the Yale Center for British Art

Miss Mary Hickey painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds (click on paintings to see them better)
I recently had the chance to visit the Yale Center for British Art, in New Haven, which is one of my favorite museums. I hadn't been in a while, so it was pleasure to return. The museum building, its collection of British Art, and its endowment was given to Yale by Paul Mellon, the only son of financier and industrialist Andrew Mellon. It was Andrew himself who started the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., donating his collection of 115 paintings including works by Raphael, Titian and Vermeer. Paul Mellon died in 1999, and his wife Bunny, the renowned tastemaker, collector and gardener who was a mentor to Jackie Kennedy in the White House, still lives at the Mellon Virginia estate.

The museum was designed by renowned architect Louis Kahn, and manages to be both modern and monumental, and serene and reverential at the same time. The top floor of the museum where the permanent collection is housed is airy and quiet. I love the portrait of Mary Hickey, above, from 1770. The fashions of the time were ornate, but the style of the painting is simple – a white hat, a black frock and dove grey suede gloves. I would love some dove suede grey gloves but I can never find them. Out from under the shadow of the hat peers Mary Hickey's beautiful face.

Below is a picture of a fox hunt from 1817 by James Ward. The countryside and the glistening horse contrast dramatically with the red hunting coat. In England, hunt members still wear "colours," these traditional scarlett coats which are called pinks.

This is "The Life of Buckingham" by Augustus Leopold Egg, painted in 1853. It depicts a controversial friend of King Charles II who is seated at the center. My favorite part of this painting is the moon peaking around the window frame – very poetic.

Here we have part of a painting of Wollatan Hall, built in 1588 (1588!) for the family of Sir Francis Willoughby, who made a fortune in coal. Surrounded by ornate gardens, the house itself reminds me of Downton Abbey.

After I left the British Museum, I went across the street to the Yale University Art Gallery where I searched in vain for the floor which housed a collection of antique furniture. I just couldn't find it. Finally I asked a security guard. He said, "Um, when was the last time you were here? The museum has been under renovation for three years." Time flies! Most of that museum was closed for renovation, but I look forward to visiting it again when it is reopened.


the designers muse said...

Thanks for the post. I love the British Art Center! It's a fabulous building and a great place to see art...but sometimes I go just to be in the building. Also the gift shop is wonderful if you happen to be an Anglophile.

Reggie Darling said...

The Yale Center for British Art is, indeed, sublime, and more than well worth a trip to New Haven. The Yale Art Gallery is also a jewel. I studied American decorative arts at Yale as an undergraduate, and know the superlative collection of furniture and paintings you are referring to -- the Garvan Collection -- well. The last time I visited (several years ago, I admit), the installation of the GC seemed very dated. I look forward to seeing its reinstallation when it reopens.