An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

January 21, 2012

Museum Weather

Typical of Tidewater winter weather, a chill clammy rain is falling today making it a good day for indoor activities. A trip to the museum might be a good choice, so I thought I would post some pictures from this summer when we visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This venerable institution has something for everyone, including many well-known masterpieces. Our friend David who knows a thing or two about museums refers to it as "a great big mess of a museum", but you should take that as a compliment.

Philadelphia Museum of Art (2)

The first thing I noticed about the museum was its setting, occupying a prominent place on a hill overlooking downtown Philly, among some of the city's parkland. This elevated position and the museum's Greek architecture make you feel you are about to enter a temple, a temple dedicated to art. The exterior colors of the museum and its friezes also reminded me that the white marble temples we know from the ancient world were probably even more colorful than this building. I also appreciated, and was surprised by, the landscaping which was a great mix of ornamental grasses, flowering perennials and colorful shrubs.

Philadelphia Museum of Art (9)

Philadelphia Museum of Art (10)

Philadelphia Museum of Art (8)

Philadelphia Museum of Art (5)

Cue the theme from Rocky.

Philadelphia Museum of Art (6)

As much as I enjoyed what was outside, we were there to see what was on the inside. Through the front entrance is the Great Stair Hall with a statue of Diana at one end and an Alexander Calder hanging from the ceiling.

Ghost - Alexander Calder

One of the artists I particularly wanted to see was Philadelphia's own Thomas Eakins. This painting is The Agnew Clinic and what follows is a bronze model of Eakin's hand by Samuel Murray.

The Agnew Clinic - Thomas Eakins

Cast of the Right Hand of Thomas Eakins - Samuel Murray

Three Musicians - Pablo Picasso

Three Musicians - Pablo Picasso

Sunflowers - Vincent van Gogh

Sunflowers - Vincent van Gogh

Mother Roulin with Her Baby - Vincent van Gogh

Mother Roulin with Her Baby - Vincent van Gogh

The Lifeline - Winslow Homer

The Lifeline - Winslow Homer

Devil Face Jug by Davis Brown was created just south of me in North Carolina and I was glad to see it among the more traditional works.

Devil Face Jug - Davis Brown

In the spirit of equal airtime here is a crucifix ...


... and what became one of my favorite pieces, The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning, by Rogier van der Weyden. It had its own altar-like setting.

The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning - Rogier van der Weyden

The museum had quite a few pieces by Virginia-born, Cy Twombly, and all of his works there were displayed in his own gallery that reminded me of a chapel.

Cy Twombly

I think my favorite thing about the Philadelphia museum was the collection of period interiors and all of the architectural bits and pieces they had gathered.

Period Rooms (3)

Period Rooms


Ceremonial Teahouse Sunkaraku (Evanescent Joys)

Pillared Temple Hall

Stained Glass

My least favorite thing in the museum was this painting, which I think is called The River of Life is called The River of Life by Leon Frederic (thank you Becky).  I can't find any information on-line as to who the artist was. It is perhaps the most disturbing painting I have ever seen.

The River of Life

The River of Life (2)

We will end our day at the museum with this piece, appropriately titled The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, by Bruce Nauman.

The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths - Bruce Nauman

You can see my entire set of photos from the Philadelphia Museum of Art here on my Flickr page.  Y'all go on ahead, and I will meet you at the car, I think I left my umbrella in the coat-check room.


  1. Ack! The river of life is horrific! Who would paint such a monstrosity?

  2. Thanks for a good museum fix. Need to go to Columbia for the closest art museum. Agreed, that River of Life is bizarre.

  3. I think janet said it best on the river of life, bizzaro world. Nice tour, I really liked the different architectural elements.

  4. Awesome post! I am impressed with how the museum exhibits contemporary alongside classical, beginning with the entrance stair and apparently continuing throughout the museum. You're lucky to have it so close!

  5. Beautiful museum. I wish I would get there more often. I've never seen The River of Life. I find it weird and unpleasant, but don't have such a powerful reaction to it. There's certainly something disturbing about it, but I wonder if that's inherent in the painting or if it's something our culture projects on it. It seems quite old. (Though we do know about Lewis Carroll and his photos ...)

  6. Well, that was interesting. I really enjoyed some of the works. The crucifixion with Mary and John was amazing. Some of the rooms were also. That River of Life, uhm, creepy kinda. At least none of the babies were drowning the others. :) Hope you're have good weather today for a beautiful spring later, much later. :) ~~Dee

  7. Les,
    Love it ' off topic' too funny, some interesting photos. So are you the Les giving the tour during the American Camellia Society gig in Norfolk? Thinking about going but logistics with animals and decent motel rooms ect.

  8. Thank you, it is literally years since I last went to a good museum, I feel as if I have had a bit of cultural injection, it made me realise how much I have missed visiting art galleries. I love the entrance way, and the Van Gogh reminded me of the first time I ever got to see his paintings "in the flesh", and how moved I was - and how surprised at how small the canvases were!

  9. Our museum really is a rather unsung treasure compared to all the publicity that museums in other cities get. The setting is magnificent: it is hard to describe how huge it is and how dramatic the site is on top of the hill over-looking the whole city and the river. I believe another local treasure, which we are also fortunate to have, the PA Horticultural Society, is responsible for the gorgeous plantings that surround the museum.

  10. Hi Les, thanks for this wonderful insight and photo tour through this interesting museum. Nice to see the Van Gogh paintings too. That River of Life painting isn't my favorite either, strange painting and quite bizarre.

  11. That blue room with the paintings and period decorations is indeed a very nice thing. I agree on the River of Life painting too. Not my kind of art at all. It does look like a very nice museum and big.

  12. I enjoyed the tour and the architecture. I am from this area originally and see I need to get back soon. Lovely photos.

  13. Kaveh,
    I could not find the name of the artist.

    I am glad to have fixed your museum itch, even if it was only electronically.

    It was a beautiful building, full of (mostly) beautiful things.

    Yes, they have a great an varied mix. Though I am not so close. We went while we were vacationing at my brother's this past summer.

    I know how much effort it took to keep up with one un-diapered toddler running around peeing at will, so I guess the thought of more than one or several or a river of them, is where my aversion comes from.

    The simplicity and the blocks of red on the crucifixion painting were more modern than the painting's age indicated. It had a deserved place all to its own.

    I am one and the same. We will not be able to compete with some of the camellias they will see on the tours, so my coworkers and I will be talking about companion plants.

    I have loved van Gogh's work since I was a child and have managed to see several of his paintings, they always move me. Visiting a good art gallery or museum can take a person away from their selves, if only for a while.

    I could tell that the plantings were beyond what is normally seen from most groundskeepers. And you are lucky to have such a treasure, so close by. We had planned on visiting the Eastern State Penitentiary on the same day, but spent more time at the museum. We did drive by though, and I noticed it was also well planted. I read later that the plantings were the responsibility of a group of dedicated gardeners. So it may be on next summer's visit.

    Thank you for stopping by and for the nice comments. It is indeed a very interesting museum.

    The blue room was beautiful, it was not my taste, but beautiful just the same.

    Put it on your to-do list next time you are in Philly.


  14. Speaking of Museum should take your amazing photographic talents over to the 550 acre park at The Mariners' Museum. Lots of great outdoor photo opportunities, as well as unique artifacts and items inside the museum that would make for great photos.

  15. Thanks for a wonderful visit. It's on my someday list and I think I better move it up! Those Flemish/Netherlandish painters like van der Wyden never fail to impress. The wierd River picture reminds me of Henry Darger and those obsessive outsider artists.

    And as an aside, we ARE projecting on Lewis Carroll's photos. Nothing improper happened and many other photographers did similar work at the time.

  16. I say your blog is awesome:-) Happy New year and goodluck to your blog!