The Contest for the Bouquet: The Family of Robert Gordon in their New York Dining Room, Eastman Johnson, c.1873
YESTERDAY I FINALLY MADE IT TO THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, along with thousands of others. Each time I come into Manhattan, I vow to dose myself with big-city culture, and usually end up doing errands.
What drew me this time was a sweeping exhibition of genre paintings, American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915 — 103 of them over 9 galleries, borrowed from 45 museums — which runs through January 24. There are some familiar names and classic images (Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer), and many more I’d never heard of.
The Open Air Breakfast [Brooklyn], William Merritt Chase, c.1887
The paintings, by their nature, are loaded with information and historical context, even if I didn’t like all the techniques (some are rather brown and drab). I learned a lot reading the labels, which point out political references, allegorical symbolism, or statements about relationships between the races and sexes that would have been tricky at the time to express in words. (That’s a woman of ‘easy virtue’ feeding the cat in the picture below; you can tell by her red-feathered hat.)
Chinese Restaurant, John Sloan, 1909
I could do without most of the hunting, boating, and frontier scenes, but I adore the domestic and urban street scenes that show how people really lived and felt and related, and looking at the clothing, faces, and finely observed details reminiscent of the Dutch masters, but that shed light on unexplored corners of our own history.
Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair, John Sloan, 1912