R.A.H. (againstathorn) wrote,

Trip to Boston

This past weekend we finally got to visit Boston. We figured we were due for one last non-family trip before the end of the year. During our three-day stay we enjoyed as much history, art, and food as we could endure. We would’ve done the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Science but those would’ve taken up a considerable portion of our trip. What’s the use of going to Boston if your too busy visiting museums to actually get to see the city? Might I add that the weather worked out well for us considering it’s November. Yes, it was a bit nippy at times, but at least we didn’t have to deal with rain or snow. Anyway, we explored as much of the city as we could and had ourselves a great time. Below is a long-winded review of our trip.

Friday - Flight in

We got into Boston Friday night at around 9:45pm, an hour late of our original arrival time. The plane we were supposed to fly out on was recalled due to mechanical problems and we had to take a different plane at another gate. This took our airline a while to facilitate, but nonetheless we tried to remain as patient as we could. These day there seems to always be some sort of delay or hold. Come to the airport with a book to read in anticipation of spending a couple extra hours. What can you do though? Flying is significantly faster than driving by car. You can’t argue with that.

Anyway, after getting into Boston we took to the T downtown to our hotel. The T is so similar to the L in Chicago that we felt comfortable right from the start. One base fare can take you from one end of the city to the other and allows you the transfer between multiple lines with no extra charge. We reached our hotel at around 10:30pm and settled in for the night. There was some sort of goth/industrial night at a club up in Cambridge but we decided against it, mainly because we would’ve inevitably gotten home late and ended up sleeping in the next day. That was a definite ‘no can do’ for us.

Saturday - Brasserie Jo's, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Woody's Grill and Tap

After a full night of sleep we hit the streets Saturday morning and head down toward the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. On the way we stumbled on this posh hotel café called Brasserie Jo's where we decided have breakfast. I had an omelette with onions and mushrooms. Not bad at all. I was quite impressed by the coffee, which I might add was the best I had during our stay in Boston. The ambience at this particular restaurant was nice, though I would’ve preferred something a bit more casual.

After breakfast we continued on our way to the Boston Fine Arts Museum, arriving at around 10:30am. Our first stop was the big rotunda where we saw the murals by John Singer Sargent. Until recently I was only familiar with his portraiture work, but the subject matter on display here opened me up to a whole new dimension of the man’s art. Truly amazing work. It was definitely too much to absorb in one visit. Also on display were figure sketches which he’d made for scenes depicted in the murals. Oh, and the rotunda itself was very beautiful.

From there we headed up the colonnade to see the museum’s grand hall of Old Master paintings. The hall itself is quite a sight to behold and the paintings are hung in a classic gallery fashion which some might describe as intimidating. The first thing I noticed to my right was an unusually large painting called Boar Hunt by Frans Snyders. The scene depicts a half dozen or so hunting dogs descending upon a boar and a bunch of little piggies. Actually, the piggies would lead one to think the boar to be a sow, but either way the painting struck us as ridiculously huge considering the trivial subject matter. Nearby is another Flemish worked titled Still Life in an Architectural Setting which was a collaborative effort between Jan Fyt and Erasmus Quellinus the Younger. It’s a very elaborate painting that brings together two of my favorite genres. This was actually one of my favorite works in the Old Masters Hall. Other pieces that struck my interest were Rosso Fiorentino’s Dead Christ with Angels, which showcases a very classical torso in the Mannerist style, and Murillo’s Christ After the Flagellation where Jesus is on all fours and looks likes he’s performing housework (sorry, my attempt at humor) while two angels look overhead. Amongst all the other awesome pieces in this gallery there are some especially neat portraits by El Greco and Velazquez.

After the hall we explored the other European galleries, starting him the Impressionist room. To be honest I’ve never been enamored with Impressionist work, but in one of the adjunct galleries there was one particular Monet which really appealed to me. It was one of the artist’s figurative works—very unusual given his penchant for landscapes and still lifes—which featured his wife dressed up in a Japanese costume. You can still tell it’s a Monet by how it’s painted, and as you can imagine it was a very colorful, lively piece of work.

There from we entered a gallery of what I would call more traditional 19th century salon work. The first work I noticed was the reproduction of Gros’s hilarious propaganda piece General Bonaparte Visiting the Plague-Stricken at Jaffa, and I say hilarious because the painting is meant to insinuate Napoleon is actually healing plague victims with his hands. Two pieces of Turner were on display: Slave Ship and Fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen. I’m certain that the popularity of the former overshadows the latter, but Fall of the Rhine is actually a very striking piece, and oddly enough Turner’s typical vivid reds and yellows are nowhere present. Other notable works included Ary Scheffer’s Dante and Beatrice, John Martin’s Seventh Plague of Egypt, Franz Xavier Winterhalter’s portrait of some Polish noble named Wienczyslawa Barczewska, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Dante and Virgil.

The collection also featured a number of outstanding Dutch works. There are of course the Rembrandts (seriously, who doesn’t love those?), but there were a number of lesser known pieces which deserve just as much attention. Notable paintings included The Day before Parting by Jozef Israëls, Breakfast Still Life with Glass and Metalwork by Jan Jansz. den Uyl, Interior of the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam by Emanuel de Witte, View of Alkmaar by Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruisdael, and Still Life with Wine Goblet and Oysters by Pieter Claesz. Oh gods, you got to love Claesz, one of the most excellent still life painters who ever lived! Among the Dutch works there was a Flemish piece David Teniers II, the Younger which depicts a mid 17th century butcher shop with a giant carcass being bleed in the middle of the scene. Very interesting work.

I’ve mentioned before that I have a fascination with Orientalism in 19th century western painting, and this museum had a few smaller pieces which were good representations of that style, including Charles Bargue’s Turkish Sentinel. Sadly, two works by my favorite artist of this genre, Jean-Léon Gérôme, were apparently out on loan, those pieces being L'Eminence Grise and Moorish Bath. Sure, they still had this little painting he’d made of a slave, but it just doesn’t compare to the beauty of the two aforementioned works. Oh well. Also of note was a painting by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier titled Two Solider. For whatever reason this artist stuck my interest.

Alright, well after seeing the European paintings I was all excited to see the American works. Unfortunately I had yet to learn that the new American Arts Wing would not be open to the public until the following Saturday. Bummer! I cannot describe how disappointed I was to hear this. Oh well, life goes on I guess.

If it’s any consolation the museum was hosting a huge exhibit on Richard Avedon’s fashion work. I’ve always loved the photographs he shot in Paris. This series stand as some of the most outstanding technical achievements in the medium. Seriously, the lighting, direction, and choreography that must’ve when into these photographs is incredible, and the fact that it’s all old school B&W darkroom work makes them all the more inspiring.

We would’ve seen more of the museum but we would’ve been really pressed for time if we also wanted to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as well before 5pm. We made it to Gardner’s at around 2:30 and stuck as long as we could until closing time. If you don’t already know the story of this very eccentric museum then do yourself a favor and give it a Google.

Seeing this place was definitely an experience and we had a lot of fun checking out all the different galleries on the first three floors which make up public part of the museum. When you enter in on the first floor the first thing you’ll see is the stunning El Jaleo by Sargent at the end of the Spanish Cloister. From there you’ll be drawn to the beautiful courtyard and will probably make you’re way upstairs to the second floor for a better view. Unfortunately we missed both the Blue Room and the Macknight Room on the first floor, though we did get to see the Yellow Room where Thomas Dewing’s Lady in Yellow and Whistler’s Nocturne, Blue, and Silver: Barrersea Reach can be found. Note that Rani did not care for the abstractness of the latter work. In this room I also noticed three seemingly unrelated works depicting Mary of Scots. I must mention that every room of the museum featured guides detailing each piece—everything from the paintings, tapestries, furniture, as well as any assorted statues or knickknacks.

We then toured the second the third floors. Let me break this down floor by floor, room by room, so that you the reader can experience the museum as we did. If you find this incredibly tedious then perhaps you should skip to Sunday.

On the second floor is the Dutch Room, the Tapestry Room, the Little Salon, the Short Gallery, the Raphael Room, and the Early Italian Room. We started at Tapestry Room where we were given a formal introduction on the construction and history of the museum as well as Isabella’s acquisition of the works, a majority of which were imported from Europe. The room itself is quite wonderful though I’ve always been at a loss when it comes to appreciating tapestries. Throughout the room were many interesting paintings and artifacts as well. From there we explored the floor counterclockwise, which took us into the Short Gallery where we were greeted by a stunning portrait by Anders Zorn of Mrs. Gardner in Venice. Around the room were sketches from little-known artists such as Michelangelo, Bronzino, and Raphael. The Little Salon was blocked off by roping but we got a decent view of the room. As one would deduce this space was decorated in classic Rococo style with lots of gold ornate furniture, ornamental mirror, fancy tapestries, and a token Boucher painting.

From the Short Gallery we entered in the Raphael Room. Works of interest included Tragedy of Lucretia by Botticelli, Saint George Slaying the Dragon by Carlo Crivelli, the two panels on the north and south upper wall depicting scenes from the Old Testament, and another painting which hung about the door on the west side. For the life of me I can’t find any information online or in my museum guide book about this painting or who the artist might be. Much has been written about the two Raphaels so I’ll refrain from elaborating on them.

Next was the Early Italian Room. As I suspected Rani was not pleased with Pietro della Francesca’s Hercules, much to my amusement. Works of interest here included two panel paintings, Triumphs of Love, Chastity, and Death and Triumphs of Fame, Time, and Eternity by Pesellino and the meticulously detailed Portrait of a Seated Turk by Gentile Bellini. A lot of the works were tempera on wood and one painting in particular in north east corner looks as if it had not aged well. I also made note of what appeared to be a little Chinese figure situated in the south-west corner of the room. From a geographic standpoint it was completely out of place but oddly enough it’s aesthetics complemented the theme of the room quite nicely. One special attribute of this museum is that works from different time periods and/or parts of the world might be set up side by side with no explanation, allowing the viewer to make their own conclusions as to why the pieces were juxtaposed together.

From there we went to the Dutch Room. Amongst the works here were two portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger, Man in Fur Coat by Durer, and Lady with Rose by Van Dyck—all excellent paintings. Oh yeah, and there’s the self portrait of a young Rembrandt which I’m sure absorbs much of the room’s attention.

On the third floor one will find the Veronese Room, the Titian Room, the Long Gallery, the Chapel, and the Gothic Room. We explored them in that order, and to be honest we burnt out at some point during our stroll through the Long Gallery. We felt a little overwhelmed by the number of pieces in this particular gallery. Dare I say the arrangement of works bordered on cluttered. Anyway, the walls of the Veronese Room were covered with painted Venetian leather. How’s that for ostentatious? This room also had two Guardi’s, a wedding scene by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and four framed Whistler drawings which were situated on the east wall. Oh, and there was this very elaborate sedan chair with fluffy little paintings all around the outside. I could imagine someone falling out of the bottom while being ushered around in one of those. There was also a very beautiful desk in the north-east corner and a tea set in the middle of the room which Rani fawned over. She would definitely put it to good use.

The Titian Room also had a number of interesting works. Aside from Europa my favorite pieces were Bordone’s Child Jesus Disputing in the Temple and the pristine Christ Carrying the Cross by Giovanni Bellini. The latter possessed a level of intimacy which I truly awesome. Just a fantastic piece of art.

As I mentioned before, the Long Gallery burnt us out. The Madonna of the Eucharist by Botticelli was very beautiful, but then the terracotta sculptures by Robbia, as well as the endless reprise of Madonna and Childs, really started to wear us down. I was actually more interested in the display cases, one of which featured a letters from at least six former presidents, including George Washington. For whatever reason the chapel at the end did not appeal much to me, though I was able to admire the craftsmanship of the pieces on display.

Our last stop was the Gothic Room which featured a beautiful rose window, a number of German alter-shrines, gothic wooden statues, a small piece by none other than Giotto ‘Hotshot Father of Western Art’ di Bondone, and of course of portrait of Isabella herself painted by John Singer Sargent. I’m thinking she must’ve had a lot of confidence in herself to put her portrait in the same room as a Giotto di Bondone. Oh yeah, on the north wall there’s an Adam and Eve attributed to Lucas Cranach the Elder. For whatever reason that was my favorite work in the room. And on that note we’d completed our tour. Again, seeing the museum was a wonderful experience but I think I’d require multiple visits to fully appreciate it.

After Gardner’s we picked up some beverages at a shop on Newberry, made a brief stop at our hotel, and then went out for dinner at Woody's Grill and Tap. We shared a large pizza with spinach. The place had a typical bar atmosphere. They had a great New York style pizza and nice decent selection of local beers. Had an Ipswich Dark Ale, which was acceptable but not drop-dead out of this world memorable. The same is to be said regarding their IPA. Later that night back at the hotel I enjoyed a Quadruple called Baby Tree from Pretty Things brewery. I’d describe it as a sweeter version of Ommegang’s Three Philosophers with some more obvious plum notes. If it was any sweeter I don’t I would’ve enjoyed it as much as I did. Again, it wasn’t bad, but then again I didn’t find it to be the best example of the style. And on that note we called it a night.

Sunday - Theos Cozy Corner Restaurant, Freedom Trail, J.J. Foley's Irish Pub

Sunday morning we took the orange line up to North Station and had breakfast at a little dinner called Theos Cozy Corner. In terms of atmosphere it much more casual than Brasserie Jo's where we had breakfast the day before. I had the Eggs Benedict. Good food, though their coffee left much to be desired. In that respect Brasserie Jo's had them beat by a landslide. It was a nice little restaurant and I’m glad we stopped in.

Afterward we crossed the Charlestown Bridge and started our way on the Freedom Trail. Some say it begins at the Boston Commons, in which case we did the trail backwards by starting off at Bunker Hill. I guess it really doesn’t matter which way you go. We toured Bunker Hill with a very enthusiastic guide who told us all about the fateful day of June 17, 1775 when invading British troops landed on the Charleston peninsula and were taken aback by a mysterious fort on Breed’s Hill which had been erected overnight. Sure, the British eventually captured the fort, but the sole purpose of the fort was to distract the troops from invading onward, and there is no doubt that it accomplished just that. There were many casualties on both sides, but Bunker Hill is generally regarded as a victory for the colonies.

From there we went on the USS Constitution and fully explored the ship, even going so far as to reach the bottom deck which at certain points the ceiling was only about 4 feet high. Afterward we crossed the river back down to Boston and followed the rest of the trail. My favorite stops included Copp’s Burial Ground, the Old North Church, The Boston Massacre Site, King’s Chapel, the Granary Burial Ground, and the Boston Commons. Seeing the burial grounds definitely had an affect on me. Some of the gravestones were so old and weathered by the elements that you could hardly read them, while others were completely dilapidated and/or crumbling apart. I found variation of gravestone heads especially interesting. Sadness aside, the skull and crossbones were pretty neat and you could tell each one was individually chiseled.

We finished up the trail at around 5pm and from there went back to our hotel to freshen up before heading out for dinner at J.J. Foley's Irish Pub on Berkeley. This place had an awesome bar and an atmosphere which reminded me of the Grafton back in Chicago. Really cool place. We both had their bangers & mash which was really good. We’d initially planned on going to this little German restaurant around the corner from our hotel but we got a really sour vibe shortly after being seated so we decided to book in favor of Foley’s. I’m glad we did. I’m sure the German place would’ve been fine but everything was just a little too overpriced for what they were offering.

Need I mention that I tried out a few more local beers that Sunday as well? I had Rapscallion’s Honey Ale and Pretty Things Saint Botolph's Town as well as a wheat wine ale from New Hampshire’s own Smuttynose. All were fine beers though out of the three the wheat wine won me over. I went to bed a happy man.

Monday - Cambridge, John Harvard’s Tavern, Boston Public Library, Commons

Monday morning we were still full from dinner the night before so skipped breakfast. We checked out of our hotel, made a brief stop at the Boston office of Rani’s firm, and then took the T over to Cambridge where we wandered around Harvard campus for a while. Rani’s co-worker gave us a glowing recommendation of John Harvard Tavern, located conveniently in the middle of the square, so we decided to give it a shot. Our experience there was beyond awesome. I had their gourmet smoked burger. Fantastic! It was probably one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of good burgers. This particular burger had grass fed beef and was cooked medium. What I liked most is that it was large without being unnecessarily tall. For whatever reason certain burger places don’t get the message that making a burger so tall that cannot fit it one’s mouth does not make for an enjoyable eating experience. Anyway, this burger at John Harvard’s was amazing and has set a new standard for all future burgers to come.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that John Harvard also brews their own beer? I had a 10oz of their barleywine and a 12oz of spiced ale. Both were exceptional. The spiced ale had a number of ingredients, including ginger and nutmeg, but what stood out the most was the cinnamon. This ale had a very distinct taste which I’d never encountered before. It was quite a treat.

Afterward we explored more of Cambridge before heading back to downtown Boston where we made a short stop at the Boston Public Library. One item of interest at the library is the Sargent Hall which hosts to series of John Singer Sargent murals collectively known as the Triumph of Religion. Like the murals we saw at rotunda at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, these were too much to fully appreciate in one visit. Luckily there is a website were you can examine them further if you’re so inclined.

From there took another a stroll though the Boston Commons and played around with the very friendly squirrels. One even jumped up on me knee. It was very cute, even if it is technically a rodent.

From there took the T to the airport and after a one hour flight delay were on our way back to Chicago. What an awesome trip!

Tags: boston museum fine arts, boston trip 2010, ipswich, pretty things brewery, smuttynose
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