The Baltimore Museum of Art is celebrating its centennial in a big way. First by going back — opening its grand original entrance, the Merrick Historic Entrance. Then by reintroducing us to the American wing. Later this spring, the African and Asian galleries, located by the newly redesigned East Entrance, will open with great fanfare on April 26.
It’s been a long time since visitors could walk up those grand steps, past the portico and into the original museum designed by John Russell Pope nearly a century ago. Closed for 32 years, it’s simply a thrill to see the entrance open again and to have an opportunity to plunge right into the beautiful Dorothy Scott McIlvaine American Wing. (The East Entrance is also open, convenient for those who prefer to avoid steps or who are heading to Gertrude’s Restaurant.)
The American Wing has been divided into several galleries: Art in Maryland, Silver and Textiles. Three galleries are devoted to the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. All of the arts of each age are displayed together. A painting, a lamp, a chair, a table are juxtaposed to offer a sense of how the arts fit together.
Look for the two reading chairs: one tufted and leather with a candle and the other angular and wooden with an electric lamp and a big rubber tire. The curators obviously had fun setting up this exhibit. I was taken by a cool portrait of an artist painting an iceberg and the nearby ice bowl decorated with polar bears.
While some exhibits have traditional wall labels with information about each piece of art in some galleries there are books to carry as you look at a wall of paintings, a display of ceramics or silver. Family guides are designed to turn a visit to the museum into a scavenger hunt.
We found ourselves looking for Joshua Johnson’s portraits of children in red shoes. Although it’s been a long time since I was a kid, I appreciated the exercise. Nothing wrong with having a little fun in a museum.
The exhibits include several rooms, the Oval Room at Willow Brook, the Chestertown Room and the Eltonhead Manor Room. Each is filled with furniture, architectural details such as beautiful mantels, and pieces of art from the period. The Eltonhead room even has a milk punch recipe posted on a nearby wall. (I’m not going to try it; you try it.)
A visit to the BMA has to include a stop to see the Cone Collection. Works by Matisse, Impressionists and post-Impressionists, Picasso and a whole host of incredible artists fill these galleries because of the adventuresome taste of Etta and Claribel Cone. I have always enjoyed visiting the room devoted to these two collector-sisters, as well as seeing their art.
I’ve noticed over the years that the museum pays tribute to several women collectors, not only Etta and Claribel Cone but Dorothy Scott Mcilvaine and Saidie May, too. I remain grateful for their love of art — and the generosity that brought their works to this institution.
The museum never fails to thrill me. There are familiar works I look for, Rodin’s Thinker, the Antioch mosaics, Renoir’s rosy-cheeked portraits. And then I see something I never saw before. During this visit, I came across the stolen Renoir. This tiny painting, painted on linen, was stolen a half century ago and has just recently been returned to the museum. The Contemporary Wing — from its Warhols to a temporary exhibition of shells, butterflies and music by Dario Robleto. I couldn’t keep my eyes off his creations. (They are at the BMA until March 29.)
After all that art, and after a stop in the museum store (also renovated and expanded), we were hungry. We could have stopped at Gertrude’s, John Shields’ excellent restaurant at the BMA. Although that is my usual choice this time we headed down the street to the quirky Paper Moon Diner. It’s a good place for visual overload and cake. They do diner food quite well, too