Museum of Art and then spend night at Alex’s cousin’s house in Gaithersburg.
We started with the Museum of Art. One of the reasons for visiting this museum was our desire to see their famous collection of Maryland silver by leading 18th- and early 19th-century silversmiths and other American decorative arts. Unfortunately, all their American art expositions that represented more than half of the museum collections were closed for major redesign. Their new temporary exhibition was to be open in a couple of weeks. The rest of the collections were interesting but rather modest in size so we were done with them in less than an hour. However, they had good size collection of French impressionists including Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, and Vincent van Gogh so overall we enjoyed our visit.
Then we went to Walters Art Museum and spent couple of hours there. The museum's collection was created substantially by two men, William Thompson Walters (1819–1894), who began serious collecting when he moved to Paris at the outbreak of the American Civil War, and his son Henry Walters (1848–1931), who refined the collection. Henry Walters was particularly interested in the courtly arts of 18th-century France. The museum’s collection of Sèvres porcelain includes a number of pieces that were made for members of the court at Versailles. They also have nice collection of portrait miniatures and the examples of goldsmiths' works, especially snuffboxes and watches. In addition they have a sizeable collection of Russian silver enamels from the 17th through early 20th centuries including Faberge work.
Among other things museum also has nice medieval art collection and substantial collection of French impressionists.
However, in spite of pleasure we got from visiting these two museums, overall we did care for Baltimore. Majority of the areas we were driving through were rather ugly, ran down and did not feel safe. It became better as we got to the waterfront but this was one of the very few places on our trip that we are not planning visiting again soon.
We ended up coming to Alex’s cousin in Gaithersburg earlier that we expected. We have not seen him for over 20 years when he visited us in California. Last time we saw his wife was even earlier - in late 70th when we visited them in Leningrad right before they left Soviet Union. We had a lot of catching up to do so we spent whole evening talking about family and relatives. They recommended us to take metro to Washington DC and walk to the museums we wanted to visit.
Day 5, October 12, Friday – Alex’s cousin took us to a metro station and after approximately 40 minute of very comfortable ride we arrived to our nation’s capital. The metro station was just across the street from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum that happened to be in the same building. We spent 3 hours in these museums and found them extremely interesting and educational. The portrait gallery has a portrait of pretty much all man and woman who made significant contribution to American history and art. It tells the history of America through individuals who have shaped its culture. There was a short story about the person next to the portrait.
One interesting thing that Alex noticed was that majority of the politicians (even the early ones) lived pretty long life – many into their late 80th at the times when average life expectancy was about half of it. Also, unlike European royalty almost all of them had very strong-willed faces. I guess that one needs to be strong to leave the country of their origin and to become successful on a new land. Seeing the portraits helps to understand how America became what it is now and how American nation and national character got developed. For the same reason we also enjoyed American presidents’ portrait gallery.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum, the nation's first collection of American art, is an unparalleled record of the American experience; extremely interesting.
We were pretty tired as we walked from the museums but still spent few more hours walking along National Mall. We even briefly visited American History Museum but limited ourselves to just automotive part of it. One thing we soon realized that two days that I planned for Washington DC is not enough. There is so much to see, so many great museums to visit that it would take a week to get quality time there. True, all museums are located along the National Mall but buildings are very large, so are the museums, parking is challenging, spaces are huge and time flies by very fast. In two days that we were in Washington DC we did not even visit any of the great memorials; we simply did not have enough time.
Washington is unusual city – from the beginning it was designed in 1790 as a new national capital. A new "federal city" was then constructed on the north bank of the Potomac. Couple words about the architecture of Washington – most important buildings are designed in the neoclassical, late Georgian, and gothic styles and are very grand and imposing. Alex even called it intimidating and felt that it was deliberately designed to project power and to intimidate people. While I agreed with the power part his assessment, I felt that at the time the capital was designed it was intended to show the might of the nation and to show off to other nations that America became a real county with a real power.
One other interesting thing – there are a lot of tourists everywhere in Washington and yet because of it’s broad streets and huge scale of everything it does not feel crowded. We are definitely planning to come there again.
After whole day of walking we were very happy to get on a metro to get back to Alex’s cousin’s house. There we spent another great evening with newly found family.
Day 6, October 13, Saturday – we said goodbye to Alex’s cousin and his wife and headed to the Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens located in Northern part of Washington. Hillwood is known for its large decorative arts collection that focuses heavily on the House of Romanov. Included in the collection are Fabergé eggs and 18th and 19th century French art and one of the country's finest orchid collections.
It is a decorative arts museum and the former residence of a leading American socialite, businesswoman, diplomat, philanthropist and collector Marjorie Merriweather Post. She was an heiress to Post Cereal and the founder of General Foods, Inc. and subsequently the wealthiest woman in America. She lived 86 years (1887-1973) and had been married four times. She was a collector of French art from early years of her life but started her famous Russian collection during her third marriage. In 1935, Post married her third husband, Joseph E. Davies, a Washington lawyer. They lived in the Soviet Union from 1937 to 1938, while he served as the second American ambassador to the Soviet Union, under Joseph Stalin. During this time, Davies and Post acquired many valuable Russian works of art from Soviet authorities.
When Post and Davies divorced in 1955, Davies kept majority of their Russian collection but after Davies’ death in 1958 she bought back many of the items from his Russian collection. Post continued her Russian collection until her death and ended up with very impressive collection of Russian art including a Boyar Wedding Feast by Makovsky and Portrait of Countess Samoilova by Borovikovsky.
This is Marjorie Merriweather Post's grave:
Marjorie Merriweather Post's bedroom:
By the time we got to the National Mall, it was almost 3pm but we still decided to visit the National Gallery of Art. We were lucky and got a parking spot right in front of the museum. Needless to say those two hours we had left before museum closing were not enough. We were able to see only a fraction of their unbelievable collection. The Gallery's collection of paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, medals, and decorative arts traces the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to the present, including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas. Although, relatively new (1937) it became one of the world most important museums. It was started from private collections donated to the museum by American art collectors (most important of them the Mellon family members) and continues to grow as new work of art is purchased by the museum.
We were only able to walk relatively fast through one side of the gallery and see Italian, Dutch, German and Spanish art. It takes several visits to appreciate the entire collection and we definitely come back to this museum again.
After visiting National Gallery of Art we went for dinner to the Black Salt restaurant that I found through the Tripadvisor. It was located away from the downtown but was worth driving there. The restaurant was located behind the fish market and had outstanding seafood. They were fully book but we were able to get a table next to the kitchen which was very interesting to watch. We shared sashimi for appetizer. Then Alex had Seared Bigeye Tuna and I had Bouillabaisse; together with a bottle of crisp but fruity Portuguese vinho verde it was truly heavenly experience.
After dinner happy and relaxed we headed toward our hotel (BEST WESTERN Pentagon Hotel - Reagan Airport) that was located just across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia.
To be continued...