I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, once a trimester at least, and I spent many trimesters in my university town! I didn't go for a show, but frequently for the permanent collection. When I was 20 years old, the favorite pieces of the permanent collection were some Mary Cassat and Sargents.
I once remember taking my mother for a quick tour: either my parking meter was expiring or we had gotten there a few minutes before closing. "You cannot leave Boston without seeing the Frida Kahlo!" (And this was before Frida became mainstream with Selma Hayek). I took her by the hand and we went through the labyrinth before we landed in front of the small Autoportrait. My mother was dumbfounded about how I hadn't missed this tiny painting in the midst of the large collection.
It is because I visited it frequently. But today, I admit I would not remember the small details that differentiate the Boston Frida Kahlo Autoportrait from others. I saw many of them at the Fondation Giannada, in Martigny, some years ago. I can't recall if they had borrowed the Boston one or not for the Kahlo/Rivera exhibit.
Again, as per summer (and sometimes winter) tradition, I visited the Fondation Giannada: to view the collection of 70 Claude Monet paintings. When I sat on the train ride with my younger kids, I explained that there are three most famous painters ever: first, Picasso, second, Monet and third is Van Gogh. I told them that there is no escaping Monet: his paintings are dispersed all over the world, and that today, we were very fortunate to see 70 of them in a Swiss valley called Martigny.
The show was curated chronologically. We walked in a serpentine line of Monet affecionados and we studied the paintings. I asked my kids about the thematic, I asked my 6 year old to read some titles, I showed them Argenteuil and Giverny, but lost their attention on the London fog and the Rouen Cathedrals. They refocused on all his flowers and I told them that three of the paintings depicted Bordighiera in Italy, not far from their beloved SanRemo. I pointed carefully to his recognizable signature and I think they gained a first impression, if not more.
All the while, I looked for the provenance of the paintings and realized that most of them had been borrowed from the Musee Marmot in Paris. I remembered all too well that my sister had visited it, just this April and had mentioned the Monets! I was glad to have had the opportunity to see the Marmot pieces as the probability of visiting the museum in Paris is very low: there is too much to choose from there!
But what made the show even more unique was the blend of the Paris collection with Monets from Swiss collections: public and private. I always dwell on private collection pieces because I wonder when if ever that piece will be loaned again and if I will see the show. I explained to my daughter: "this Monet belongs in someone's house. In the bedroom, entrance, study, or living room. A family enjoys it all year round. Take a good look at it. Try to remember it. You may not see again."
My son begged to go play in the garden. We ran by a Calder mobile, the thumb of Cesar, the reclining figure of Henry Moore, the twirl of Venet. The sculptures we see every summer are now familiar to us.
And then we caught our train to Geneva, a train in a station very different from that of Monet's Paris train station in the late XIXth century!
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