Friday, May 22, 2015

The Norton Simon Museum: One of the Great Private Art Collections

Pasadena is the home of one of the world's greatest private art collections: The Norton Simon Museum. It's a wonderful thing when an ambitious and successful businessman turns his attention to art. He collects art with the same systematic and aggressive approach that he uses in business, and he has so much money to put into play. And then, the most wonderful part is that he feels an urge, a necessity, to share his treasure with the general public. And the result is that for a mere $12 adult admission, any ordinary person can live like royalty for an afternoon, experiencing one masterpiece after another. Norton Simon said that an art museum is like a substitute for a church, and I agree: a place to worship beauty, truth, and creativity.

As you enter the parking lot (parking is free), this dominating work by Barbara Hepworth, one of the foremost sculptors of the mid-20th century, announces that this place is about Art.

Barbara Hepworth
Four-Square (Walk-Through), 1966
I took this photo and all the photos
in this post with my iPad
You might recognize the museum's façade: it is the first building on the route of the Rose Parade down Colorado Boulevard.

The grounds of the museum features some extraordinary trees.

The front garden has several important works by Auguste Rodin, the foremost sculptor of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Auguste Rodin, 1840-1917
Saint John the Baptist, 1878-1880
Behind the museum is a glorious sculpture garden, where iconic sculptures are placed with gorgeous trees and plantings in a spectacular setting.

A serpentine waterway complements the shape of the museum.
Across the pond is a sculpture by Maillol.

Aristide Maillol, 1861-1944
The Mountain, 1937
The presence of sculptures brings out the sculptural qualities of the trees and plants.

Ancient tree trunk has a sculptural quality.
This smoke tree complements the brick facing.
The presence of trees brings out the organic qualities of the sculpture.

This sculpture by Henry Moore blends in with the tree behind it.
Here's another work by Henry Moore that is less abstract.

Henry Moore, 1898-1986
Draped Reclining Woman, 1957-58
While we're talking about Henry Moore, let's move inside for another example. You can see that he had quite a broad range stylistically.

Henry Moore, 1898-1986
Family Group #1, 1949
There is also another work by Maillol inside.

Aristide Maillol1861-1944
Three Nymphes, 1930-1937
And there is another great work by Barbara Hepworth as well.

Barbara Hepworth, 1902-1975
Assembly of Sea Forms, 1972
The day of our visit, the special exhibit, Tête-à-tête, featured three masterpieces from the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. This generation of painters, born in the 1830s and 1840s, was moving away from painting traditions that were formal and self-important toward pictures that were more intimate and casual.

James Whistler, 1834-1903
Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1
(Portrait of the Artist’s Mother), 1871
Édouard Manet, 1832-1883
Émile Zola, 1868
Paul Cézanne, 1839-1906
The Card Players, c. 1892-1896
The Museum complemented this set with other works by these artists and their contemporaries from their own collection.

Paul Cézanne, 1839-1906
Vase of Flowers, 1880-81
Henri Fantin-Latour, 1836-1904
White and Pink Mallows in a Vase, 1895
Some of the painters of this time developed a style with loose brushstrokes, natural light, and vibrant color that became known as Impressionism.

Claude Monet, 1840-1926
The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil, 1881
Camille Pissarro, 1830-1903
The Poultry Market at Pontoise, 1882
The next generation, born in the 1850s and 1860s, took these ideas even further in Post-Impressionism.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
The Mulberry Tree, 1889
Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 1888
Pierre Bonnard, 1867-1947
Portrait of Leila Claude Anet, 1930
The same generation was also the first to develop abstract painting. One of the earliest abstractionists, Vasily Kandinsky, was arguably the greatest. These examples show his wide range of styles.

Vasily Kandinsky, 1866-1944
Open Green, 1923
Vasily Kandinsky, 1866-1944
Heavy Circles, 1927
The foremost artists of the early part of the 20th century were Matisse and Picasso. Both were searching and experimental throughout their long careers.

Henri Matisse, 1869-1954
Nude on a Sofa, 1923
Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973
Woman with a Book, 1932
Here is a beloved image by one of their contemporaries from Mexico. Art trends are international.

Diego Rivera, 1886-1957
The Flower Vendor (Girl with Lilies),
It is not uncommon for a museum to have a collection of European painting from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Several museums in this country have works by these artists and their contemporaries. What really gives the Norton Simon depth is the number of Old Masters, meaning painters from the 18th century and earlier.

Here are a few outstanding works from the 1700s. Notice how polished they look, as though the human hand were not involved.

François Boucher, 1703-1770
The Beautiful Country Woman, c. 1732
Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1755-1842
Theresa, Countess Kinsky, 1793
Marie-Geneviève Bouliar, 1763-1825
Self-Portrait, 1792
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1780-1867
Baron Joseph-Pierre de Mortatieu, 1805
Moving backwards in time, the 1600s is the age of Rembrandt.

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669
Portrait of a Bearded Man in a Wide-Brimmed Hat, 1633
Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669
Self-Portrait, c. 1636-1638
Here's a wonderful painting by an Italian contemporary of Rembrandt's.

Baciccio, 1639-1709
St. Joseph and the Infant Christ, c. 1680
During the 1600s, floral still lifes became an important type of painting.

Jan Brueghel the Younger, 1601-1678
Flowers in a Gilt Tazza, c. 1620
Rachel Ruysch, 1664-1750
Nosegay on a Marble Plinth, c. 1695
Continuing to turn the clock backwards, the generation born in the late 1500s included Frans Hals and the incomparable Peter Paul Rubens.

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640
The Holy Women at the Sepulchre, c. 1611-1614
Frans Hals, 1580-1666
Portrait of a Young Man, 1650-1655
In the 1500s, art was still largely dominated by religious stories.

Jacopo Bassano, 1510-1592
The Flight into Egypt, c. 1544-1545

Jan Massys, 1509-1575
Susanna and the Elders, 1564
In the 1400s, when artists first gained the stature to be known by name, most of the art that has come down to us was commissioned by some church or religious organization. The Madonna was the most popular subject. Even if religion turns you off, you can appreciate the warmth of feeling expressed, the balanced compositions, the harmonious colors, the tender shapes and lyrical lines, and the contemplative mood.

Botticelli, 1444-1510
Madonna and Child with Adoring Angel, c. 1468
Raphael, 1483-1520
Madonna and Child with Book, c. 1502-03
All of which brings us back to the idea of museum as a place of worship. A visit to the Norton Simon is uplifting and restorative.