Philadelphia and Brooklyn: Part 1

Back in October, we took a trip to Philadelphia. I have been wanting to go ever since I had learned about the Barnes Foundation. I had seen The Art of the Steal several years before and was very intrigued. It was also on my list of museums I had to go to. Plus I had never been to Philadelphia before!

We got there late Thursday night. We took the train from the airport into the center of downtown and walked to our bed and breakfast near what was called the Italian market. It was about a mile long walk past beautiful older houses in quiet streets. We were surprised how quiet it was. Our bed and breakfast was very charming. You checked yourself in. Each room was themed. Ours was the Bohemian room filled with hunting pictures and a four poster bed. Once we checked in and threw down our stuff, we went out in search of food. It was late enough that many places had just closed. We ended up getting directed to a place that served food until 1 in the morning. It was a pub with a decent food selection that was playing the Cubs Dodgers game. It was fun to watch it through a mirror so everything was reversed! Afterwards, we wandered home and found lots of beautiful mosaics around the neighborhood. It seemed like a magical place!

The next morning, our first stop was the Barnes Foundation. I try to do the thing I want to do most first. Just in case.

When I walked into the very first room of the collection, tears sprang into my eyes. It was astonishing. They recreated the rooms in his house within the museum. Paintings from masters over time were hung together. It was crazy. It was beautiful. It was everything I wanted. The first room had these Matisse murals on top, a giant Cezanne of men playing cards, and a beautiful Seurat. The Cezanne painting would be my favorite of the collection. On all the walls,  there were metal pieces arranged around the paintings. What a charming effect.

It is clear that Barnes clearly favored Renoir and Cezanne to lesser extent. I had no idea that Renoir was so prolific; Barnes seemed to have so many! I’ve really liked Renoir before but the surplus of Renoir made me become very picky about which paintings I liked and disliked! Occasionally a Monet will pop up. A friend who had been there recently said to me, “It makes you think why this Monet is here.” Apt question! There were also paintings and iron pieces from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. They have a painting done in the style of Hieronymus Bosch.

Barnes collection is simply astonishing. It’s amazing how much he collected. More importantly, it’s rather fantastic art. It’s well worth a visit if you go.

However, my feelings changed about the motives for the museum.  When I saw the documentary, I had very mixed feelings. There was no question that greed fueled the motives to move the museum despite the will of the Albert Barnes who explicitly forbad that his collection be moved from his house in the suburbs. However, I felt that moving it to the center of Philadelphia meant that it could be visited by more people more easily. It’s suburban location required transportation, etc. However, upon going to the museum, the ticket price alone made me rethink that. $25 timed entry, $35 anytime entry. Even the Art Institute is less than that. So accessibility may be far more limited than I hoped. It’s still worth going but it’s worth noting.

We realized that we were next to the Free Library so we checked into the Special Collections. We got to see Grip, Charles Dicken’s pet Raven that may have been inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe! They had letters of Poe’s along with drawings by Beatrix Potter. We have to go back to go on the tour where they pull out items!

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Our next stop was Independence Hall. However, we had not realized that it was ticketed and had gotten there long after tickets had been given away. So we decided to get some food at the City Tavern, a tavern dedicated to food of the colonial era. That was well worth it! It’s a few blocks away. All the servers are wearing period outfits. I had Benjamin Franklin’s chicken dish with a glass of chardonnay. It was pretty tasty! They also had wonderful breads, also period recipes!

After lunch, we met up with a friend who lived in Philadelphia who gave us a lovely tour of the area. We got to see Benjamin Franklin’s grave, covered in pennies, and several other revolutionaries in a nearby graveyard.  We saw some of the less popular but equally interesting revolution buildings nearby. It was a wonderful tour!

Afterwards, we headed off to the Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, just mere blocks from our B&B. I had spotted it on a Google map as I was figuring out how to get to the B&B. Simply put: this building is covered inside and outside with mosaics. It was the result of efforts by artist Isaiah Zagar who wanted to revitalize the neighborhood and protect it from proposed highway project. It’s truly a magical place! There’s so much to see inside and outside. Outside, there’s a multi-level garden area with lots of nooks and crannies. What a place to have an event! He also is responsible for all the mosaic walls we’d seen in the neighborhood!

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After a short rest at the hotel, we went to a local seafood place. We sat outside and met this lovely lady with her dog. My husband and the dog bounded throughout the meal. I had a delicious lobster while he had crab. Ah…fresh seafood. Nothing like it!

We ended the evening with a ghost tour that mostly took place in the historical district. We got to check out Washington Square, which like Lincoln Square, was built on top of a graveyard. Much more common than I had previously supposed! We also learned that there is a painting of Marie Antoinette (By Vigee de la Brun!) in the Congress building next to Independence Hall. At night, she is said to step out of the painting and wander around. Pretty awesome.

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That’s all for now!

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