NGA IN A DAY

03 Oct 2014
I’ve long been curious about what the US National Gallery of Art would have to offer. The United States is a huge country, so we expected that their National Gallery would be something special. We were not disappointed!

Housed in a huge marble neoclassical building designed in the 30’s, the West Building, and a contemporary angular building, the East Building, designed by I.M. Pei. We appreciated the contrast and balance between the two buildings. Completely different in scale and form but unified by material. They make good siblings.

Upon entry to the West Building we were met by brisk security guards searching bags before granting entrance to the building. It’s an unusual ritual for a gallery, but I understand it considering the current state of world politics. 

We started at the special exhibition on Modern American Prints and Drawings. Could this exhibition be more perfect? David loves prints, I love to draw, we’re both modernists and we’re in America. Like I said: perfect.

I was drawn to Louis Lozowick’s drawings, and his use of geometric pattern and contrasting light. There is an Art Deco flavour here. And a temporary stillness, something has, or is about to happen. Forbidden from taking photos in the gallery, I took notes on our favourites pieces, and have pulled images from the Gallery website: 

Later, upstairs and if I’m honest- a little lost, we stumbled across the French impressionist gallery. Wow. It’s difficult to describe the impact the Impressionists have on me. Posters and other reproductions just cannot evoke the same emotional reaction as standing face to face or rather, face to brush stroke. We slowed down and spent time with these masters. The Toulouse Lautrec gallery was busy with a “Drawing Salon”; a group of people, perched on folding stools, sketching the works with guidance from an artist. We soon discovered that Drawing Salon’s are held three days a week.
“Let’s sign up for that!” I exclaimed. 

On route to the cafe we discovered another special exhibition by an artist called Andrew Wyeth. The exhibition, “Looking Out, Looking In” is based around one of his most famous paintings called ‘Wind from the Sea’ and featured beautiful contemporary watercolour paintings and working sketches. There was a quietness to his work, and a sort of abstracted emotion. I noticed his recurring use of transparent materials, framing views, and the strong geometry of windows and openings. It inspired both of us greatly. I wanted to start painting immediately!  

(Images taken from the NGA website)

The Dutch masters were next on my list, particularly the detailed still life paintings. They were the first Hyper-real artists! The surface of grapes, the skin of a peach, water droplets on a leaf, the detail of these paintings (long before digital photography) is staggering. The quality of light is consistent across the different artists. I think this too must be a defining characteristic of the period. 

Eventually we decided that we’d seen enough for today and would save the East Building for another. Tired and hungry we decided a late lunch was in order. Robbie, a friend our ours, suggested we try Old Ebbitt Grill. On the map it looked about half way between the Gallery and our hotel, and decided a 20 min walk there and a further 20 min walk home would be a nice way to see more of Washington and walk off lunch.

Passing through the sculpture garden on route we found an interesting stainless steel tree shining against the dark green foliage. I discovered later that it was commissioned by the NGA for the sculpture garden.

Old Ebbitt Grill was amazing, we were shown to a deep green velvet booth surrounded by dark timber paneling, lush planting and an old brass lamp. We settled in praising Robbie on a brilliant recommendation. The menu was extensive and we decided to order something we wouldn’t normally. We shared the Buffalo Wings which were really spicy (at the outer limits of my threshold) and sweet. David chose the meatloaf and I went with jumbo lump crab cakes. This was when we discovered DC Brau beer, with it’s distinctive taste all sweet honey and malt. We returned to this particular beer a few times…

Robbie, I want to hug you!

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