Kicking Back In The American Wing

I was up in Boston for a little shindig at my old school the other day, and I neglected to notice until it was too late that this particular little shindig would be finishing up right in the middle of rush hour. On a Friday afternoon.

I hate rush hour.

So I stood there on the front step of the main school building for a few minutes, hands on hips, idly gazing out across the mighty Fenway (not the ballpark, the parkland, which is really quite lovely, you should absolutely go for a stroll there someday) thinking muttery thoughts to myself about how very little I wanted to get in my car and sit in rush hour traffic for the next two hours.

Then the serenely glowing columns of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts caught my eye.

Immediately, I realized that:

  • The MFA is open late on Fridays
  • They opened up the new American Wing over a year ago
  • And I still hadn’t been to see it
  • Which can’t be right
  • And did I mention
  • The MFA is open late on Fridays
  • I did? Oh good.

Never one to shy away from putting two and two together, I set out at once across the fens to seek my fortune. Or at least, to avoid sitting in traffic for a while, and to see some damn fine 19th century art while I was at it.

It was, in a word, awesome.

Okay, to be honest, the first two floors were awesome. The third floor was all 20th century modern crap, and we all know that this is just not my bag. But the first two floors were just room after glorious room of gleaming and perfect 18th and 19th century American art, furniture, and textiles.

To which I can only say: Hells to the Yes.

Shall we?

We’re greeted at the entrance to the new wing by an extremely large and imposing equestrian portrait of a very old and dear friend to readers of this blog. And although I’m always happy to see him, I’ll admit that I was a little surprised to find him guarding the entrance to this particular exhibit.

Let’s see if you can guess who it was!

Here’s one little corner of the man’s epic-sized canvas, featuring two wee little soldiers, tooting their horns!


Tootle oot
Another minuscule little bit of the same picture. Note the massive boot for scale:

Giant boot
Pull back to a more respectful distance, and you’ll see that yes, this is in fact a portrait of that noted  and hardy veteran of many a battle, the Prince Regent of Great Britain. Yeah. Heck of a war hero, Prinny was. Heck of a guy.

Okay, whatever. Always nice to see you, George. Don’t hurt yourself.

And for god’s sake, don’t hurt the poor horse.


Once we move past the noble Prinny’s towering and undeniably Georgian presence, we can proceed through the double glass doors and into the warm, welcoming arms of the American Colonial era.

It’s very well done, really. You should go. They’ve mixed together portraits and furniture and household goods into these very prettily staged little assemblages, so that you can see all of the things in context with one another, as they might have been seen in their day. They’ve even slathered rich swaths of representative period wallpaper into most of the spaces, which I must say lends a very distinctive air to the proceedings.

The place was pretty deserted while I was there, thank god, so there was no one there to hear me gasp and shriek with glee when each of my old friends loomed up in front of me in all their glory.

It was like a high school reunion party of all my favorite hot-headed Bostonians!

John Hancock, looking spectacular as usual.

John Hancock

The extremely well traveled John Quincy Adams, looking very much his mother’s son:

His aged father John, of course, hovered not far away, looking like he still had a thing or two he wanted to set you straight on:

And of course everyone’s favorite matinee idol Virginia planter was there:

Thomas Jefferson

Do try to restrain yourselves, ladies.

But it wasn’t all a Revolutionary era sausage fest, I’m happy to report! Cape Cod’s very own Mercy Otis Warren was in attendance as well:

Mercy Otis Warren

Hi Mercy! You rock.

And I quite enjoyed this hand-painted print of the Boston Massacre. Lovely bit of propaganda. The very best.

Boston Massacre
Not to mention all the extremely fine young gentlemen who I had the pleasure of meeting for the very first time!

John Myers, looking resplendent in brown:

John Inman, showing off his very fine spectacles:

Washington Allston, in a rather sweet self portrait:

And you know, I missed this next gentleman’s name. I wasn’t even going to take his picture, at first. But every time I tried to walk away, something kept pulling me back. I just couldn’t leave without a keepsake. I mean, look at him!


I am a complete sucker for a good miniature portrait, of course.


I wasn’t able to get any closer than this, much to my extreme vexation and annoyance, so when I got home I looked online for a better view.

Check it out — this first one is Washington Allston, too! I think I like his larger self portrait (above) much better. He looks very melancholy in this one. Like he’s been staying up too late, not getting enough to eat. Pining.

Oh! And did you know that Washington Allston was great friends with the fabulous Washington Irving? They met when they were both travelling in Italy as young men, and Irving was so taken with the young Allston that he even briefly considered giving up writing (he had already become rather famous as the creator of Diedrich Knickerbocker) and becoming a painter with Allston (even though he couldn’t paint and never had). Days after Irving met Allston, he was spinning out all these elaborate fantasies in his diary of how they would live together forever and paint and exhibit and be best buddy artist pals and live in a near-constant state of adorable bliss.

Seriously. You should read Irving’s diary sometime. Love that guy.

And this, of course, is the famous naval hero Commodore Perry, who I actually think might be some sort of relation of mine.

Well, I would, wouldn’t I?

There was only one dress, which was disappointing, but at least it was a good one. Henry Tilney would have been pleased to have seen such a fine display of muslin on hand, although I’m not sure I’m on board with pairing that gaudy necklace with such a maidenly frock. Seems a bit of a mismatch, don’t you think? I dunno.

Awesome dress

Sigh. Ah well, not everyone can have such an excellent understanding of muslin, can they?

And finally, I give you the latest addition to my growing collection of fine art featuring Kids Doing Weird Shit With Cats. In this case, dressing one up in a sad little gown and feeding it with a spoon.

Kid with cat

Seriously. Once you start noticing all of the kids and their cats that are littering the annals of art history, you realize they’re everywhere. If you want to see the beginnings of the collection, you can read through my post about Colonial Williamsburg. It’s a blast.

Oh, you remember that trip, it’s the one where I went around fondling everybody’s breeches. Or at the very least, unbuttoning them. Oh man. That was a great trip. I made so many friends.

Don’t you wish you went to museums with me? We could have so much fun together!

Where shall we go next?

5 Thoughts.

  1. Beth, Thank you for the virtual docent tour of the American Wing. I will pay attention the next time I visit. I’ll look for “children doing weird stuff with their pet dogs”! Inspiring. Especially loved the detail of the two horn tooters. Kathy

  2. Hahahaha — I knew I’d piss somebody off with that remark! I know, I know. I’m a philistine. I even tried, too — I walked up the stairs, walked in to the third floor gallery space… and walked right back out. It just leaves me colder than the grave, I’m afraid. Oh well.

    Glad you enjoyed it, though! :)

  3. Pingback: Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Jane Austen to Klingon Monopoly « Angela Quarles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *