Sunday, October 7, 2012

Shipwrecked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Step Out! walkers gathered by the East Entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, October 6, 2012

I was in the neighborhood for the Step Out! walk for Diabetes on October 6, so I decided to step over to the Art Museum for lunch and culture.  The SHIPWRECK! exhibit I was anxious to see is in the Museum's annex called the Perelman Building which I was also looking forward to visiting. I was delighted with both.

SHIPWRECK! featured painter Winslow Homer, the star of nineteenth-century maritime painting, and more specifically, his masterpiece, "The Life Line."The painting is stunning, of course, skillfully depicting the drama of the rescue. The rescuer in the painting brings the limp woman to safety over a wild, stormy sea. They are using a breeches buoy, a typical lifesaving device from the 1800s, where the victim is placed in what looks like a pair of short pants hanging from a rope and pulled to shore. In Homer's painting, the woman is riding the breeches "sidesaddle" to protect her modesty. The rescuer's face is hidden by the woman's scarf following the tradition of portraying anonymous rescuers. There are quite a few examples of this in the SHIPWRECK! exhibit. Ancillary to the stunning painting is a video showing with x-ray photography the changes Homer made as he created the painting. The rope from which the breeches buoy hangs was originally straight, but Homer made it bend to show the weight and strain of the struggling people. The rescuer's face had originally been visible, but Homer painted the red scarf over it to render the rescuer anonymous. Here's an interesting video discussion of "The Life Line" from smarthistoryvideos:

Winslow Homer and the nineteenth-century maritime tradition are the focus of this large exhibit, but my other top favorite is Vernet's eighteenth-century "Shipwreck". This dramatic painting shows a wrecked vessel with the storm and rescue still in progress. It reminds the viewer subliminally of the potential force of nature, a concept that occurs to me during storms near the sea. This painting was borrowed from the National Gallery of Art for the SHIPWRECK! exhibit. Check out this online interpretation of the painting created by the National Gallery of Art.

"I wasn't expecting all this!" remarked a fellow art lover in the gallery. Me, too: this exhibit covered shipwrecks, marine painting as a genre, "Heroes of the Coastline," the folks waiting at home, and Winslow Homer before and after "The Life Line." I think my friends on the coast, experts on lighthouses and maritime history, would love this exhibit. It's worth the trip!

The other standout art from yesterday's visit was the Perelman Building itself. The Art Deco building was finished in 1927 for the Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance Company. It became the annex of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007, and now houses galleries, a museum shop, library, and cafe. Examples from the original, pre-renovated Art Deco are everywhere. Another day, when my feet aren't sore from fundraising walks, I will explore this building further. It is right across multiple lanes of traffic from the West Entrance of the Art Museum, accessible by foot or shuttle. Here are some teaser shots:
The Art Deco facade of the Perelman Building
One of the big Perelman doors
Take this staircase down to the Library
The Art Deco Perelman Building, annex to the Philadelphia Museum of Art

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