Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Reggie Road Trip: Boston

Following is an essay about our recent, post-Christmas road trip to Boston.  Reggie forgot to bring his camera with him on the trip, so he is relying instead on images sourced on the Internet to illustrate it, for which he is most appreciative.

Once the roads were safe to drive after the Boxing Day Blizzard of 2010, Boy and I fired up the family jalopy and hightailed it over to Boston to spend several days of a much needed change of pace.  While I love spending time at Darlington House, particularly over the holidays, I enjoy taking a break from it, too—particularly after having been snowed in for two days, as we were.

An early postcard of the newly reopened Huntington Avenue entrance
to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Image courtesy of art.com

I have been to Boston many times over the years, and I know my way around the city.  Boy and I are familiar with its notable sights, museums, and restaurants—having visited most of them on previous visits, in some cases multiple times.  The express purpose of this visit was to spend a day taking in the new Americas Wing at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which opened to great acclaim at the end of November.  We also set aside time to visit some of our favorite haunts and dine in the city's restaurants.

A view of a portion of the new Americas Wing at the MFA
Image courtesy of curatedmag.com

One of the highlights of any visit to Boston for Reggie is staying at the Four Seasons Hotel, which is where I always stay whenever I have an overnight visit to the city, either on business or for pleasure.  I've been a guest in other hotels in Boston over the years, including the Ritz Carlton, the Taj (the former Ritz), 15 Beacon, and others, but my favorite hotel there is—by a wide margin—the Four Seasons.  Several years ago I decided that I need venture no farther than the Four Seasons' luxurious halls when staying in an hotel in Boston, and so I no longer consider staying anywhere else when I find myself there.  As they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The Four Seasons Hotel, Boston
Image courtesy of uptake.com

In addition to being a wonderfully comfortable hotel with exquisite service and a location overlooking the beautiful Public Garden that can't be beat, the Four Seasons is dog-friendly, so we were able to bring our beloved Pompey with us on our visit to Boston.  The hotel welcomes dogs weighing twenty-five pounds and under, and thoughtfully provides them with beds, bowls, and specially made treats during their visit.  For those of us who adore our four-footed friends and are bereft when we are parted from them, that is another compelling reason to choose the Four Seasons Hotel when staying in Boston.

An early postcard view of the Boston Public Garden
Image courtesy of nostalgia.esmartkid.com

We arrived in Boston on Tuesday afternoon and later met and dined with a fellow blogger at Pierrot Bistro, a little French restaurant he chose that caters to the locals of surrounding Beacon Hill.  It was a fascinating evening, and gave us much to talk about over the next several days.  Wednesday was devoted to ambling around the city, doing some post-Christmas sale shopping on Newbury Street and strolling around Beacon Hill, an exceptionally handsome, remarkably well-preserved area full of splendid eighteenth- and nineteenth-century houses.
  
Louisburg Square, Beacon Hill, in 1944,
and virtually unchanged today
Image courtesy of life.com

We had dinner that evening at Locke-Ober, one of the city's oldest restaurants, founded in 1875.  We had an excellent, old-fashioned meal that started with raw oysters, followed by Wiener Schnitzel "à la Holstein," one of the restaurant's historic signature dishes, and culminated with an excellent Indian pudding.  Locke-Ober is located in a somewhat gritty mercantile area just off the Boston Common and is rather difficult to find, as it is hidden down an alley—be sure to chart your way in advance if you book a table there.

The main dining room at Locke-Ober
Image courtesy of same

The next day, Thursday, we met our friend Bitsy Adams at ten in the morning at the Museum of Fine Arts, where we blissfully spent the entire day.  Bitsy and I were classmates at Yale, and we both studied American decorative arts there under Charles Montgomery.  Bitsy, Boy, and I were the perfect companions for our visit to the museum, as we are all very interested in and knowledgeable about American fine and decorative arts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and we are all collectors of it.

And what a day it was!  We were absolutely bowled over by what we saw.  The MFA has been spectacularly transformed with the opening of its expansion, which cost half a billion dollars.  Exceptionally well designed by Foster+Partners of London, the MFA's expansion has led to a complete rethinking of the museum's spaces, and involved a reworking and reorientation of its entrances, circulation routes, and collection galleries.

The Americas Wing Courtyard
Image courtesy of berkshirefinearts.com

The centerpiece of the expansion is a new Art of the Americas wing, which is entered through a soaring central courtyard that connects it with the original Beaux Arts museum, designed by the Boston Brahmin architect Guy Lowell (1870-1927) and which opened its doors in 1909.  The new wing is a sensitive addition to the original structure and compliments it rather than overwhelms it, as so many new museum additions unfortunately do these days.  The three of us, all inveterate museumgoers, were extremely impressed.

The main gallery of the 18th-Century Art
of the Colonial Americas Galleries
Image courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

We entered the Americas wing on its ground floor, which contains an astonishing collection of eighteenth-century art of the colonial Americas, including the Nation's most comprehensive collection of paintings by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), the greatest artist that Boston produced.  Stunning.  What is not clear from the photograph, above, is that the paintings—which are the jewels of the collection—are displayed in many cases contextually along with examples of superb period furniture and decorative arts that they would have shared space with in the houses for which they were commissioned.

The next galleries feature the arts of the New Republic, including Thomas Sully's (1783-1872) enormous "The Passage of the Delaware," painted in 1819 and shown in the following photograph.  What is not entirely visible in the photograph are the unfinished pendant portraits by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) of George and Martha Washington; this likeness of George Washington is the basis for the one-dollar bill.

The main room of the Early 19th-Century Art Galleries
Image courtesy of shermanstravel.com

After taking a break to have a delicious luncheon in the museum's excellent Bravo restaurant, we returned to the Americas wing to resume our exploration.  Everywhere that one turns in the Americas Wing one is confronted with iconic examples of the greatest eighteenth and nineteenth century art this country produced.  Boy, Bitsy, and I were slacked jawed walking through the galleries, and found ourselves exclaiming, "Oh, my God!" at every turn, such that it almost become a joke.  But it wasn't a joke.  We meant it!

The main gallery of the Art of the 19th-Century Galleries
Image courtesy of curatedmag.com

The art of the mid-to-later-nineteenth century is displayed salon-style in the main gallery, as is shown in the above photograph, similarly to the way the collection of the nearby Boston Athenæum was displayed in the 1870s:

"Picture Gallery of the Boston Athenæum"
Painted by Enrico Meneghelli in 1876
Collection of the Boston Athenæum

Further galleries devoted to nineteenth-century American art radiate out from the main salon gallery, including one devoted to the works of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) that is full of his gorgeous paintings of society beauties and landscapes, as well as his masterpiece "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit," painted in 1882, which is displayed flanked by the two enormous Chinese vases depicted in the painting:

A view of the Sargent Room in the 19th-Century Galleries
Image courtesy of csmonitor.com

By that point we were beginning to lose steam, and we were also suffering visual stimulation overload.  We picked up our pace in the remaining galleries devoted to nineteenth-century art, including ones featuring paintings of Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), Fitz Henry Lane (1804-1865) and Mary Cassatt (1844-1926).  By the time we hit the top floor, devoted to art of the twentieth century, we were done.  But that's not surprising, since it was a little after four in the afternoon, and we had been at the MFA for six hours by then.

A view of a room in the 20th-Century Art Galleries
Image courtesy of berkshirefinearts.com

We all agreed that we were incapable of looking at any more art that day and that we would have to return to the MFA many more times in order to take in all of the wonders of its incredible collections, beautifully displayed in its marvelous, comprehensive, sensitively executed expansion.  We also agreed that what we really needed at that point was a bit of a rest and a drink.  So we left the MFA, hailed a taxi, and went to the Four Seasons for a quick freshening up and an introduction of Bitsy to Pompey.  We then headed over to Bitsy's club, the Union Club, for drinks and an early dinner.

The Union Club, Boston
Image courtesy of flickr.com

The venerable Union Club overlooks the Boston Common and was founded in 1863 by breakaway members of the older Somerset Club, located across the park.  The Union's clubhouse is two early nineteenth-century townhouses designed by Charles Bullfinch (1763-1844), the brilliant architect of the Massachusetts State House (among other notable buildings), which is just up the street.  The clubhouse is handsome and well appointed, and we spent a delightful evening there as guests of  Bitsy, who stood us to several rounds of delicious cocktails and a very tasty dinner, for which we are most grateful.

It was with regret that we left Boston the next morning, New Year's Eve, to return to Darlington House.  After stopping at a dear friend's house along the way for a delightful and conversation-packed luncheon, we were happy to arrive home for a quiet evening of just ourselves, leaving the evening's revelries to others.  Reggie was happily snoring away long before the clock struck twelve and this New Year began.  And at this point in his life, that's just how he likes it.

Happy New Year, Dear Reader.


Please note: Reggie has received nothing in return for these reviews, nor does he expect to in the future.

26 comments:

  1. Oh, I tried to conceal it, but I'm just so jealous that you've gotten to the new America's wing---simply green. I was to go two weeks ago, but life got in the way. Now I'm stuck with jury duty for January, so no Boston outings for me until Feb. Thanks for the vicarious visit to my old stomping grounds (including delightful old Locke Ober, where I used to lunch on pea soup and cornbread often---perfect for a young dilettante under budgetary constraints and champagne tastes...the room was worth every bowl.

    Sigh, it does sound like a most fascinating trip.

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  2. One minor point---much as I love the atmosphere created by a salon style gallery, I nevertheless opine that it makes actually looking at the art secondary to the atmosphere. Please tell me I'm mistaken until the bloody jury stint is over and I see for myself...

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  3. The installation of the art in the new Art of the Americas wing is a particularly effective presentation. Is it known if the plans are to leave the enclosed courtyard as austere as shown?

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  4. Being with friends and family as well as doing something you absolutely love must be the best way to ring in the New Year. So glad you had such a lovely visit to Boston. I must say my celebration (dinner at home watching Georgia football) did not provide me with something thought provoking, but none the less lots of fun as I spent it with my family and friends. Thanks for the virtual tour of the museum. Happy 2011!

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  5. Sounds like a wonderful trip. It has been too long since I explored the MFA. Perhaps in the spring.. . . .

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  6. The new wing is amazing - so much to take in but can't wait to go back later this year when the contemporary collections in the main building re-open. I found the display of the actual vases next to "the Daughters of Edward Darley Bolt" to be very moving. By the way, the atrium does not feel austere, there is a bustling restaurant, and the big open space acts as a breather from the galleries.

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  7. DED: Yes, the salon style of hanging the paintings in the 19th-century main gallery does rather overwhelm the individual paintings. However, the museum has reserved the best ones of that period for other galleries where they are displayed in a more modern manner, and one is not disappointed at all by the installation.

    Devoted Classicist: As Anon 11:29 notes, the courtyard was the site of a bustling restaurant when we were there, and the space is designed to flexibly accommodate many activities and purposes.

    mamamagnolia: There are many ways to celebrate, indeed.

    DocP: You will not regret the visit, I assure you.

    Anon 11:29: I look forward to returning to the MFA, too, as there is much else to see. I feel we only scratched the surface.

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  8. I love Boston, it feels like a second home to me. A few of my ancestors rowed over in the 1800's, I so envy the ones who got away. I'm stuck in the old country in a city of tattoed women and glottal stops

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  9. Dear Reggie,

    If the boyfriend hadn't been struck down by a nasty stomach bug (we blame all of the fast "food" easily consumed on road trips), we may have run smack dab into you and Boy. We were visiting family just south of Boston and usually sneak away, for mental health reasons, to the city. I have never visited the MFA but thanks to your review it is on my list for our next trip.

    Our New Year's Eve mirrored yours, we were in bed by 10:30 with no regrets.

    MT

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  10. Sending Reggie, Boy and Pompey all good wishes for the new year.

    Bonnie
    Ottawa, Canada

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  11. As an Englishman who was very often in Boston in the 90s (visiting family and touring the New England states but always with several night staying at the park plaza Towers just behind the four seasons) I always thought the city especially around Beacon hill/the common/Public Garden was very like England (especially Harrogate).
    Your post brings back very happy memories of the Sargents and Copleys,Thomas Sully's "The Torn Hat" and an amazing El Greco...of resturants and a visit to the Union club....It also brought home the fact I've been away too long!
    Thankyou for the trip down memory lane and the nudge in the right direction!
    Keep yr wonderful posts coming...

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  12. Thank you Reggie for that wonderful review of the MFA's new wing. Now I cannot wait to get there but it probably won't be till May. Rats!!
    I do love the salon style and I'm so happy to hear that is how the works are displayed.

    Whenever I visit not only MUST I see Sargent's "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" I also get to the Isabella Stewart Gardener to see "El Jaleo".

    My New Year Eve was pretty much like yours and has been for several years now...one can only burn the candle so long.

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  13. Locke-Ober is located in a somewhat gritty mercantile area just off the Boston Common

    If you think that's "gritty," you should have seen it forty years ago. (Of course, in those bad old days of grit and grime, there were also compensating virtues -- long since swept away by the broom of Social Progress -- coughthemensbarcough.)

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  14. Gritty? Agree with The Ancient. Winter Place and environs are positively gentrified today. As students on straightened accounts, we made do at Locke Ober's by sharing an order of Oysters Winter Place, a coquille of Lobster Savannah and claret cup...and it was heaven Your review of Americas wing inspiring...but thought you had banned the word "iconic" from ordinary discourse. The last time I saw "The Daughters of Edward Bolt" was in the Prado in April, adjacent to Velasquez "Las Meninas." "The Daughters" were stunning.

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  15. Slightly jealous here, but I know I'll be back to visit Boston and enjoy the Americas wing. Thanks for the preview!

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  16. I was in Boston two years ago and toured the Boston museum of art. I did not know about the new American wing. It looks like I will have to take a trip soon.

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  17. I have never been to Boston, but you got me curious. A visit to Boston is on my things-to-do List for 2011.

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  18. Michele from BostonJanuary 3, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    Dear Reggie-
    Enjoyed your post so much. My husband and I also spent all day the same Thurs. in the new wing with what seemed like 1000s of others. Great to see so much interest. I concur on every point and actually became more entranced with the exhibit designs than the architecture of the wing itself in some rooms. Only one drawback that truly perturbed - the overwhelming odor of frying hamburgers from the courtyard restaurant. Loved the "salon style" hang. Like you, the Stendahl Effect kicked in right after viewing that gorgeous Motherwell on the top floor and we, too, gave up. The lines at all the dining venues were too long and we instead headed home for an early dinner. I've never been disappointed at Bravo. (Alas, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Cafe is now closed til 2012.) We're already planning our next MFA visit.

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  19. Shout out to Ancient:...Sorry, I didn't quite catch that last place you mentioned...could you speak a little louder? I'm not quite sure what place you were referring to...(and that's my story and I'm sticking to it).

    Yes, indeedy, the old neighborhood has changed for the better----yet we all wandered across the common, over to Washington and walked purposefully to Winter Place

    And oh my, if one were going on to the theatre from Locke Ober's, the walk over to Tremont was um, 'colorful' if not downright scary...

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  20. I have fond memories of traveling to Boston as a child with my Rhode Island relatives. It's a wonderful place full of great beauty and historical interest. I haven't been in years and now I feel inspired to do so! A very happy New Year to you, Boy and Pompey.

    H.H.

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  21. Tabitha: Boston is indeed a wonderful city, and one even still hears the trademark accent there in certain areas, if one is lucky.

    Modern Trad: Fast food (now called "quick serve") is one of the guilty pleasures of the highway on a road trip. Next time, perhaps suggest to your dear husband that he reconsider ordering the double sausage McMuffin/fried hash browns loaf combo...

    Bonnie: Thank you, and to you and yours the same.

    Andrew: Thank you, I was not familiar with "the Torn Hat" until I came across it during this visit to the MFA—perhaps it was in storage when I was there last. I was enchanted by it.

    Sandrajonas: May will come before you know it! The Gardner is a favorite, too.

    Ancient: With Filene's closed and boarded up, the area looked to be rather forlorn and neglected to me. And the streets were not exactly thronged with what Reggie would describe as the city's "bon ton," either.

    atdcom: What a marvelous juxtaposition that must have been!

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  22. Exquisite. I can only imagine what it would be like to visit a museum with such learned, affable individuals. Happy New Year!

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  23. T&CMom: You wil have a lovely time there, I assure you.

    Andrew1860 and Ulla: Be sure to go, you will have a marvelous time. Boston is one of our better preserved cities, and the museum is astonishing.

    Michele: Yes, it was crowded, wasn't it? Even so, I was not put out by the number of people, as I m in other museums, since it seemed almost like a celebration. I was not aware of the hamburger smell throughout the spaces, only in the courtyard. And here's a tip: you can reserve a table at Bravo through opentable.com, which is what we did.

    DED: Ah, it appears there is (or once was) a whole other side to that part of "gritty" Boston that Reggie was not at all aware of...

    HHR and Laguna: High thee to Boston! Thank you.

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  24. At Locke-Ober, the "main dining room" shown was once the Men's Bar and was reserved for gentlemen; women were told to eat upstairs or leave. I was there in the early 70's when a female reporter from the Boston Globe insisted on being seated. She was placed at the penultimate seat at the bar with the bicycle seats next to a wealthy regular from Duxbury.
    This gentleman had stomach cancer and liked to chew his favorite dishes and spit the remains back on to his plate. When the customers were men only, of course, this was permitted. The woman persisted and eventually the bar was integrated.

    Locke-Ober is now owned by a woman and there is even a woman bartender.

    Vern Trotter
    New York

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  25. The Summer/Winter Street area used to border the Combat Zone - that is indeed cleaned up.
    However a lot of the chain retailers have fled from Downtown Crossing to Newbury Street and what's left is most definitely 'gritty', if by 'gritty' you mean an abandoned construction pit and a whole lot of gangbangers.

    Can't wait to get over to the MFA! So much to do, so little time. Reggie, on your next visit, I suggest a trip up to Salem, to the Peabody Essex, a true little gem.

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  26. Vernon: So that explains why I recall eating in an upstairs dining room in the early 80s -- the only other time I ate at Locke Ober -- as my group included a (real) lady. Thank you.

    Patsy: I have been to the Peabody Essex, and agree that it is a true gem. As is Salem, for that matter--and Woodman's, which is Heaven on Earth as far as I am concerned...

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