NYC memory: David McCullough at the Met

We’re back in California, where I’ve spent the last few days sifting through memories of this latest sojourn to NYC. While each trip is a bit different, we’re settling, inch by inch, into patterns that define “living” there from being the greenest of tourists. One accomplishment this visit was discovering our “express route” through the park – a few blocks up CPW to 67th and it’s almost a straight-through to 72nd Street on the East side. Then it’s just another ten blocks up Fifth Avenue on the East side and you’re at that wonder of wonders, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Met

Since we visit the Met at least once or twice per trip, we decided to join the museum, which allows us to skip the ticket line and also makes us privy to announcements of upcoming events. And that is how I heard that David McCullough would be speaking there about some of the “American masters” he included in his recent book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.

(image from

I called to make reservations for the lecture as soon as I received the notice and the event was already almost sold out. And no wonder; in addition to being one of our country’s foremost chroniclers of history, McCullough is a most dignified and genial fellow and an impressive speaker. And a sweetheart, to boot – he began his speech with a loving introduction of his wife, who was in the audience. He called her his “North Star”. How dear is that?

David McCullough (image from

In addition to writing, McCullough paints, and this most recent book is a love letter to some of the 19th century American artists who went to Paris to further their careers. He spoke of Samuel F.B. Morse, who spent decades as a painter before he invented the telegraph, and he discussed expatriate painters John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt, as well as the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Before reading the book and hearing the lecture, I’d heard of these people and seen some of their work, but McCullough has the gift of making them come alive. So much so that I was inspired to walk endless blocks in the wind and cold one day to see Saint-Gauden’s statue of Admiral Farragut at Madison Square Park.

The statue of Admiral Farragut made Saint-Gaudens reputation as a sculptor. He spent months perfecting the admiral's right leg and the flap of the coat. (Polloplayer photo)

Saint-Gaudens' statue, "Diana" is prominently displayed in the American Wing at the Met (polloplayer photo)

I don’t know how many times I’ve walked past the Sherman Memorial at the Fifth Avenue and 59th street entrance to Central Park, but I must confess I never really looked at it until McCullough talked about it. He shared that an ironic aspect of the Civil War monument is the fact that the model for Victory was actually an African-American woman.

A fact of fame: pigeons will perch on your head even if you're General Sherman

McCullough went into great detail about Morse’s painting Gallery of the Louvre, in which he “hung” onto the gallery walls his favorite paintings from the museum. McCullough shared that Morse steadfastly completed his painting while the cholera epidemic of 1832 raged through Paris. The painting now hangs in the National Gallery of Art, so when the CE visited Taylor in WDC the following weekend, they went to see it.

Gallery of the Louvre painted by Samuel F.B. Morse

McCullough also went into great detail about the “scandal” that arose over John Singer Sargent’s Madame X portrait.  Even though museum-goers were quite used to ambling through galleries filled with paintings of nudes by Titian and Rubens, somehow the portrait of socialite Virginie Amélie Gautreau, with its stark contrast between her black dress and powdered arms, shocked Parisian society. The furor over the painting eventually led Sargent to depart Paris for London.

In the original painting, the strap of Madame X's dress was shown slipped alluringly from her shoulder. Sargent repainted the portrait subsequent to the furor that arose.

The painting as it hangs today at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC

After the lecture, we walked a few blocks for dinner at Cafe Boulud at Madison and 76th Street. Daniel Boulud’s restaurants span the West and East side, but this one is definitely worth a walk across the park. The menu was inspired and the service was impeccable. We can’t wait to go back.

Cafe Boulud: An East side gem

After dinner, we walked down Madison Avenue, where boutique windows displayed their finery and East side denizens took their dogs for an evening walk. Then we turned to head toward Central Park South and up to our Columbus Circle neighborhood. The evening was cold but clear and we couldn’t imagine being anywhere at that moment but NYC.

It's almost spring in the city: daffodils in Central Park

About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
This entry was posted in Gastronomy, Music/Art/Literature/Culture, New York city, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to NYC memory: David McCullough at the Met

  1. Rosanne says:

    I saw McCullough speak at a National School Board Association annual convention. I really enjoyed it, too.

  2. Pamela Gilbert says:

    Great photos. Looks like your trip was wonderful.

  3. Pamela Gilbert says:

    I just noticed that Luna is even missing from your mail blog photo. Way to keep up, Luna!

  4. Chicken Emperor says:


  5. Chicken Emperor says:

    The Chicken Lady has given a wonderful verbal and photographic description of our latest NYC art adventures. Each and every piece she shows and describes is even more incredible when viewed in person, so all PolloPlayer readers should take advantage to see them that way if possible.

    By the way, the CL forgot to mention (probably because I did not tell her yet) that our day at the Met was also a day of extreme opportunity. While viewing John Singer Sargent’s sexy Madame X I was offered a chance to own this piece at a fraction of its true cost by a very well dressed gentleman representing the museum. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance and was able to wire title to both our SB and NYC homes to him. He then kindly presented me with the title to the painting. What a fool! We will resell the painting, buy even finer homes and pocket the leftover millions. I learned that NYC businessmen have a lot to learn from us SoCal types in terms of negotiating skills.

  6. phyllis gutsche says:

    What a trip and so many nice memories but I am happy you and the CE are back in the land of the fruit and nuts.

  7. Pamela Gilbert says:

    Where will you hang it? I just hope the taxes don’t eat too much into those leftover millions. Maybe some could be deferred into buying that bridge I’ve heard is for sale somewhere between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

  8. I attempted a post this afternoon from the UWS, but it doesn’t seem to have caught. No thanks to Apple, apparently. Anyhow, THANKS to PP for sharing the NYC moment that made me choke up. I have loved NYC since the ripe age of 21 when people thought (not PP) that I was on the way to looney bin, and have had MANY moments as PP has described. I love that feeling like the night/moment can never be replaced. And for THAT, I am lucky. Thanks for sharing, Nana. AKA PolloP.

    • polloplayer says:

      NYC will always be yours – lots more memories to be made there for you, regardless of any temporary zip codes:-) And THANKS to you, since none of the rest of us would likely have ended up there without your trailblazing!

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