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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.