Thursday 11th October
We woke up, with rain and thunderstorms scheduled for pretty much the whole day. We dragged ourselves up, at this point we were absolutely knackered. We had breakfast and caught the subway to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We lined up in the queue, along with lots of others whilst the heavens opened. Rain macs on and huddling under one umbrella, we eventually made it inside, and not too wet!
The museum was huge! So obscenely big, I thought our museums in London were big. After my success in map reading, I thought I’d give the museum map ago, but ended up getting more and more confused so we just wondered around. It was mainly the painting, photography and printmaking that interested me. We saw works by Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Jackson Pollock, Delacroix to name a few. It reminded me of the studies I made of these artists at school.
My favourite painting was, The Cathedrals of Art, 1942 by Florine Stettheimer. Oil on Canvas. This had lovely soft pastel pink and balmy yellow shades, a nice contrast on a rainy, grey day.
“In the series of four monumental paintings executed between 1929 and 1942, Stettheimer created extraordinary composite visions of New York’s economic, social, and cultural institutions. The Cathedrals of Art is a fantastical portrait of the New York art world. Microcosms of three of the city’s major museums and their collections are watched over by their directors: the Museum of Modern Art (upper left), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (center), and the Whitney Museum of American Art (upper right). A gathering of art critics, dealers, and photographers of the day, including Stettheimer herself (lower right), appears around the Metropolitan’s grand staircase.”
After the Met, I headed up the road to the Neue Galerie, to see Gustav Klimt’s Woman in Gold. Whilst I went visited the gallery, mum, dad and Laura sat on a bench on their raincoats in Central Park.
After studying him at school, and watching the film I couldn’t not go and see it in the flesh. It really was as incredible as I thought it would be. So much history behind the painting, which also fascinated me. I absolutely loved the film and the painting.
‘Gustav Klimt’s first portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer had initially been intended as a wedding anniversary present for her parents. He was notoriously slow at completing his portraits and it became clear that the intended gift would not be completed in time. He began work on the painting in 1903. In December of that year Klimt visited the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, where he greatly admired the sixth century Byzantine mosaics. This portrait, completed in 1907, is his masterwork in that style.
Klimt presents Adele in an ambiguous position. It is unclear if she is standing or seated in an armchair that is covered in sinuous spirals. A golden and highly ornate halo surrounds her face. Her flushed cheeks and vivid red lips convey the sensuality of the woman behind the portrait. Adele’s hands are clasped together in an unusual fashion to mask a disfigured finger about which she was extremely self-conscious.
Adele Bloch-Bauer is bedecked in precious jewelry, including a diamond choker, which had been a wedding present from her husband Ferdinand. (When the Nazis seizes the Bloch-Bauer collection, this stunning necklace ended up in the possession of notorious Nazi Leader Hermann Göring.) the form-fitting sheath she wears is adorned with all-seeing eye motifs set with golden triangles. The diaphanous clock that surrounds her is stuffed with her initials ‘AB’ raised in low relief. The black and white trim at the lower left edge recalls decorative elements on pieces of furniture from Klimt’s studio that were fabricated by the Wiener Werkstätte. The portrait has been called the greatest in the artist’s ‘golden style’.
When the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938 the Bloch-Bauer assets were seized and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer was forced to flee the country to Switzerland. After futile attempts to recover his property, Ferdinand indicated in his final will that he wished to bequeath his entire estate, including his five Klimt paintings to his nephew and two nieces, on of whom was Maria Altmann.
In 1938, Maria Altmann herself fled Austria with her husband and settled in California. For 60 years, she lived and worked there, with little chance of reclaiming her family legacy. However in 1998, following the public release of documents showing that Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer did not intend for the Belvedere in Vienna to be the repository for the five Klimt paintings in his collection, Maria Altmann requested the return of these works under the Art-Restitution law. Her claim was reverted by the Austrian government. She then filed suit in California, in a case that was eventually brought before the United States Supreme Court.
Finally the Austrian Government and Ms. Altmann agreed to binding arbitration. She was represented by the American lawyer Randol Shoenberg. In 2005, the panel hearing the case determined that the five Klimt paintings were legally bound to be returned to the Bloch-Bauer heirs. At that point, the Neue Galerie President and Co-Founder, Ronald S. Lauder, purchased Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I for the Neue Galerie, where it is the centrepiece of the collection. We remain indebted to the late Ms. Altmann and her family for arranging the acquisition of this masterwork by the Neue Galerie.’
We then mustered the energy to head to Bloomingdales. With frizzy, wet hair and a spotty rain mac, I felt a bit out of place here, in a posh department store. We wondered around and then decided to catch the subway to Grand Central Station. We arrived and were confused at which exit to take, so had to take a mad dash in the pouring rain across the street. I was hoping, after this that it would be worth it.
We have some pretty beautiful stations in London, but this was stunning. Painted ceilings, big arched windows and grand architecture. I can confirm, it was worth getting absolutely soaked. We then caught the subway for the last time to a small little Italian restaurant, just down the road from our hotel. The staff were wonderfully charming, chatty and funny. I had parpadelle with bolognese, homemade tiramisu and finished off the holiday with an espresso martini. A lovely last supper. We had a short walk back to the hotel in the rain and enjoyed a fairly early night.
Friday 12th October
We checked out of our hotel and spent the last few hours heading to 34th street to visit Macy’s. This was more within our budget compared to Bloomingdales. On the way we saw some amazing street artists.
After a quick browse we headed back to Washington Square and stopped at the donut pub. We picked up a box of donuts that we really didn’t need but we couldn’t come to New York and not try one, plus we had racked up a few more steps before our flight.
We sat in Washington Park and enjoyed the donuts. My favourite was the Boston Creme. Custard filled with a chocolate glaze. Yummy! After relaxing in the park we picked up our bags and caught a taxi to the airport. The traffic was gridlocked and slow the entire way. I was panicking, as per usual that we wouldn’t make it (fully knowing we would) but an anxious mind can’t help it. Our taxi driver was clearly tired as he kept splashing his face with water and his eyes kept closing! To our relief, we made it. We dropped off our bags and boarded our flight. We arrived back to Heathrow ahead of time on Saturday morning, due to the winds.
Our little adventure finally came to an end after two amazing weeks and we enjoyed every minute. Here’s to planning the next big adventure.