Celebrations North and South
Breathes there the man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, "This is my own, my native land"? asked Walter Scott in one of his most memorable poems. Both Canada and the United States celebrate their native land and their nationhood during the first few days of July. One can count on cookouts and picnics, flea markets, speeches and fireworks, military bands and serenades, athletic competitions and beauty contests, all easily accessible wherever you are located on this vast continent.
But where can art lovers go to feel either sentimental or ennobled by viewing a selection of paintings and sculptures commemorating the spirit that made their country great? You could, if you were lucky enough to live in a major metropolitan area, visit one of the museums loaded with such treasures - assuming it was open.
For the rest of us, TGFI (thank god for the internet). Whether you are a novice art lover or a veteran museumgoer, the Internet is full of stunning online exhibits celebrating our common history and our unique differences. Ultimately all patriotism comes to down this. In the words of Robert Frost, We were the land, before the land was ours.
Here are just a few suggestions of the places you can go online to be breathe some of that patriotic air.
1. Metropolitan Museum of Art
While the hottest attraction at the Met right now is the Jacqueline Kennedy exhibit with line-ups around the block, the online version is easily accessible from home for the millions who can't seem to ever get enough of Camelot. To begin with, fifteen of the First Lady's astonishingly elegant evening gowns and dresses, suits, coats and hats are on view. You can zoom in on these creations by her favorite couturier Oleg Cassini, as well as by Chanel, Dior and Givenchy, and enjoy them in ravishing detail. Perhaps as a response to criticism about the skimpiness of the selection from the First Lady's travel albums (only a few black and white photos are online), the Met has recently added some great color before-and-after photos of the White House restoration which Jackie supervised during the Kennedy Presidency.
Besides Jackie, the Met website offers many other American beauties. Who would have expected a Virtual Reality Tour of the American Wing offering the visitor an opportunity to experience the way interiors were furnished and decorated from colonial times to the beginning of WWI? Plus a selection of 50 major paintings from the American Collection and a superb Jackson Pollock from the Modern Art collection. And if you click on Explore & Learn (the Met's education section), you will find a treasure trove of archived exhibits ranging from American Folk Art to John Singleton Copley, Emmauel Gotlieb Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Mary Cassett and more.
2. National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
A new online tour, "10 Themes in American Art," may be the best place to equip yourself for your odyssey through the American story. Some of the themes include history painting, portraiture, everyday life, marine and landscape painting, and abstraction. As always the National gets to the essence of these subjects with a minimum of art history jargon. Three of the greatest American postwar painters have detailed discussions: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Jasper Johns (incidentally, I learned more from the Pollock website than from the recent Hollywood movie).
The National has one of the greatest collections of American Folk Art accessible online. The NGA has also established a section aimed at kids which is worth exploring with your children - especially the feature based on Copley's Watson and the Shark.
3. Whitney Museum of American Art
The website for The American Century is still online. If you missed this landmark exhibit or wish to recapture the excitement click here. This is the place to view some of the great achievements of American art in the context of 20th Century history. Be sure you download all the required plugins and such if you want access to the full experience. Also you can tour the Whitney Permanent collection online with an audio commentary on 27 works by Maxwell Anderson, the current director (see American Voices).
4. Virtual Museum of Canada
This new website sponsored by the Canadian Government promises state of the art access to Canadian Museums of every kind. Right now you should be able to access The North American Landscape in Art a joint collaborations between Canada, United States and Mexico which contains a wealth of great landscape art, history, quizzes and related material.
5. The Canadian War Museum
Finally, the magnificent collection of 20th century War paintings is accessible online and will soon be sent on tour through Canada. The Canvas of War exhibit is a terrific collection of paintings commissioned by the Government during both World Wars.
6. National Gallery of Canada
If you don't know anything about the greatest painters Canada has yet produced, the National still offers a great the virtual tour on the Group of Seven narrated by Peter Gzowski. Or if you already love these paintings and just want to feast you're eyes on some of the highest quality reproductions available on the net of these always starting masterpieces, enter the Cybermuse section (password required) Where you can find a virtual history of Canadian painting, with artists biographies and quick time movie. While there you can view the single greatest historical painting in Canada about Canada (by Benjamin West, an expatriate American who became the head of the Royal Academy in England): The Death of General Wolfe.
7. Finally, check out the work of Jacob Lawrence, the too little known African-American painter who chronicled the long and sometimes tragic sometimes comic migration of the American Negro from slavery to freedom. I think Lawrence's Migration series is one of the 20th century's authentic masterpieces. The Washington Post has a special feature on Jacob Lawrence right now, which gives a taste of what this man's work is all about. You can find much more information about him via our Jacob Lawrence page.
This article is copyright 2001 by Joseph Phelan. Please do not republish any portion of this article without written permission.
Joseph Phelan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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