Over fall break, my friends and I took a quick two-day trip to Washington, D.C. None of us had ventured away from Baltimore since we had moved in in August, so this excursion felt long overdue. While I’ve seen many aspects of D.C., I had never before been to the two museums that I thought were worth the blisters my Doc Martens gave me on the walk over: the National Gallery of Art and the National Portrait Gallery.
The day started off with a short train ride and then a long journey to the National Gallery of Art due to confusing closed entrances. We never figured out why the entryway was closed, just that we weren’t allowed in through the exit, unlike the elementary students that we lingered behind. Eventually, we did find the proper, unblocked entrance right across the street.
It was now to dive into the museum. We first explored the main floor of the National Gallery of Art, which held a wide array of sculptures, medals and plaquettes from the 13th–16th century. France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United States all have art represented in these exhibits.
Many of the sculptures were made of marble, bronze or terracotta. All of these materials displayed beautiful pieces, including A Man in Armor, which was made from painted and gilded terracotta, and Cupid on a Dolphin, which was made from gilded bronze. After spending minutes and minutes observing the sculptures (and getting lost in the museum), we made our way through the painting galleries. American still life paintings, 19th century American paintings and impressionism were all explored.
Many of these paintings were encompassed by intricately crafted, golden frames. The texture of the paintings was often very vivid, as many paintings did not have glass protection disrupting their detail. Brush strokes could be seen as I got as close as possible to the paintings without being yelled at by security guards (which only happened twice).
Many of the paintings were oil on canvas or oil on wood. My favorite piece on this floor was The Railway, an oil on canvas painting done by Édouard Manet in 1873. Honorable mentions include The Old Violin by William Michael Harnett and the Lumber Schooners at Evening on Penobscot Bay by Fitz Henry Lane. Each of these is a painting of different subjects: people, objects and landscapes.
The overall atmosphere of the National Gallery of Art was much louder than I had expected. There weren’t many pretentious art critics around, nor tour groups bumbling about. Instead, I saw many families together and art observers that engaged in conversations with us about how the portrait of Miss Beatrice Townsend’s eyes follow you.
Go visit the National Gallery of Art. You won’t experience judgment for fast walking through halls, and someone will gladly take a picture of you and all your friends sitting on the couch that rests in the middle of the exhibit.
The second museum we visited was the National Portrait Gallery, which holds, yes, portraits! My favorite form of artwork is portraits, so I was beyond excited to go here, and my expectations were exceeded. Some of my favorite pieces included: Angel by Abbott Handerson Thayer, The Necklace by Thomas Wilmer Dewing and Franklin D. Roosevelt by Douglas Chandor.
The best portraits were those in The Outwin 2022 exhibit, which held a variety of photographed, painted and drawn portraits. The work of art that stuck with me throughout the day was Killed Negative #13 by Joel Daniel Phillips. It was different from all the rest and held an emotion like no other.
The vibe of the portrait gallery was much different from the National Gallery of Art. It was quiet and thoughtful in the portrait gallery, perhaps from trying to figure out the emotions of the faces that were permanently etched onto canvases.
Venture away from campus, away from Baltimore and away from your hometown next break period. Go to D.C., visit some museums and look at some art. It’ll be worth the painful train ride next to some lady that takes the quiet car a little too seriously.