You don't necessarily need to go into a big city to get the big city experience - at least not when it comes to culture, at least not when you live in Connecticut. New Haven, with great thanks to Yale University boast two incredibly impressive museums, both located directly across the street from one another. The Yale Museum of British Art, newly re-opened after a many year intense restoration project, boasts the singularly largest collection of British Art outside of the United Kingdom.
Unlike most world-class museum, the Center is free and open to the public. Now, who says the best things in life aren't free?!
To say the museum is impressive almost seems unjust. While I would never claim to be an authority on museums, having been to many of the world's most famous museums, I was was completely blown away by the breadth and size and the sheer number of artists represented.
Having lived in and studied Art History in England, I had been wanting to visit since I heard of its opening recently. I met my parents in New Haven earlier this week to celebrate my Birthday. They were as eager as I was to pay a visit to the newly re-opened museum.
Presented to the University by Paul Mellon (Class of 1929) the museum's collection of paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, rare books, and manuscripts are representative of British art from the Elizabethan Era through modern times. World-renown, the center offers exhibitions and programs - lectures, concerts, films and family days. The Center first opened to the public in 1977. Designed by Louis I Kahn, the building itself is an architectural marvel. In May of 2016 the museum reopened after many years of conservation and re-imagination.
Paul Mellon (1907-1999) studied at Cambridge University upon completion of his studies at Yale. While in school at Cambridge he developed a passion for the equestrian arts, mostly fox-hunting. But his love of British culture stemmed from his childhood summers in the English Countryside. As his interests expanded he began his acquisitions of rare British sporting books and manuscripts. Long before he purchased his first painting he was on his way to becoming a serious book collector.
By the mid 1960s Mr. Mellon's collection of British Art was unparalleled - referred to as encyclopedic. In 1966 he donated his collection, including approximately 35,000 rare books and manuscripts. Furthermore he provided the funds to build a structure to house the works as well as an endowment to sustain the collection. But the donations were not just to Yale. He created the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London. Paul Mellon carried on his father's wishes to establish and provide an endowment for The National Gallery which was complete after Andrew Mellon's death. The senior Mellon believed that the United States deserved to have its own national gallery.
The artists represented at The Yale Museum of British Art include: John Constable, Joseph Mallord William Turner, Alfred William Hunt, James McNeill Whistler, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, John Robert, Cozens, George Stubbs, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, Richard Parkes Bonington, John Everett Millais, Wyndham Lewis, Sir Peter Paul Reubens.
The Yale Center for British Art could easily be mistaken for the National Gallery in London - the collection is that impressive.
Louis Isadore Kahn (American, 1901–1974) is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential architects of the twentieth century. Kahn was responsible for the museum's architecture, as well as The Yale University Art Gallery (which is equally as impressive in its own right) which is just across the street.
Kahn emigrated from Estonia to the United States with his family at age four, and became a naturalized citizen in 1914. A gifted artist, he forewent a merit scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Trained in a rigorous Beaux-Arts tradition, with a heavy emphasis on drawing, Kahn earned his Bachelor of Architecture in 1924.
Kahn’s architecture is noted for its simple geometric forms and complex play between natural light and materials. Kahn’s first significant commission was the Yale University Art Gallery; completed in 1953, it was the first modernist structure at Yale and the first museum to incorporate retail shops into its design. The building was constructed of masonry, concrete, glass, and steel, and featured innovative engineering such as the tetrahedral ceiling and cylindrical staircase.
Across the street from the Yale University Art Gallery stands Kahn’s final building, the Yale Center for British Art, which was completed after his death and opened to the public in 1977. The Center’s geometric plan, intimate spaces, and skylit galleries provide a simple yet dignified environment for viewing works of art. While the exterior of matte steel and reflective glass confer a monumental presence in downtown New Haven, the Center’s galleries are comprised of a restrained palette of travertine, marble, white oak, and Belgian linen.
Five of Kahn’s buildings have received the prestigious AIA Twenty-five Year Award, which honors architectural landmarks of enduring significance completed within the previous twenty-five to thirty-five years that have withstood the test of time: the Yale University Art Gallery, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Phillips Exeter Academy Library, the Kimbell Art Museum, and the Yale Center for British Art.
The Long Gallery on the fourth floor was restored to the original conception of the space as a study gallery, as formulated by the Center’s founding director, Jules Prown, and as designed by architect Louis I. Kahn. The space comprises an elegant sweep of seven bays in which more than two hundred works represent ensembles of subjects including beaches and coastlines, the British Empire, the British theater, “chaos and conviviality,” families, gardens, “the horse and sporting art,” “into the woods,” marine painting, portraits of artists, species and specimen, war and the military, and “women of distinction.” The addition of a much-needed Collections Seminar Room at the end of the Long Gallery allows faculty and students to request an up-close examination of paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings that are not currently on display.
You'll notice as you peruse the Long Gallery, two things. First you'll notice the absence of information. There are no museum labels in this section. You can, however, log onto the museum's website and download all the information on to your iPhone or iPad. For those who don't have such, as my parents - or prefer not to, there are plenty of notebooks located on the generously provided seating, through which you can peruse and read up on your favorite artists or paintings in each section of the gallery.
The other thing you'll notice is the unique placement of the paintings - in gallery form, but they extend all the way to the floor, something that is unheard of as most worry about people banging into and damaging the paintings. In the center, strategically placed on tables are assorted bronzes, busts and statues.
In the gallery you'll noticed the paintings grouped by subject as opposed to style. Here works of all eras are grouped together.
The current exhibition, Modernism and Memory: Rhoda Pritzker and the Art of Collecting, further diversifies the museum's collections.
Rhoda Pritzker (1914–2007) born in Manchester, England, was a journalist and short story writer who immigrated to America in 1940. Marrying into a Chicago-based family of financiers and philanthropists, she became an important philanthropist in her own right, supporting education, the arts, and animal rights. As a collector, she never lost touch with her British roots, assembling a singular collection of twentieth-century paintings and sculpture, much of which has been given to the Yale Center for British Art by the Libra Foundation of the family of Susan and Nicholas Pritzker. Featuring over one hundred works of art, Modernism and Memory showcases Rhoda Pritzker’s intensely personal collection displayed alongside more than fifty related objects from the Center. This exhibition aims to offer a richer understanding of Pritzker’s collecting style while highlighting developments in the work of notable modern British artists.
Rhoda Pritzker collected most actively in the 1950s. Loyal to no school and admiring both abstraction and representation, she acquired important works by such artists as Prunella Clough, Alan Davie, Ivon Hitchens, William Turnbull, and Keith Vaughan. She also enjoyed a close friendship with the combative artist Michael Ayrton, resulting in the acquisition of a number of paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. Her collection of mostly small-scale sculptures included works by major artists such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth but also early works by sculptors who would achieve international recognition, including Kenneth Armitage, Bernard Meadows, Reg Butler, Anthony Caro, and Eduardo Paolozzi.
This is a bit how I felt after viewing the museum! And I am quite sure I missed some, so I will have to return again shortly. With so much to offer, the Museum should be a must on everyone's list. There's plenty for everyone including children. For more information visit the museum's website. You'll no doubt be famished when you're done.
New Haven boasts some fabulous restaurants all within a very short walk from the two museums.