06 June 2012

Mrs. Parker Goes to Washington

The Capitol Dome.

Last weekend I headed down to Washington, DC to visit some dear friends from grad school. And oh what a beautiful weekend it was. After torrential rains the day before, the skies were blue and the air was dry for my entire visit so we spent a lot of the time outdoors.

The artillery section of the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial.

The U.S. Botanical Garden.

Inside the conservatory.

Just one of the many orchids on display.

Ducks in the pond!

Roses in the park.

Saturday, after checking out the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, we headed over to the U.S. Botanical Garden. Inside the large conservatory we saw plants from around the country and a special exhibit on carnivorous plants. Most impressive was the section on orchids. Outside we strolled through the adjoining National Garden and Bartholdi Park where a mama duck and her growing babies were hanging out in a small pond while the roses nearby perfumed the air.

The National Cathedral.

A brilliant blue sky.

A detail from one of the Cathedral gates.

The Bishop's Garden.

Lush Magnolias in the garden.

That afternoon we trekked up to the National Cathedral. Although still showing damage from last year’s earthquake, it’s an incredibly impressive building complete with gargoyles and stained glass windows that add a touch of the Gothic to the city. We tried to spot the Darth Vader gargoyle (unfortunately you need binoculars) before walking through the grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. The Bishop’s Garden with its stone paths, rose and herb gardens, and benches made for sitting with a book was perfectly lovely.

After a leisurely brunch on Sunday, we decided to visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Located in a pretty Renaissance Revival style building, it’s a perfect sized museum to wile away a few hours.

"Melancholy" Constance Marie Charpentier (1801)

On view was Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections.” Charting the history of French women artists from the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to the restoration of the monarchy (with the revolution and Napoleon in-between), the exhibit is a fascinating insight into the challenges women artists faced at the time. Many came from aristocratic or artistic families who had to use their connections to get them into schools where they were not given the same instruction as their male counterparts (for example, women were not allowed to sketch nude models). And most had to fight to be recognized as artists. Prior to the Revolution, the prestigious French Academy only accepted four women. After the Revolution, women's rights disappeared (so much for égalité) and their number at the Academy dropped to zero.

"Portrait of a Woman" Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1787)

Although the majority of the exhibit is comprised of paintings, one of my favourite pieces was a letter opener (I thought it was a dagger at first glance) by Félicie de Fauveau depicting Romeo climbing up to Juliet on her balcony. I also quite liked Adélaïde Labille-Guiard's "Portrait of a Woman." Although a supporter of the Revolution, she was a painter of Royal portraits and was asked to destroy some of her work, which must have been devastating. 

With a few exceptions, like Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun, a favourite of Marie Antoinette, most of the 35 artists in the exhibit are largely unknown and this exhibit is the first time that many of their work has been seen outside France. That alone made the exhibit worth viewing. Royalists to Romantics" runs until July 29, 2012. For more information, visit the museum's website here.

That evening I was on the train back to New York, tired and a bit red from the sun. I'm already looking forward to my next visit.

All photos, except for the ones of the paintings, by Michele.

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