Scottish National Portrait Gallery to reopen after major renovation

After more than two years and £17.6 million ($27.4 million), the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh will reopen on December 1.

The remodel opens up more of the Victorian building to public view, adds more than 60% to the public space, and introduces several themed galleries, including Blazing with Crimson–a collection of full-length portraits of men in kilts.

The gallery’s massive collection of portraits includes those of great statesmen, royalty, scientists, engineers, soldiers, and athletes. Special galleries look at the new face of Scotland, with one exhibit highlighting Scotland’s large Pakistani community.

Another bonus to the revamped gallery is that entrance is now free.

The gallery opened in 1889 as the first purpose-built portrait gallery. While it has always featured paintings of Scotland’s great names, it now also includes a large space devoted to photography.

This is the second major museum reopening in Edinburgh this year. The National Museum of Scotland reopened this summer after a £47.4 million ($74 million) renovation.

Photo of Robert Burns portrait courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Milwaukee Art Museum opens major exhibition on Impressionism

An exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum is looking at Impressionism in a new light.

Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper is the first major exhibition to explore the drawings of famous Impressionists. Previous exhibitions have always focused on their paintings, such as Renoir’s Bathers with Crab, which is also part of the show and appears here in this photo courtesy Moira Burke.

The famous Impressionist exhibitions in Paris between 1874 and 1886 changed European art. Not only was the style vastly different than traditional painting, but the Impressionists emphasized drawing as a medium equal to that of painting. The exhibit gathers together more than 100 drawings, watercolors, and pastels by important artists such as Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

The Milwaukee Art Museum is one of Wisconsin’s great attractions, besides all the wonderful hiking, camping, and fishing. In addition to offering major shows such as this one, it boasts a collection of more than 25,000 works of art from a variety of different movements, from German Expressionism to Haitian folk art.

Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper runs from October 14, 2011 to January 8, 2012.

Nelson-Atkins Museum unveils interactive website

The Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City has unveiled an amazing interactive website.

Called Studio 33, it’s part of an outreach effort by one of America’s leading art museums to bring in a new generation of web-savvy visitors.

Many museums are ramping up their websites. A common feature is to have images of some of the pieces in the collection with information and related links. Studio 33 does this, and also has lots of audio files and videos, including artist interviews, time-lapse films of setting up installation pieces, and behind-the-scenes talks with curators. Experts cover each section of the museum. For example, the museum’s archaeologist takes you through the ancient art collection.

One thing that makes Studio 33 stand out among museum websites, beyond the sheer scale of it all, is that you can explore the museum following three different avatars: a high school student, a docent, and a social media junkie. Each gives a different perspective tailored to a different type of visitor.

[Photo of Caravaggio’s painting of John the Baptist, which is in the Nelson-Atkins collection, courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Five overlooked art museums in Madrid

Madrid is famous for its art. The Spanish capital boasts a “Golden Triangle” of world-class museums: the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. While these are all worth a visit, Madrid has dozens of other art museums that are generally overlooked by the casual visitor. Here are five local favorites.

Museo Sorolla
The house of one of Spain’s most famous painters from the turn of the last century is preserved much the way he left it. The Museo Sorolla is an elegant old mansion with a quiet Moorish courtyard. The walls of the high-ceilinged rooms are covered in the paintings of Joaquín Sorolla Bastida, a prolific painter who favored sunny beach scenes like the one shown here. As interesting as the paintings are the many antiques he collected and knickknacks from his daily life, like a palette covered in colors next to a shelf stuffed with used tubes of paint. Looking at little details like this, you feel like Sorolla has just stepped out for a coffee.

%Gallery-127477%Museo del Romanticismo
Visit a mansion built in 1776 to see how rich folks lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the Museo del Romanticismo the ballroom, dining room, bedroom, and nursery are all fitted up with period furnishings. There’s even a velvet commode. The furnishings and artwork are all good examples of Romanticism, an art movement that was hugely influential at the time because it reacted against industrialization and science and hearkened back to a simpler age. Nostalgia is nothing new! The paintings often show Arcadian scenes or the exploits of famous adventurers. The collection of personal objects includes a bit too much lace and porcelain for my taste, but my wife loved this place.

Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando
The Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando is a Madrid institution. Founded in 1744, it’s still teaching aspiring artists today. It’s housed in a grandiose Baroque palace and has an impressive permanent collection of Renaissance and early modern art, including works by Francisco de Goya, who used to be the academy’s director. The ground floor has a temporary exhibition space that attracts small but interesting shows. I saw an amazing exhibition on Ottoman calligraphy there once. Not what I was expecting but good on the eyes!

El Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
Not technically an art museum, “The Monastery of the Barefoot Royals” houses a large collection of religious art. These nuns went barefoot as penance for their sins, but they lived well in other ways. First off, they were daughters of noblemen, so they came to the order with their dowries. This often included fine art. Since they’d been given a 16th century royal palace to live in, there was plenty of room to decorate. Check out the soaring church, fine tapestries, and even some religious relics such as a portion of the True Cross. This is still an active nunnery so dress respectably.

Museo Lázaro Galdiano
Another house museum like the Museo Sorolla, the Fundación Lázaro Galdiano has recently reopened after a long renovation. It’s a beautiful palace along Calle Serrano in Madrid’s poshest district. Galdiano was a millionaire and one of Spain’s most passionate collectors of art. When he died in 1947 his collection was turned into a museum. It’s especially strong in Old Master paintings, so if you didn’t get enough of that at the Golden Triangle, here’s your chance to see more. Plenty of Romanticism too, if visiting the Museo del Romanticismo left you wanting more of that too.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Italian art in London

One of the best collections of Italian art in the world can be found in an unlikely place: a quiet street in the London borough of Islington.

The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art is housed in an elegant Georgian mansion and boasts a comprehensive collection of Italian Futurist paintings. Futurism was a style born out of the havoc of industrialization and the carnage of World War One. It emphasized the speed and technological advance of modern society.

Typical of this style is Umberto Boccio’s The City Rises, shown here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. This totally blew me away when I saw it at a special Futurist exhibition at the Estorick a few years ago. The people and buildings seem to be swept along by a windstorm of colored motion. It’s currently at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Other paintings show Futurism’s trading ideas with Cubism, like Gino Severini’s Portrait of Eric Estorick, the museum’s founder. It’s more a study of angles and shading than an actual image of a man.

It’s not all Futurism here and the current exhibition, United Artists of Italy, is a collection of photographs of leading Italian artists. You can also get a taste of Italy at the cafe, where they serve up excellent cappuccinos (hard to find in London) and snacks.