The Walters Art Museum in Balitmore was a short walk from the NCPH conference hotel and was free, so I made an effort to take a walk over there one evening. The building itself is architecturally beautiful and the museum is well know for it’s collection of European artwork. The material on display during my visit included a lot of religious artwork, European and Asian, artwork, as well as design artwork.
There were two exhibits that I found particularly interesting at the Walters. The first was the From Rye to Raphael: The Walters Story exhibition which highlights the role of the Walters family in amassing the core art collection of the Museum. The exhibition was an interesting mixture of family photographs, artwork of numerous mediums, and explanations of the how the Walters family obtained certain items. I particularly liked the emphasis on how the collection developed – we often don’t think about the donors behind museum items but their history is crucial to understanding the provenance of items and creating a complete narrative. The artwork in this exhibition was largely European with some interesting textile works, but for me it took second place to the historical family narrative of the exhibition.
The second exhibition that I really enjoyed at the Walters was the Madame de Pompadour, Patron and Printmaker exhibition. Okay, I admit the first thought I had when I saw Madame de Pompadour’s name was about the “Girl in the Fireplace” episode of Doctor Who. Once I got over that particular train of thought, I really enjoyed the selections from Madame de Pompadour Suite of Prints which were featured in this exhibition. The Suite of Prints first edition held by the Walters includes a set of etchings created by the royal mistress in the 1750s. Fewer than 20 of these suites were made overall and the Walters has the only full remaining copy, which was also Madame de Pompadour’s personal copy.
The exhibition included etchings created by Pompadour of gems that were carved by Jacques Guay. These gems included carved images of French culture and portraits of royalty. I found the explanation of how etchings were created from the gems, the print making process, and the preservation of carvings in gems particularly interesting. The etchings were complimented by additional items that reflected Pompadour’s wider interest in arts including paintings, tapestries, and porcelains.
I really enjoyed my evening at the Walters and would recommend it to anyone visiting Baltimore who is interested in art, history, and culture more broadly.