While in Portland for the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Conference, I took an afternoon off to visit the Portland Art Museum with my friends James and Nicole. As part of the conference, we were able to get into the museum for free. After eating lunch in the museum cafe, where I had a great tomato and cheese panini with a cup of roasted squash soup, we spent about an hour and a half walking around the museum’s exhibits.

As usual, I’ll spend this post rambling about my favorite works from the museum. The first is Jean Baptiste Greuze’s “The Drunken Cobbler:”

The Drunken Cobbler

I particularly like this painting’s use of light and color. While the eye is obviously drawn to the central action, I also like the details on the various pieces of woodwork. Not surprisingly, given my tastes and scholarly interests “The Drunken Cobbler” is an eighteenth-century painting. The museum notes that this is one of the most important works housed in the Portland Art Museum.

I also liked Gustave Courbet’s 1847 work “The Violincellist,” a very different work:

The Violincellist

I like this painting’s dark passion. While the overall image is so dark, the light on the musician’s face and hands illuminates his passion. It’s an extremely moving work of art.

Seventeenth-century Spanish painting. The Portland Art Museum has a great painting by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, “The Virgin of Balen:”

Virgin of Balen

I had to scan this image from a postcard, which is why it looks so bad. The description of the painting points out that Murillo changed it. An x-ray scan shows that the Virgin’s hands originally showed her thumbs, but Murillo later covered them.The museum was also showing a special exhibit called “The Dancer,” which features images of dancers created by Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931), and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). None of us had ever heard of Forain, so perhaps it’s not surprising that we each found his work to be the most interesting. My favorite of his works in the exhibition is called “Behind the Scenes:”

Behind the Scenes

This painting’s use of color and light/darkness is wonderful. I love the way the man blends into the darkness around him. Forain’s project, at least in part, is to show the predatory nature of the men who owned and controlled the theaters. His works therefore show these men’s sexual dominance of the women they employ. This painting illustrates this project beautifully — in both the sense that it is beautiful and that it shows his point extremely well.

There were lots of other works I also liked, including William Trost Richards’s “Marine,” Thomas Sully’s Portrait of Edward Livingston, Sir Henry Raeburn’s portrait of Sir James Macartney,” and Julian Alden Weir’s “The Black Hat.”

Overall, I thought the museum had a solid, if relatively modest collection. The special exhibit was fantastic. I definitely recommend a visit to the Portland Art Museum.

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