Yesterday, PJ and I drove over to Cincinnati to hang out with our friend James, who was attending the North American Conference on British Studies. While there, we visited the Taft Museum of Art, pictured here.

The Taft Museum was founded by Anna Sinton Taft, who, according to the museum’s website, “lived in the mansion with her husband Charles Phelps Taft from 1873 until their respective deaths in 1931 and 1929.”

PJ and I have developed quite a fondness for house museums. In the past couple of years we have visited the Frick Collection, the Morgan Library and Museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Sir John Soane’s Museum. There’s something both fascinating and garish about the wealth that enabled these people to amass such collections. We feel both grateful to them and kind of grossed out by them. (At least I feel that way — I don’t want to speak for PJ.)

I’ll write about a few of my favorite works in the Taft Museum after the break ….

My favorite painting in the collection was J.M.W. Turner’s “Europa and the Bull,” a magnificent take on the classical myth of the woman abducted by Zeus. Paintings and other representations of this myth are often called “The Rape of Europa.” (Since this image is rather small, here’s a link to a larger version.)

I really like how this painting reduces Europa and the bull to just a swill of white paint disappearing into the blue of the ocean. There’s a dynamism and energy to this painting that I love. PJ and I went to an exhibition of Turner’s watercolors in 2007. I blogged about it here. This painting is very much in keeping with those works.

I also really liked this John Singer Sargent portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island, among other works. What I like about this portrait is Stevenson’s seeming modernity in it. I sometimes feel that nineteenth-century writers come across as so foreign in portraits. This writer looks like he could easily be alive today. Here’s a better reproduction, along with the blogger’s brief commentary about the painting.

My favorite painting in the collection was “Sewing School at Katwijk” by Jozef Israel. Unfortunately, the museum’s website doesn’t have a digital image of this work. It depicts a group of women sewing. While they dominate the image, the centerpiece is a cat who is sleeping near their feet. It’s a great cat painting!

The museum currently features a special exhibit called “Views from the Uffizi,” 40 paintings of Italian landscapes. Among my favorite works in this exhibit were Giambattista Bassi’s “Ruins of Palestine” (1830) and Carlo Ferrari’s “Piazza della Erbe in Verona” (1861). Both are striking in the level of detail they achieve. This exhibit definitely made up want to visit Italy, perhaps as early as next summer.

Overall, the Taft Museum of Art has a strong collection. It’s very heavy on Limoges porcelains, so if you like that sort of thing, this is the place to go. It only cost $13 to see both the special exhibit and the regular collections, neither of which were very large, but I felt that I go my money’s worth. I definitely recommend a visit.

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