Late last week, PJ and I drove up to Rochester, Michigan. I gave a paper at the International Conference on Romanticism, which seemed to go well. I certainly accomplished what I had hoped to accomplish with the paper. And I’m looking forward to completing work on the article-length version of the paper and submitting it for publication soon. Since PJ lived up there during the year before he joined me in Ohio, he was also interested in seeing his former home and colleagues.

While we were there, we also visited the Detroit Institute of Arts, which is a great museum in downtown Detroit near the Wayne State University campus. The first thing we saw at the museum was the Monet to Dali special exhibit. It took PJ only a few minutes to recognize that the works in this collection seemed familiar and why: they are from the Cleveland Museum of Art, which has loaned out the exhibit while it completes its remodelling.

Despite our having already seen this collection, we nevertheless enjoyed seeing them again. I especially like Édouard Vuillard‘s painting “Cafe Wepler:”

I can especially relate to this painting now that I’ve been to Paris. This work reminds me of the lazy hustle and bustle (if that’s not too paradoxical a concept) of a Parisian cafe in the late afternoon. I also love the color contrasts in this painting, the golden yellows of the walls and ceiling with the reds, whites, and blacks, of the interior and floor. It probably goes without saying, though I’ll say it anyway, but the painting looks even more alive and vibrant in person.

The Institute’s regular collection is both massive and interesting. It has a large collection of European paintings and sculpture. It also has strong collections in American and African art. One of the paintings I really enjoyed was “Portrait of a Woman” by Edgar Degas.

This portrait was painted in 1877. I love the use of shading on the woman’s face, though I’m not entirely sure why this aspect of the work appeals to me so much. As soon as I saw it hanging in the gallery, I was attracted to it. Maybe it’s because it gives this woman a look of seriousness, of world-weariness. Is she mourning? How old is she? I also love the explosion of white flowers behind her head. Maybe it’s a contrast between life and death, joy and mourning. Whatever it’s about, I love this painting.

Another work I was really drawn to is this standing bowl.

It stands in a display case in a room that acts as a connector between different parts of the galleries on that floor, so I ended up passing it about three times. I don’t usually care much for decorative objects, but this bowl’s birds stood out to me. I love the contrast between the tiny little bird beaks and the bowl that they’re holding. Obviously, the birds bodies are also attached to the bowl, but you have to look twice to see that. I like the initial impression that these birds are holding the bowl with just their beaks.

And finally, one other painting that I really liked was Frank Weston Benson’s “My Daughter Elisabeth,” an early twentieth-century portray of the painter’s daughter.

The little description on the wall next to the painting emphasized the play with light against the woman’s hat. It even goes so far as to ask, “Is this a portrait at all?” I thought that question was kind of stupid — of course it’s a portrait — but I did appreciate the sentiment about Benson’s examination of light in this work. For me, that contrast is most noticeable with the burgundy sweater/jacket over the white summer dress. It’s really the sweater/jacket that makes this painting about light and spring/summer for me. It’s a beautiful work.

There were several other works that I really enjoyed at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I highly recommend a visit to this museum. It’s rather large, and anyone who is even just remotely interested in art will find themselves happily lost there for at least a few hours.