May in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The temperatures were in the 80s, but the wind was so vigorous and dry that it felt much cooler. My mission was to observe the uncrating and hanging of the Mead’s precious Monet painting, Morning on the Seine, Giverny, which is part of an exciting exhibition called Monet and the Seine: Impressions of a River at the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
I arrived in the morning with the courier from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. We were among the first to have our paintings placed on the wall. Usually a courier doesn’t get to see the finished product. But this time, I watched while staff at the Philbrook carefully unpacked the painting and installed it masterfully in no time.
The MFA Boston Monet was hung next to the Mead’s. I was quite impressed with the space separating the paintings, so impressed that I wrote down the measurements: 4 feet, 6 inches. This seemed genius to me. No doubt there would be crowds, and each painting is given almost 9 feet of linear wall space to allow for a moment of singular contemplation.
Some background about the exhibition might be enlightening. The exhibition at the Philbrook specifically focused on Monet’s Mornings on the Seine series. This group of 28 paintings had been exhibited only once before — by Monet in June of 1898. Although the original exhibition was critically acclaimed, the Mornings series was never shown together again. Thanks to the Philbrook and the MFA Houston, 16 of the original masterpieces from all over the world were brought together once again.
After our Monet was safe and secure on the wall, I was able to tour the Philbrook. I had no idea that such a gem existed in Tulsa. Do not pass up a chance to visit this art museum. The spectacular gardens aside, they have strong European, American, and Native American collections. I fell in love with three paintings.
Vittore Carpaccio’s St. Stephen, from ca. 1514. I love the rocks glued to his head and shoulder (see detail).
Thomas Moran’s awesome Grand Canyon from 1907. He left no color off the canvas.
And Beatrice, ca. 1905, by Byam Shaw. No photo I could take would do this Pre-Raphaelite–inspired painting justice. For me, the actual mother of pearl, gold, gesso, and beads that decorate the surface are entrancing, but the architectural frame won me over from fifty feet away.
An honorable mention was the companion painting to St. Stephen: Carpaccio’s St. Peter Martyr of Verona (ca. 1505–1514). How could anyone not appreciate the skillful placement of daggers, the symbol of his martyrdom?
Written by Stephen Fisher, collections manager at the Mead Art Museum.