Monday, June 4, 2012

The National Museum of American Illustration

"La, tout n'est qu'ordre et beaute: luxe, calme et volupte" wrote Charles Baudelaire. This translates loosely from the French as "Here all is symmetry and beauty: luxury, serenity and beauty for the senses." On a recent trip to Newport, R.I. I had the pleasure of visiting a place that embodied all these attributes, a structure that transcended the mere purpose of providing shelter from the elements but provided food for the just as in Baudelaire's famous poem "L'Invitation au Voyage" I invite you on a little journey to discover the National Museum of American Illustration at Vernon Court...

Located on the renowned Bellevue Avenue in Newport, this Gilded Age mansion was once the summer home of Mrs. Richard van Nest Gambrill. Designed by Carrere & Hastings in 1898 and inspired by the 18th Century Chateaux of France, Vernon Court soon came to be known as one of the most notable houses in the country. Today, its elegant preservation is second to none and the beauty of its salons en enfilade is well; breathtaking. But beyond the exquisite proportions and the French gardens what struck me most was that Vernon Court is not merely a fine tribute to the past but a vibrant homage to the present and future. Unlike many of its contemporaries, this Grande Dame does not wax nostalgic about her glorious past. Instead she is still incredibly beautiful and vibrant but most of all, meaningful and this she owes to the National Museum of American Illustration.

The Museum was founded in 1998 by Judy Goffman Cutler and Laurence. S. Cutler to house their art collection from the "Golden Age of American Illustration". These works are an integral part of the American Heritage and include milestone pieces by artists and illustrators such as Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, Charles Dana Gibson, Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth, Jessie Willcox Smith, JC Leyendecker, Violet Oakley, and over 150 other luminaries. Originally created to be reproduced in magazines and newspapers, posters and advertisements these illustrations slowly transcended their original purpose and those with a keen eye understood the intrinsic worth of each piece as a work of art unto itself. Moreover, each piece marks the growth of American art and history.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said "Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space." Nowhere does this ring more true than at Vernon Court and yet it magically encompasses the essence of our own era too. The work of the American Imagists on display gives us a flavor of where we have been as a country but also, where we are going. Many museums look to history for the answers, this one reaches into the past in order to get a firmer grip on the future.