December 29, 2013
We spent most of the fourth day of our Texas trip at San Antonio art museums. But first, having discovered a day earlier that our hotel’s breakfast bar was not appealing, we snacked in our room and then dashed over to the Alamo since we figured there would be only a short line for entry on a Sunday morning.
The customary photographers snapped our photo as we entered the shrine, but photography is prohibited inside. Wendy located the names of two Alamo fighters who might be her ancestors on the plaques inside as well as the exterior cenotaph, or empty tomb. The Spirit of Sacrifice is built on the spot where, according to tradition, the slain defenders of the fortified mission were piled after the battle and their bodies burned.
The beautiful sculptures by Pompeo Coppini include the eponymous spirit rising from the burning corpses as well as larger-than-life figures of the famous fighters. I am fascinated to find out that he went so far as to sculpt the musculature of the figures in clay before adding their clothing to achieve a more realistic portrayal. I enjoyed viewing the bas-relief sculptures from a severe angle to note the necessary distortions. It is a shame that Bowie’s nose was vandalized and features a botched repair, and that Alamo Plaza’s west edge is marred by noisy tourist traps which introduce a jarring carnival atmosphere to a somber setting.
Wendy took a lovely shot of the looming Emily Morgan Hotel with her iPhone, and I was bemused by the history behind that name. We returned to the hotel, stopping along the way to admire the interesting front façade of the old building at 411 Bonham. We speculated about the Stars of David in the windows, and later I found out that it was opened in 1892 as a German athletic club, complete with those stars, was later used for storage by the post office, and is now a gay-friendly dance club. Quite a history!
We drove over to a Tootie Pie’s franchise for brunch on our way to the McNay Art Museum. I enjoyed my marbled rye grilled cheese sandwich, and Wendy said her club sandwich was as wonderful as it appeared to be. We followed up with pie, of course, with me selecting Lemon Velvet while Wendy had Buttermilk Custard. Yum!
Ohio-born oil heiress Marion McNay lived for decades in San Antonio, and when she passed in 1950 she left more than 700 works of art, along with her mansion, surrounding 23 acres, and an endowment to establish the first museum of modern art in Texas. Like Tulsa’s Philbrook, significant additions to the mansion have expanded the gallery space.
We saw some startling sculptures on the lawn as we approached the McNay, including an aluminum Victoria by Philip Grausman (best viewed from the front, ahem) and Man on Fire by Luis A. Jiménez Jr. We toured the visiting exhibits CUT! Costume and the Cinema and later the complementary Onstage! Costume Design and the Theatre. There were some beautiful costumes, including John Bright’s dress for Natasha Richardson as Countess Sophia Belinskaya in 2005’s The White Countess and Marc Forster’s dress for Radha Mitchell as Mary Ansell Barrie in 2004’s Finding Neverland.
In the permanent collection I was struck by the contrast between Alberto Giacometti’s pockmarked Bust of Annette IV and Käthe Kollwitz’s idealized Grave Relief: Rest in the Peace of God’s Hands. Wendy and I both liked the unusual use of color in Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Portrait of Hans Frisch.
While the McNay has a nice hillside setting, its grounds lack anything like the beautiful gardens at Philbrook. However, the McNay does have a wonderful patio courtyard, which we took advantage of on this cool day when the sun broke through the overcast. Decorative tiles of peacocks and many tiles with characters and scenes from Don Quixote adorned the walls. We particularly liked the tiled risers on the exterior stairs.
A wonderful glass room off the mansion housed many sculptures, including the striking Portrait Bust of Paul Avenel by Aime-Jules Dalou. We enjoyed the orientation film on the life of Marion McNay, and wrapped up our visit relaxing outside in front of the mansion, enjoying the setting.
San Antonio Museum of Art
We next tried to see the Japanese Tea Garden, but it was packed on Sunday afternoon. So we diverted to the former Lone Star Brewery, now the home of the San Antonio Museum of Art. Among the paintings I especially liked were The Appian Way by John Linton Chapman and Boy with Cane by John George Brown; I love the expression on that rascal. The glow of the fire in Walton Ford’s John James Audubon – The Head Full of Symmetry and Beauty was lovely, although the subject matter is disturbing, presenting a buffalo hunt Audubon described in his 1843 Missouri River journal, with Audubon intently sketching the decapitated head of a buffalo, oblivious to the gruesome slaughter.
The museum has an extensive collection of art of the Americas, and I was interested to find Theodore Gentilz’s 1880s paintings of Mission San José and The Alamo, the latter depicted without the iconic campanulate, or bell-shaped façade, on the front of the chapel, which was added by the U.S. Army long after the famous battle in order to allow for a new pitched wooden roof; the mission was a roofless ruin during the 1836 battle. So if you see any depictions of the Battle of the Alamo with a campanulate on the chapel, that is an anachronism.
Wendy and I admired Robert Henri’s Spanish Gypsy and Albert Bierstadt’s Passing Storm over the Sierra Nevadas, but laughed out loud at Ralph Earl’s clumsy Portrait of Mrs. Timothy Conklin, which Wendy said looked like Paul Revere in drag.
Wendy loved the care put into a Mixtec mask made around 1500 out of wood with a turquoise and mother-of-pearl mosaic, with long fangs. We both admired a Medicine Buddha Sand Mandala, one of only four sand mandalas in U.S. museums. This one was created in 2001 by the Drepung Loseling Monks of Karnataka, South India, and the 14th Dalai Lama granted permission to have it preserved.
We ended our day with tasty Italian food at Zocca at the Westin Riverwalk. We hoped to spend the next day hiking, but cold and wind drove us underground…