Newport's colonial history

by Brian Jewell 3. May 2011 22:21

Everyone knows about the mansions in Newport, RI -- perched high on a hill overlooking the Atlantic ocean, these 19th-century estates were the summer homes of rich robber barrons (Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and the like). Less known, perhaps, are the equally impressive Colonial sites throughout this historic city. I spent today touring numerous historic areas, from the Whithorne House to the Redwood Library and Touro Synagogue, which help to illuminate the distinctive architecture, artistic history and religious heritage of this state.


Whitehorne House: This 1811 structure is part historic home, part furniture museum. Visitors learn about the house and its typical New England architecture during a tour. But the highlight of the visit is not the home itself, but its contents -- today, the structure houses a great collection of Newport furniture, a style that sprang from the simplicity of the area's Puritan roots and evolved to be a beautiful example of Colonial Rhode Island craftsmanship.



Newport Art Museum: Paintings, drawings and other works of art on display at this museum range from Colonial times to the modern area. The exhibits highlight Rhode Island artists, as well as other creative minds from New England. One of the chief attractions is the museum's distinctive main building, an 1862 mansion.


Redwood Library: This institution holds the distinction of being the oldest lending library in the country, and visitors can still see some of the books first purchased by the library members in 1747. A visit to this library is a study in art and architecture as well -- the building is one-of-a-kind, and the art collection includes a Gilbert Stewart painting of George Washington, in addition to other significant pieces.


Touro Synagogue: Another Newport first, Touro Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the United States. The building was dedicated in 1763, and remains a symbol of Rhode Island's heritage as a haven of religious freedom and tolerance. An active congregation still worships here every week, so group tours must be planned around their service times.

Visions of Van Gogh

by Brian Jewell 10. August 2009 20:19

Photos Courtesy Van Gogh Museum

If there’s one thing you must experience during a trip to Amsterdam (besides a Dutch pancake), it’s the city’s Van Gogh museum.

Art lovers will immediately recognize this famous Dutch painter who, along with Rembrandt, is one of the Netherlands’ most prominent cultural figures. But even if you’re not brushed up on your 19th-century European impressionist painters, with a visit to this museum you’ll discover how much Van Gogh influenced the way in which we interpret images in the world around us.

Vincent Van Gogh is perhaps most famous for his colorful, swirling and surreal Starry Night. You won’t see that on display at the museum in Amsterdam (it resides at New York’s Museum of Modern Art), but you will see a wide-ranging catalog of his other excellent work, including numerous self-portraits and a famous scene he painted of his bedroom. The Van Gogh Museum has some 200 paintings and 500 paintings by the artist, as well as 700 letters he wrote to his brother Theo and others.

The museum presents these works in chronological order, displaying them with parallel stories of the artist’s life and struggles. He took up painting as an adult with no formal art training, and went most of his career without ever selling a single painting. In his late 30s, he struggled with epilepsy and mental illness, famously cutting off part of his own ear and eventually taking his own life. It would only be later that the art community would recognize him as one of the foremost fathers of modern painting.

Though the story is dark at points, the museum’s exhibits are beautiful. Walking through, I see how Van Gogh was a master of Impressionist-inspired techniques.  From a distance, his paintings all look perfectly clear and in focus; when you take a step closer though, you see that they are all composed of thick, short and colorful brushstrokes. The strokes by themselves could pass for haphazard, but when you take them together, you see that they are carefully and deliberately designed to depict farmland, cityscapes and human portraits in a colorful, innovative way.

The Van Gogh Museum is just one of many art institutions in Amsterdam, which is celebrating its artistic heritage this year with a variety of special exhibits and events.

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