Introducing the Virtual Museum Visit Series

the louvre museum, photo by Chris Karidis on Unsplash

Do you miss museums? What do you think about a virtual museum visit?

Back in the old days (before March 2020) I liked to find a reason for a museum visit at least a couple of times a year. For me, it was a great way to break out of my routine and get a different perspective on things.  If there wasn’t an exhibit that I was particularly interested in, the people watching alone was usually well worth the price of admission.

Some museums are beginning to open with restrictions. When I think about recent museum visits, a social-distanced museum experience sounds delightful. But I’m probably not going to make a point of going to a museum anytime soon.

Venus de Milo at the Louvre: Photo by Jean Carlo Emer on Unsplash

Recently, I saw a teaser on the internet about virtual museum tours and thought what a great topic for a blog post! Most of us still aren’t traveling anyway, why not check out some of the great museums of the world from home?

I thought that it would be easy to pull together a list of museums and link to their virtual tours and we would be on our way.

Once I started digging in, the first thing that became clear is that not all virtual museum tours are created equal. The second thing was that trying to wander around a museum virtually is not as easy or as much fun as one would hope.

Like most things on the internet, it is better to have an idea about what you are looking for before you begin. Whereas back in the old days, you could decide to go to a museum and just wander around for a few hours, the navigation of even the most user-friendly virtual museum tour is broken down into layers and layers of sub-menus. There are so many decisions to make before you get near any art.

Some virtual museum tours try to make it seem like you are walking through the galleries. I found these tricky to navigate and started to get frustrated. Some are more like online photo albums – it’s really more of a slide show than a virtual tour.

I realized that what I really wanted was some sort of video where someone would take me through a gallery, give me a good look at the work, and tell me about it. I started to find some videos on YouTube, but there is a lot of variation with these as well. So, what I’ve decided to do is start a series here where I will create a curated virtual museum visit for various places. These may include videos, virtual tours, selections from a collection, and articles about the institution, a particular collection, exhibit, or work.

This will give me an excuse to snoop around and see what I can find with a clear goal in mind: providing you, with a manageable, curated experience. I envision it being the kind of thing that you can just read the post and go on with your life or you can take a little time to click through the various resources I’ll link to and have your own little virtual field trip.

St Peter’s Basilica: Photo by Jan Tielens on Unsplash

Some of the places that I have started exploring for us include:

On the one hand, it’s never going to be the same as being there in person. On the other hand, doesn’t it sound fun is it to get to poke around from the comfort of your own home?

I’m going to try to post at least one a month and we’ll see how it goes. If you have any tips for navigating virtual museum experiences or suggestions for particular things that you would like to see, let me know!

Monet at the De Young

monet water lilies

Monet: The Late Years

I happened to be in San Francisco for the weekend last May for Mother’s Day.  My dear, sweet brother-in-law had arranged for my mom and my sister to see the Monet exhibit at the De Young Museum for Mother’s Day and since I was in town, I had the good fortune of getting to tag along.

I thought that it was interesting that Monet was such a prolific and esteemed artist that the 50 or so works in the show were all made after he was established and successful.  The subjects of these paintings were almost exclusively locations in his own gardens on his estate in Giverny.

For great biographical information and a more comprehensive description of the paintings in the show, check out this page on the De Young Museum website.

The earliest painting in the exhibit is Morning on the Seine from 1896.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take a better photo of it.  At first glance, it seems just very grey, soft, and muted.  But when I really took a moment to look at it, I started to notice a tremendous depth to the foliage.  Monet used many different green and purple tones to build these shapes that appear flat from a distance, but up close have an unexpectedly rich dimensionality.  Once I got sucked into this painting, I started to notice the subtle contrast between the way that he rendered the landscape and its reflection in the water.  This is the kind of painting that you could look at for years and notice something new every day.

Morning on the Seine, Claude Monet

More than 20 of the pieces in the show were water lily paintings.  This is such an iconic Monet subject and one that is so often reproduced on merchandise that it seems like something that you think you have already seen and not necessarily special.  But seeing so many different variations on the same subject all together was fascinating.  Particularly when there were multiple paintings in a series that all portrayed the exact same vista from the exact same spot.  When was the last time that you really looked at something that you see every day?  Try it.  And then go back again a few hours later and take a moment to look again.  Think about how it now appears different from what you saw just a bit earlier.  What a wonderful reminder that everyday things we think we have already seen have something new to offer us if we can be bothered to take a moment to open ourselves up to them.

I took many notes on the differences in paintings of similar subject matter, the variations in color and texture and focus and size of various pieces.  Another subject of Monet’s that gives a very explicit example of this were the paintings of the Japanese Bridge. 

One thing that I found even more unexpected and interesting were the paintings where he really just seemed to have to get the idea on canvas as quickly as possible.  These were paintings where the canvas showed through.  There was a raw-ness and an energy to these works that really spoke to me. 

Toward the end of the exhibit was a series of Weeping Willow (1918-1919 and 1921-1922). I think there were more than the three that I photographed.  The later piece just blows my mind a little bit. This is the same guy painting the same thing that he had already painted over and over and it is so different and unexpected!  Now, this was all during the period when his vision was degenerating, but that alone does not explain the difference.

I am so glad that I had the opportunity to tag along with some of my favorite mothers on their special day.  It was a great opportunity to be reminded of how much there is to see if we just take the time to look.