Chrysler Museum of Art - Norfolk, VA

What better way to spend a gray, dismal, rainy day than at the Chrysler Museum of Art in nearby Norfolk, Virginia. While searching for things to see and do within a reasonable driving radius of the boatyard, I consulted Trip Advisor and the Chrysler Museum was listed #1. When I checked out the website, I found that, in addition to an outstanding art collection, a special Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit had just opened and the museum's highly acclaimed glass studio was offering free demonstrations. All that plus it's only 11 miles away AND the admission is always free. Sign us up! Let me add that we are not art connoisseurs nor have we had an extensive exposure to art history or the art masters. It's really not necessary. Art appeals to the soul.

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The Chrysler Museum is an impressive place from the moment you arrive. We climbed the well-worn white marble stairs and passed through the heavy doors into a huge, high-ceiling entry hall. Staff was on hand to welcome us and provide a visitor guide. Despite the dismal weather, there were few other visitors. We oriented ourselves and headed first in the direction of the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit.

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From lithograph prints and posters to restaurant menus, book illustrations, theater programs, and commercial advertisements, we observed a “modern, sometimes decadent” Paris through the eyes of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec,  well-known, late 19th century, Post-Impressionist artist. His contemporaries were the likes of Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gaugin.

(10/2017 Update: Artsy reached out to us to let us know about a Henri Toulouse-Loutrec exhibit at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. Artsy's mission is "to make all the world’s art accessible to anyone". Please take time to click through the links and see and learn even more about Henri Toulouse-Loutrec. Thanks!)

We wandered through gallery after gallery of artwork, oohing and ahhing as we spotted an artist or a work with which we were familiar. We especially enjoyed the 20th century artists like Renoir, Gaugin, Monet, Rousseau, Sargent, Winslow Homer and Mary Cassatt. Informative placards helped us better appreciate what we were seeing. We looked closely at brush strokes and use of color and tiny detail, then backed away to take in the whole image.

 Close up and big picture views of Winslow Homer's "Girl with a four-leaf clover"

Close up and big picture views of Winslow Homer's "Girl with a four-leaf clover"

We interrupted our tour in time to catch the glass making demonstration at the Glass Studio across the street from the main museum building. We learned more about glass making techniques and glassblowing in one hour than we'd ever known before. It was fascinating and during the demonstration following the mini-lecture, the artist created a hand-blown goblet before our eyes.

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Back to the main museum we spent time in the Modern and Contemporary art sections where works of Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Edward Hopper were on view. I'm not sure we really appreciate or understand some of these artworks, but we gave it a try. We did enjoy several sculptures and contemporary artists' works, many of which were amusing.

There are several aspects of the layout of the museum that were particularly clever and eye catching. For instance, windows and arch entries on the upper level perfectly framed works of art displayed within. From certain vantage points, we could visualize gallery after gallery after gallery, an unusual and pleasing optical effect that emphasized the size and scope of the museum. It was kind of M. C. Escher-esque.

 Artwork framed by entry hall windows.

Artwork framed by entry hall windows.

 Gallery after gallery after gallery.

Gallery after gallery after gallery.

After a fine, albeit very late, lunch at the on-site Wisteria Cafe, we made our way to the museum's diverse and extensive glass collection galleries. From ancient and antique glass pieces to modern glass sculpture, the pieces displayed various techniques of both the practical, as well as creative side of this medium throughout the ages. The Tiffany collection was excellent, but it was the contemporary works of Monir Sharoudy's mirrors that captured our imaginations. A similar exhibit is currently underway at the Guggenheim in New York, too.

It was late afternoon by the time we headed back to the boat … all “culchah'ed up”. The day was interesting, stimulating and definitely pleasurable. Learning something new everyday was one of my New Year's Resolutions and I learned lots today. The big challenge now, however, is remembering it!