Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Samuel F B Morse - Inventor & Artist

As I've been debating on where to go over Spring Break with Alex, one of my thoughts was a return trip to Washington DC! We both loved it, we were comfortable getting around on our own, and there is so much more to see! One place we didn't see was the National Gallery of Art, and they currently have a special exhibition of Morse's painting, The Best of the Louvre.

We studied Morse way back in 2006, but the books we read about him only covered the telegraph. I hadn't realized that he was a painter before an inventor - or if I'd read that fact, I'd forgotten it. He was also a Christian who described his life work by saying, "'It is His work. “Not unto us, but to Thy Name, O Lord, be all the praise.” (Answers in Genesis has a great article about him here.)

The painting, The Best of the Louvre, showcases many pieces of art that were actually in the Louvre though they were not all in the same room. (Can you find the Mona Lisa?) In the center of the the painting you can see Morse looking over the shoulder of his daughter who is painting. Also pictured, in the left, is his friend and author, James Fenimore Cooper pictured with Cooper's wife and daughter.

In an interview with NPR's Susan Stamberg, author David McCullough said, ""It was an extremely ambitious undertaking because many of the paintings that he was copying were hung very high up. And so he had to build a movable platform, or scaffold, that he wheeled about the galleries of the Louvre to reach his subjects. And he and the movable scaffold became a tourist attraction themselves"

As to why the painting was created, David McCullough said, "There were no museums here, as yet, in the 1830s, and no color representations of paintings, so he was going to bring the culture of Europe — mainly the Renaissance Italian masterpieces in the Louvre collection — back to the United States for the benefit of his countrymen." (Quotes from the NPR site.)

As we also look forward to our trip to France this summer, I am really enjoying this painting! And, I'm looking forward to reading McCullough's new book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. It is the story of Americans, from the year 1830 to 1900, who went to Paris to excel in their work - whether they were artists, authors, doctors, politians, etc.

P.S. Another great site about Morse and his art is found at the Terra Foundation for American Art website. under "collections".

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Worker Reads History

I watched session 1 of a Yale Open Course today. It is a free course titled "France Since 1871" and it is taught by Professor John Merriman. Although the video itself is a little choppy, I am finding the professor quite enjoyable and am looking forward to learning about France. There are 24 lectures and the class reads six books and watches three films. I thought this would be a great way to prepare for our trip to France this summer.

The first lecture was mostly about what to expect in the course. At the conclusion, though, the professor read a poem by Brecht that he said highly influenced him to become a history teacher. The poem is "A Worker Reads History."

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima's houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India.
He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Great triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?

Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?

So many particulars.
So many questions.