Wednesday, May 14, 2014

John Russell Pope tour and an upcoming ICAA event

I recently had the honor to host a lunch time tour of the John Russell Pope designed National Gallery of Art for the Mid-Atlantic branch of the ICAA of which I sit on the board.
Probably my favorite public building in a city of favorites, this classical gem was designed by architect John Russell Pope for Andrew W. Mellon. Mellon (basically and in short) gifted the building and the basis of its collection to the nation. In an odd twist of fate both Mellon and Pope passed away in August,1937 before the Galleries' dedication in 1941.
Clad in Tennessee pink marble the Neoclassical structure harkens the growing trend towards modernism while still looking to the past, as does much of its' collection.
Below you can see some early sketches by Pope which show the partee or basic plan as well as the massing of the building.
Largely based on Rome's Pantheon with wings housing the galleries, the structure incorporated the latest technology of the time which has held up remarkably well considering the wear and tear the building receives on a daily basis (including a recent earthquake)!
The central rotunda is my favorite space in the museum and possibly the city. The columns surrounding the central fountain are solid marble (quite the engineering feat getting those into place) which visually support a large coffered dome. While appearing to be the same stone as the rest of the interior, the dome is actually composed of plaster with a steel frame.
Indeed the entire structure is concrete and steel based with a very (modern) veneer of marble. It hides his secret well.
On either side of the rotunda are 2 skylit sculpture courts. As throughout the museum most spaces on the piano nobile are daylit by large skylights.
 The building itself is an encyclopedia on classical detailing.
I love this bronze lantern in one of the vestibules -notice the Greek key and architectural motifs.
The openings in the galleries themselves are clad in different materials -here in Italian travertine with silk damask walls (dating to the 1980s)
Seen above the current chief architect for the museum, Susan Wertheim, talks to the group about the Pantheon influence in front of Panini's painting, Interior of the Pantheon.
Speaking of classical detailing the ICAA has an upcoming lecture by Phillip James Dodd centered on his new book The Art of Classical Details on Thursday, May 22nd - a fascinating lecture not to be missed!
Information and tickets to the lecture can be purchased from the website; look towards the bottom of the events page linked HERE. Hope to see you there!


M. Denise C. said...

Wonderful post, Stefan! I love that building. Thanks, mdc

Stephilius said...

Sooo beautiful. Such wonderful proportions. Gorgeous details.... : )

Karena said...

So classic, I love the rotunda and that amazing dome!

The Windows of Buck House

Chronica Domus said...

I can see why this is a favorite of yours. Absolutely stunning building! Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

Row homes and Cobblestones said...

I was only in the museum once in the 90's. I recall standing in the rotunda telling myself just breathe ... I was spellbound by the grandeur, the beauty of the dome and columns. Wonderful post, it brought back the awe of my memory, thank you.

Mark D. Ruffner said...

I wish I could have been part of your tour — I know you would have called attention to many marvelous details, as you do in this posting. I first toured this building as a child, a dozen years after it was opened, and I have fond memories of it.

KOJohnson said...

I wonder if the tour mentioned the grading of that pink marble.

Pope couldn't get enough of the color that he wanted out of that quarry, so he classified the stone into forty shades of pink.

He kept samples of each on his balcony to see how they reacted to light, humidity, fog, and rain. Then he clad the Gallery in the darkest pink at the bottom shading almost imperceptibly to nearly white at the dome.

I lived in Washington for some years, and loved to see the Gallery change moment to moment. Rain wets protruding parts but leaves the inset panels dry; fog dampens all of it; morning light, noontime, and evening light inflame different parts. It's never the same building one moment to the next. It's a vibrant, living presence.

Windlost said...

Oh fascinating! I learn so much from your blog. You're living in the right city for your beloved classical architecture...!

xo Terri

Windlost said...

And I forgot to mention that the building is incredible - such massive scale. And the art isn't bad either. I've visited twice already and it's on my list again for next time I'm in DC.

(This time I'll pay even more attention to the building...!)
xo Terri

un ami de La Reine said...

Incredibly beautiful; such crisp, refined lines & exquisite detailing.

I am always envious of the scale of your buildings in the US. This could be an emperor's palace rather than an art gallery.