Visiting the Birmingham Museum of Art

Now that the fabulous exhibition The Look of Love has closed in at the Birmingham Museum of Art in the largest city in Alabama, I want to encourage a visit to see the permanent collections. You will find many fascinating objects and stories. The website is here.

Because I found the exhibition of Lover’s Eyes so exciting, I admit I skipped some of the Museum’s excellent collections of Asisan, African, Native American, and pre-Colombian art — which is really a shame.  However, I lingered in the American and British galleries as long as I could.

In the American galleries, you will find outstanding works from many familiar artists and movements.  One of my favorite groups is the Hudson River School, usually sweeping and dramatic views of the American landscape. 

Looking Down the Yosemite Valley, California, 1865
 Alfred Bierstadt, German-American, 1830-1902

Portraits are always popular, especially those of heroes — and beautiful women.

Portrait of Oliver Hazard Perry, Hero of Lake Erie
by Jane Stuart (1812-1888)

Jane Stuart was the daughter of that renowned painter of early Americans such as George Washington, Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828).  Jane assisted her father in his work and after his death carried on his portraiture and promoted his legacy.

In the Galleries
John Singer Sargent was well known in Europe and the U.S. for his outstanding portraiture, continuing the magnificent tradition of Lawrence, Gainsborough and Van Dyke.  Lush colors, rich fabrics, flattering facial and body characteristics, and an overall impression of aristocracy were a few of the characteristics these artists shared.

Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess d’Abernon
John Singer Sargent, American, 1856-1925

I notice that many museums have trouble deciding whether to put the work of Thomas Sully and Benjamin West in the British or American galleries.  It seems to depend upon which side of the Atlantic the institution rests.

Thomas Sully, American, born England (1783-1872)
Prison Scene from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pilot 1841

“Cecilia Howard and Katherine Plowden arousing the prisoner Edward Griffiths from his slumber.” 

Erasistratus the Physician Discovers the Love of Antiochus for Stratonica, 1772
Benjamin West, b. U.S., d. Great Britain 1738-1820

Benjamin West was born in Pennsylvania and early in life showed artistic promise. He moved to London in 1863 and within a few years was named historical painter to George III. West served as second president of the Royal Academy of Art. The painting above is typical of the very popular style of large historical paintings in the third quarter of the 18th century.  There are many fine portraits it he British Gallery by an array of excellent 18th and early 19th century artists.

Unknown Sitter, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, British (1769-1830)
ca. 1800
Wilson Gale-Braddyll (1756-1818) 1776
by George Romney, English 1734-1802
Captain Arthur Blake 1769
Sir Joshua Reynolds, English (1723-1792)
1st President of the Royal Academy of Art
E. Finley, Esq.
Sir Henry Raeburn, Scottish 1756-1823
Mrs. William Monck 1760-65
Thomas Gainsborough, English 1727-1788

The Birmingham Museum of Art has wonderful collections of Decorative Arts, below a scene in the British Gallery.

The chair, ca. 1775, originated in the workshop of Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779), mahogany, with modern upholstery.

Sewing Box on Stand, 1790, attributed to Matthew Boulton, English (1728-1809)
Rosewood with stoneware (jasperware), silver and cut steel

Below:   Wedgwood,   Britannia Triumphant, jasper; holding a portrait medallion of George III. Thought to have been made to commemorate the victory of British Naval forces over the French in 1798.


The figure itself, attributed to John Flaxman Jr., English, 175501826
The collection of Wedgwood is stupendous, totalling almost 10,000 pieces from 1759 to the mid-20th century. Below of wall of medallions, mostly Jasper.

Below, a selection of vases from various Wedgwood periods.

Wedgwood, designed by Halsey Ricardo, England 1854-1928
Originally made for Buckminster Park, Leicestershire
house demolished 1952

Obviously, I could go on for ages telling you about the glories of the museum.  But I will leave that to you, as you investigate their very fine website.  I close with a final piece, a charming cherub head that caught my eye.

Scent Bottle, ca. 1750
soft paste porcelain with gold mount
from the Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory
Chelsea, England

2 thoughts on “Visiting the Birmingham Museum of Art”

  1. It really is a wonderful museum! The better-known of the English 18th-19th century painters (Reynolds, Gainsborough, Lawrence) are well represented by excellent examples of their portrait work. But, Jane Stuart! Never knew that Gilbert Stuart had a painter daughter. This is often the case, though, that a female painter is the daughter of an artist. (It's unusual wen the female artist come out of nowhere, with no artists in the family.) Anne Mee, like Jane Stuart, carried on her father's work with her miniature portraits.

    But I digress…This is a wonderful museum, well worth visiting! And now the Look of Love goes to Athens, to the Georgia Museum of Art on that university campus.

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