The Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri opened in 1933 during the middle of the Great Depression.  Visitors were amazed at the innovations and the luxury of the massive Beaux Art Building.  Still, operations were modest: only three telephones serviced the entire building; lights in the galleries were turned off when people left a room; at opening and closing times, a huge bell was rung manually. 

Photo courtesy: www.nelson-atkins.org
William Rockhill Nelson was the founder of The Kansas City Star newspaper. When he arrived in Kansas City in the early 1880s, he described the town as “incredibly ugly and commonplace” and determined that “if I were to live here the town must be made over.”  So he set about beautifying the city, which at the time was becoming a major transportation hub, by creating parks, boulevards and planting trees.  As a man who loved beautiful architecture and the great paintings of Europe, part of his quest for making over Kansas City included the creation of an art gallery.  William Nelson died in 1915.  His will stipulated his estate be used to purchase works of fine art “which will contribute to the delectation and enjoyment of the public generally…” Nelson’s wife survived him by six years, and his only child, Laura died five years later. Upon their deaths, the will provided for the “construction of a building in Kansas City, Missouri, to bear the name of William Nelson and to be followed by the words "Gallery of Art.”  Laura’s husband, Irwin Kirkwood, survived her by less than two years. After he died, in 1927, the Nelson mansion and the 20 acres were deeded to the city as a building site for Nelson’s art museum.

Photo courtesy: www.nelson-atkins.org

Also during this same time, but unknown to William Nelson, there was another citizen of Kansas City who had a love of European art and a strong sense of community involvement. Mary McAfee was a school teacher who moved to Kansas City to marry James Burris Atkins.  James Atkins, like Mary, was originally from Kentucky, but he moved to Kansas City in 1865 to enter the milling business and to speculate in Kansas City real estate.  When he died in 1886, he left Mary grief-stricken but very wealthy.  At the beginning of the 20th century Mary began traveling to Europe, immersing herself in the collections of the MusĂ©e du Louvre and MusĂ©e du Luxembourg in Paris, the National Gallery of Art in London and the Saxon Royal Museum in Dresden.  Mary Atkins died in 1911; in her will she bequeathed $300,000 to build a museum.  By 1927 the $300,000, wisely invested, had increased to $700,000.  In 1927, by consensus among their respective trustees, the Nelson and Atkins funds were combined, resulting in a total of more than $3 million to build an art museum that would rival the best in the country.

Thus, what was created from this collaboration was:

We approached the museum by walking through the Kansas City Sculpture Park.  As you recall from my previous post, we walked to the museum from our hotel in a nearly 100° temperature.  Reaching the street corner of the museum, we walked through a winding, tree-lined pathway where on display were sculptures by some well-known artists:

Seated Woman (1958-1959) by Henry Moore

Eventually the pathway opened up into the vast open area of grass where we could see two easily-recognized, but much larger-than-life objects:

Shuttlecocks (1994) by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
The husband and wife team of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen were commissioned in 1994 to design a sculpture for The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. They responded to the formality of the original neoclassical building and the green expanse of its lawn by imagining the Museum as a badminton net and the lawn as a playing field. The pair designed four birdies or shuttlecocks that were placed as though they had just landed on opposite sides of the net. Each shuttlecock weighs 5,500 pounds, stands nearly 18 feet tall and has a diameter of some 16 feet. (Courtesy: Nelson-Atkins.org)

We turned around 180 degrees to face the entrance of the museum, and we were greeted by the pensive sculpture of:

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

We haven't even made it inside and already loads of great art...

Unfortunately no photos were allowed in the Bloch exhibition, but non-flash photography was permitted in the permanent collection.  

Of course I always start with the Impressionists which really are my favorite group of artists.  Well, my goodness, nothing like starting out the visit by seeing this:

Waterlilies (1916-1926) by Claude Monet

This painting is just short of 14 feet wide and nearly 7 feet high!  The panel is the right-hand side of a triptych of a Waterlilies study that Monet painted.  No wonder it took him over 10 years to complete it...that's 42 feet of paintings!  The other two panels are at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the St. Louis Art Museum.  Click here to see the painting in my blog post about the St. Louis Art Museum.

Another spectacular work by Monet is this early-career painting of the view from his house he was renting:

View of Argenteuil: Snow (1874-1875) by Claude Monet

And another early masterpiece of the streets of Paris by Monet:

Boulevard des Capucines (1873-1874) by Claude Monet

Another wonderful, but maybe not so well known, French Impressionist landscape painter was Alfred Sisley:

The Embankment at Billencourt: Snow (1879) by Alfred Sisley

Camille Pissarro is called the Dean of the Impressionist Painters, not only because he was the oldest of the group, but also because of his wisdom and personality.  Here are four prime examples why: 

Poplars, Sunset at Eragny (1895) by Camille Pissarro

The Garden of Les Mathurins at Pontoise (1876) by Camille Pissarro

Wooded Landscape at L'Hermitage, Pontoise (1879) by Camille Pissarro

Market at Pontoise (1895) by Camille Pissarro

There is a beautiful work by Pissarro's great friend and fellow painter, Paul CĂ©zanne.  CĂ©zanne's somewhat abstract style like in this painting would lead to the Cubism style of Picasso and Braque.

Mont Sainte-Victoire by Paul CĂ©zanne

Here is another view of the Degas painting that was the subject of my previous blog.  Click here to read more.

Rehearsal at the Ballet (1876) by Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas

Here are two wonderful portraits by two masters:

Portrait of Paul Haviland (1884) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Portrait of Lise Campineanu (1878) by Édouard Manet

And then there is the genius of Vincent van Gogh, executed at a time when his style was at its most agitated and expressive.

Olive Orchard (1889) by Vincent van Gogh

This is an example of van Gogh's early work when he was still painting with dark, moody colors:

Portrait of Gysbertus de Groot (1885) by Vincent van Gogh

Of course, I can't forget my German Expressionists.  Here are paintings by three of the German Expressionist masters.  Such bold colors! 

Portrait of the Poet Guthmann (1910) by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Baccarat (1947) by Max Beckmann

Masks (1911) by Emil Nolde

There were several other paintings that I photographed just because I liked them, but I was not necessarily familiar with the artist.  For example, I just love the colors in the painting, the heavier brushstrokes and the simplicity of the subject matter: a boat and its reflection on the water. 

Starboat (Tugboat and Riverboat) 1966 by Wayne Thiebaud

In this painting I just like the colors here and the great detailing...all that garbage took a great deal of time and effort to paint.

Heineken (1976) by Idelle Weber

Normally, I don't favor modern or contemporary art.  However, I did photograph these two works by Willem de Kooning because I haven't seen too many examples of his work in other museums plus keeping on the same theme, I love the bold colors.  The composition of the paintings, however, is another story... 

Woman IV (1952-1953) by Willem de Kooning

Boudoir (1951) by Willem de Kooning

The Nelson-Atkins Museum is one of the finest museums in the United States, if not the world.  Its collection contains more than 33,500 works of art.  Whether displayed in the original 1933 neoclassic building or the new 2007 modern, translucent-glass Bloch Building, the permanent collection rivals any museum I've personally visited.

For more information visit: http://nelson-atkins.org.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Kansas City, MO   64111
Phone: 816.751.1ART (816.751.1278)

For directions: click here.
  • Admission is FREE every day for all visitors.
  • There may be a charge for special exhibitions.
  • Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • Closed New Year's Day, July 4, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
  • Open 10:00-4:00 on Wednesday.
  • Open 10:00-9:00 on Thursday and Friday.
  • Open 10:00-5:00 on Saturday.
  • Open 12:00-5:00 on Sunday.
NOTE: All photos of the paintings in this blog post were taken by me on my visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in August, 2007.

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