Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Visit with Waterhouse: My Trip to Montreal




I have said over and again that I had been waiting ten years to see the John William Waterhouse retrospective, but that may not be the exact truth. I first learned of the current exhibit only five years ago, in 2004, after harassing leading Waterhouse expert Peter Trippi
with questions about the reclusive, British artist's technique (Trippi, who was then curator of the Dahesh Museum, is one of the curators of this wonderful show, and he told me then of the exhibit's plans, when it was scheduled to come to New York City). But before that, I had been hoping for just such a display for more than a decade-and-half, after first being introduced to "The Lady of Shalott," 1888, at, of all places, a poster sale at my university's book store (that poster, now in an antique, filigree frame, still hangs on my wall- with bits of poster tape still on the back, no doubt). A few years after the poster purchase, by an act of serendipity, a random catalog arrived on my doorstep, and on the cover of this comic book flyer was the announcement of the release of Hobson's 1989 Waterhouse book: that became the third art book I ever purchased, out of a collection which now numbers in the hundreds. The first day of my honeymoon, I dragged my jet-lagged wife to the Tate, London, to see the three Waterhouses in their collection. When I purchased my first computer and tried this thing called, "the internet," my very first search, even before the typical search for my own name, was for John William Waterhouse, and I was surprised to learn that others knew of him too. For me to say I have been waiting ten years for this show, was actually just an attempt to prevent myself from slipping into excessive hyperbole ("I've been waiting MY WHOLE LIFE for this!"). Technically, Waterhouse is far from the best painter out there, but the subject matter and melancholia of his art struck a chord with me right from the beginning, and you will no doubt notice in my description of The Garden of Enchantment exhibit in Montréal, my bias built over the many years of appreciation for this artist, and which was fueled by the long anticipation of getting to see, in person, many of the works I have for so long treasured.

There are so many great sources for reading about Waterhouse's subjects and painting themes, that I will not endeavor to restate what others have said far better than I. Instead, I have determined to write this particular post in the form of a travel diary. For those of you who are considering a trip to Montréal to see the Waterhouse show, I hope you can find some use from what I discovered on my trip. For those of you who already know Montréal well, or who do not plan to attend the show (or have no interest in knowing how I fared the Metro system, or why my gastronomic choices will never earn me the title of "gourmand," etc.), I have placed my description of the museum, and the aspects of the Waterhouse exhibit which caught my attention, in bold, so you can skip right to the heart of my journey.

I arrived at Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (formerly Montréal-Dorval International Airport, and you will still see signs for "Dorval") on Thursday morning, after an uneventful non-stop flight from Newark Liberty International Airport. As I was only staying in Montréal for three days, I had packed all of my clothes and toiletries in a carry-on sized backpack (don't forget, your toiletries carried onboard a plane must all fit in a single, quart-size, zip-lock, plastic bag). I was amongst the first of those disembarking from the flight to make it to the Customs counter, and I was welcomed into Canada rather quickly, and easily (Passports are now required for crossing the border between the United States and Canada).

After Customs, I walked straight for the arrivals/baggage claim level, and headed outside for the buses. I had decided before leaving home to take l'Aérobus from the airport to the city. L'Aérobus is a privately owned and operated transport company, which runs regular shuttles between Montréal-Trudeau Airport and the Central Bus Station at Rue Berri-UQÀM (Université du Québec à Montréal), with only a few additional stops in-between, at a few of the larger hotels (Château Champlain, Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, and the Sheraton). The public bus system would have been cheaper, but I was willing to pay the extra for the fairly straight journey to Berri/UQÀM, rather than having to switch several times and waste valuable time in an indirect commute. The l'Aerobus booth was right outside the baggage claim doors, and I chose to pay 26,00$ CDN for a round trip ticket (16,00$ one way). The shuttle runs from the airport three times per hour, until 2:00 AM. `

My hotel was the Hôtel 7 Saisons, 1659 Rue Saint-Hubert, on the block directly behind Berri-UQÀM. I chose this particular hotel because it was a great location for accessing the Metro system, it was less expensive (under $80 a night), and it received positive online reviews from previous tenants. The room I had on the third floor was likely the same one pictured on the hotel's website (with the arch over the headboard), with twelve-foot-high ceilings and quirky, multi-colored millwork accents. It was exactly what I wanted; no frills, but clean and safe. They offered a mini continental breakfast buffet with croissants, cereal, toast, bananas, juice, coffee, and tea in the small, street level lobby. St. Hubert had several of these hotels made from the Victorian homes lining the street, and the location was better than I expected. There is no elevator, however, so if you have difficulty navigating uneven, steep stairs, then this place may not be for you.

After checking-in, and dropping off my bag, I crossed the street, and headed down the block to the Berri-UQÀM station once more. Underground, I purchased a 3-day tourist STM-Metro (Sociéte de Transport de Montéal) card for 17,00$ (a single fare is 2,75$). At first, this seemed like a good deal, but I later found this card had a major flaw. The turn-styles are designed to read either a magnetic card, or a small paper ticket: the 3-day pass was the size of a note-card, and did not have a magnetic strip. To make use of the pass, I had to show it to the attendant, so that they might open a gate to allow me through. Unfortunately, not all stations have attendant booths, and not all attendant booths had ticket-takers. For the travel I did around the city, most of which was on foot, the 3-day card didn't really suit my needs.


The Metro system is easy to traverse, however, with only five separate lines. Each line is designated by a number (1 through 6, not including 3, which, unfortunately, was never built due to a lack of funding), a color, and the names of the stations at each end. Line 1, the green line, runs from Angrignon to Honré Beaugrand, and this is the route which runs nearest to the museum. Metro line number 5 is the only one which does not run through Berri-UQÀM.


To get to the Waterhouse show at the Musée des Beaux Arts (aka The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), board the green line from Berri-UQÀM, heading for Angrignon. At the fifth stop, get off at the Guy-Concordia Station, which is closest to the museum by several blocks. Leaving the station, head for the Rue Guy exit, and at street level, turn right and head uphill, past Tim Hortons, until you reach Rue Sherbrooke. Turn right on Rue Sherbrooke, and the Musée des Beaux Arts is within three blocks on the right side of the street (The museum actually sits in two buildings, facing each other across Sherbrooke, connected by an underground tunnel, but the Waterhouse show is in the more contemporary facility, the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion, on the right).

Admission to the museum's permanent collection is free, but to visit the special exhibitions, like Waterhouse, there is an additional fee. Tickets can be purchased either at the desk on the main level, or at the counter on the third floor, for 15,00$ (admission is cheaper for seniors, students, and museum members). There is an one-hour guided tour included with the ticket price, but it was only offered six times a week (three times in English, three times in French) when I was there. During the week of October 20th through the 25th, the English-speaking tours ran at 1:30 and 6:00 PM on Thursday, and at 11:00 AM Saturday. Be sure to check out the "This Week at the Museum" flyer available at the entrance for the current schedule.

At the entrance to the special exhibition gallery, you can also rent musical accompaniment on headset for 3$. The music was compiled to represent the time period in which Waterhouse painted, and at times, is specific to a particular subject of a Waterhouse work in the show. Unfortunately, the recording on the headset is only music, and offers no commentary on the artwork represented. Throughout the exhibit, I could not help singing Canadian Loreena McKennett's adaptation of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, The Lady of Shalott, and only wish that that had been one of the musical choices.

The museum's permanent collection is on view from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Tuesday through Friday, and from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. There is no admission to visit the museum's permanent collection.

Special exhibitions, like this touring retrospective, are on view not only during regular museum hours, but also for an additional four hours each Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday night. Additionally, on Wednesday and Thursday nights, admission to the special exhibit section is reduced after 5:00 PM by half (7,50$ for adults, less still for other categories).


At its Montréal stop, the exhibit, J.W. Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Raphaelite, was re-named John William Waterhouse: The Garden of Enchantment, a title which took its inspiration from a story in The Decameron: Principe Galeotto by Giovanni Boccaccio. Waterhouse found subjects for several of his paintings from The Decameron, and, in fact, The Enchanted Garden was the painting which sat unfinished on Waterhouse's easel at the time of his death. In the painting, the characters mill in a warm garden with flowers in bloom and fruit trees fully laden, while snow falls outside this fantastical haven: to my surprise, when I left the exhibit, I too found snow coming down outside the walls of this magical show.

To create the look of the exhibit, the museum hired theatrical set designers, a choice which resulted in a somewhat moody arena where each painting sits beneath its very own spotlight. Every piece is presented like an actor in front of a stage curtain, and this is only fitting since Waterhouse was fascinated with the stage, and filled his work with the fantastic and dramatic, rather than the every-day mundane. The walls, furniture, and decorations are all matte black, with black velvet curtains held back by disembodied mannequin hands dividing several of the seven sections of the exhibit. The show's title design, consisting of glossy, black, gothic lettering and an intertwining rose vine, appears above a photograph of Waterhouse in the vestibule of the exhibition space.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

The entrance room to the exhibit has on display roughly a dozen pieces of art from the museum's permanent collection. These works, chosen to represent artists who were contemporaries of Waterhouse, or who influenced Waterhouse's career in some way, feature pieces by several of his fellow Royal Academicians. The works by Sir Frederic Lord Leighton, President of the Royal Academy when Waterhouse was elected a full-member, and Sir Edward John Poynter, President during most of Waterhouse's tenure as RA, are minor, but the painting, A Sculpture Gallery in Rome at the Time of Agrippa, by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, RA, is a jewel, and is the best example in the room of where Waterhouse began his career, both thematically and stylistically.

The first section of Waterhouse's works is in a room laid out like the floor plan of a cathedral. On the right side of the nave are his paintings In the Peristyle (1874), the recently rediscovered Miranda (1875), and A Flower Stall (1880). On the left, Dolce Far Niente (1880), Dolce Far Niente (1879), and The Household Gods (circa 1880). In the transept are his works After the Dance (1876), A Sick Child Brought into the Temple of Aesculapius (1877), and The Favourites of the Emperor Honorius (1883). Reserved for the altar is the painting which earned Waterhouse his election as an Associate to the Royal Academy, St. Eulalia (1885).











Although Waterhouse received much recognition and acclaim for the work he created during this early part of his career, he was not without his detractors. Choosing to focus on Roman antiquity, as can be seen in the first room, Waterhouse brought upon himself the inevitable comparison to Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, and sadly fell short in an area important to many critics: historical accuracy. Still, his quality was evident, and collectors sought his work, so Waterhouse's eventual change in subject matter may have likely been caused by a shift in popular tastes. Where an older artist like Alma-Tadema could still make sales portraying the classical antique, younger artists who did not make their careers with such a subject, were forced to look elsewhere for inspiration.

There are two paintings in this chamber which I find quite interesting from the perspective of Waterhouse's technique. Most of the paintings reflect Waterhouse's recent Academic training, with a limited palette, and a traditional process of picture-making. Paintings such as After the Dance, and A Sick Child Brought Into the Temple of Aesculapius, for example, have held up very well in comparison to Waterhouse's later work. The Favourites of Emperor Honorius, however, shows possible material and procedural experimentations on Waterhouse's part. His manner of paint application, which recent analysis of several paintings shows it consisted of a dozen layers or more in some areas, resulted in alligatoring and cracking in the figure of the Emperor when the artist did not allow a sufficient drying time between strata. Perhaps Waterhouse may have adulterated his paint too much in this particular painting as well, as the uncharacteristic matte finish of this particular work might indicate an addition of wax to his pigments, which in the case of the color used for the Emperor's robe, could have possibly led to the damage.

The other painting which caught my attention was Miranda of 1875. It is the only painting in the room which does not feature an architectural element, and perhaps because of this, Waterhouse felt the freedom or the need to be freer with his colors. In his rock formation there were bright yellow greens and a surprising scarlet scumble which possibly forecast what was to become of his colors in his later works. The juxtaposition of modern color handling, and a stylistic drawing reminiscent of the generation prior to Waterhouse's own, was unusual to discover.

The next chamber is rather large, but split into three separate rooms. In the first room are two paintings only: Cleopatra (1888), and Mariamne Leaving the Judgement Seat of Herod (1887).


The painting of Cleopatra was done as an illustration to accompany a feature on Shakespearean heroines in The Graphic magazine, and with this commission, Waterhouse had joined such prominent peers as Leighton and Alma-Tadema, who had also participated in the series. Whether Waterhouse had limited time to work on this particular painting, or he adjusted his technique knowing the final output would be reduced and altered, I am uncertain, but the quality of this piece does not match other works of his from that time. The paint application looks rushed, and less polished.


Mariamne, on the other hand, is terribly impressive in composition, technique, and sheer size. The canvas, without frame, is 8½ feet tall, which by my calculations, makes the figure of Mariamne 4'4" tall, though her statuesque appearance makes her seem much taller in person. No matter how many times I read the size of the painting while looking through books, I was not prepared to be so bowled over by its immensity. The painting has also recently been cleaned, and the dress fairly glows on the canvas. Waterhouse's subtle use of blues, pinks, violets, and greens to produce the "white" gown is brilliant.



Passing through a set of black curtains, the next room is revealed, holding two of Waterhouse's occult-themed works, set on opposite sides of a pentagram-shaped seating arrangement. On the left wall was Consulting the Oracle (1884), in which a priestess leans carefully toward a decapitated head to learn its prognostications, and recite those shocking predictions to the gathered crowd (the space on the carpet marked with the fan is saved for the viewer to come join the group). Across the room on the right wall was The Magic Circle (1886), the painting which, despite the signs of French influence upon Waterhouse's technique, was "purchased by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest, an honour that went only to what was considered the best of that year's art and suitable for the national collection."¹ The painting is a study in controlled value and chroma, and the placement of the cadmium orange embers, and the blue-white circle, are never given justice in any reproduction I've yet seen. Both paintings are on loan from the Tate Britain.



Exiting through another set of black velvet curtains, you enter a room which is further partitioned by a free-standing, segmented dividing wall. On the near side are two paintings by Waterhouse which feature his use of the mirror as a compositional and psychological device. On the right is Mariana in the South (1897), in which Waterhouse drew upon Tennyson's interpretation of the Shakespearean character, to portray the chaste beauty longing for her fiancé to return, and set her free through physical love (female sexuality in relation to Victorian Society was one topic that Waterhouse frequently revisited). Mariana is looking in her mirror, watching her beauty fade as she remains abandoned and isolated in moated, country home. To the left is Destiny (1900), in which a romantic maiden raises her cup in salute to the ships she sees in her mirror, departing for war. This painting was Waterhouse's contribution to the Artists' War Fund, a charity he himself formed to benefit injured soldiers and the widows of those killed while fighting in the Second Boer War. There is gold leaf throughout, which possibly refers to the gold mines of South Africa, and the red, white, and blue color scheme implies the colors of Britain's Union Jack.




On the other side of the partition, gathered for the first time anywhere in the same exhibition, are all three of Waterhouse's treatments of Tennyson's Lady of Shalott. Hung on the dividing wall itself are, from left to right, "I am Half Sick of Shadows," said the Lady of Shalott (1915), The Lady of Shalott (1894), and the study for the previous painting, The Lady of Shalott (1891-1893). The first is in excellent condition, with all of its brilliant reds intact, the second looks like the victim of poor cleaning, which seems to have removed some of Waterhouse's upper layers in his unorthodox painting manner, and the third is wonderful, just as a matter of insight into Waterhouse's painting methods. These all pale in comparison, however,to the painting which faces them across the room, Waterhouse's best known work, The Lady of Shalott (1888), in which the longing, repression, and punishment meted out to the heroine in the painting, all allude to the shifting position of women in Britain's Victorian society.


This last painting, now recognized as a tour-de-force by the thirty-nine year old Waterhouse, was met with some mixed reviews at the time of its unveiling. The technique he employed, which fully realized the melancholia of the scene and made the model feel palpable, was directly inspired by the Naturalist movement fathered in France by painter Jules Bastien-Lepage. In this technique, we see square brush handling, outdoor, overcast lighting, direct observation of nature, and the willingness (or impatience) to carry out drawing and corrections with the brush directly on the canvas (there are areas in the painting, for example, in which it can be seen that Waterhouse changed the composition by painting over lily pads and reeds without scraping back the ridges created by the earlier paint application). This nod to the French style by Waterhouse was not welcomed by all those at the Academy, but his choice in subject matter, and his influence by the Pre-Rapahelites, especially that of Millais' Ophelia (1852), still kept him in good standing with collectors and many of his peers, alike.

Although the French can really be credited with pioneering the Naturalistic style, I think it would be a mistake to consider Waterhouse's adoption of their techniques as being solely a conscious change into someone else's fad-ish manner. With the Naturalist movement, Waterhouse seems to have found the permission to paint in a way he had supressed since the beginning of his career, not a new methodology to assume. The broken colors and the tendency to draw directly in paint were predilections Waterhouse already exhibited in the mid 1870's, years before Bastien-Lepage's influential Joan of Arc was exhibited. This is not to say Waterhouse operated in a vacuum, for he most certainly did not. The Pre-Raphaelites, the Naturalists, and the designers of the Art Nouveau movement (and its predecessor, Japonisme, as well as the Arts and Crafts movement, Britain's reaction to Art Nouveau fostered by Scotsman Charles Rennie MacKintosh), all aided in the development of Waterhouse's individualistic, mature style.

In the next room, in which Waterhouse's fascination with women and water is the featured theme, the set designers added a rippling wave pattern projection on the floor, and a background sound effect of rain to complete the ambiance. The paintings are many, and range from classical myth, to mermaids. Works in this room include: A Mermaid (1900), Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses (1891), The Siren (1900), Penelope and the Suitors (1912), Circe Invidiosa (1892), Ulysses and the Sirens (1891), Circe (sketch,1911-1914), Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus (1900), Jason and Medea (1907), Lamia (1909), and The Danaïdes (1906).












The next room was the only room in the exhibition, other than the gift shop, which was fully lit. In the center of the room was an easel, chair, and small table, all painted black, and lining the walls were Waterhouse's drawings, painted sketches, and sketchbooks. Nothing here was surprising, but it was great to see in person his draftsman's abilities, and also his plein air sketches.






If the exhibition had ended right there, which is what I first thought, I would still have been quite happy. There was a movie showing behind a curtain in the next section called Out of Our Minds, with moody music by Melissa Auf Der Maur (bassist for The Smashing Pumpkins) pumping through the room (Auf Der Maur wrote the film, and was also in the film. It was interesting, but a bit out of place). I expected that all that was left was the movie and requisite gift shop, but to my surprise, there were a dozen more paintings to go.


The last room, with black silk roses and park benches, was meant to be darkened garden. Not only did it contain St. Cecilia (1895), the painting which earned Waterhouse his full-appointment to the Royal Academy and the piece which holds the auction record for a Victorian painting (over $10 million USD), but also Psyche Opening the Golden Box (1903), which is so much more colorful and brilliant in person, that it may be my current favorite work by the artist. Other paintings in the room included Fair Rosamund (1916), Tristram and Isolde (1916), Miranda (1916), 'Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May' (study-1908), The Soul of the Rose (1908), Vanity (1908-1910), "Listening to My Sweet Pipings" (1911), Psyche Opening the Door into Cupid's Garden (1903), A Naiad (1893), A Hamadryad (1893), and Ariadne (1898).













The gift shop had quite a range of books, posters, and postcards relating to Waterhouse and the Pre-Raphaelites, but most of the items were disappointing. The books can be purchased for less in other places, with the exception of the catalog, which I purchased at Amazon.com for the pre-release price of under $50, but which is now selling for over $150: at the exhibit it was $75. The images in the catalog, as well as on the posters and post cards are way too dark, with the deeper values all compressing to pure black. Still, the catalog does have a few decent images, and as far as exhibit catalogs go, it is quite substantial (I'd still recommend Peter Trippi's monograph over the catalog as most of the same images are in both, yet Trippi's book has a more complete biography). I purchased a couple of stereoscopic postcards, which were neat, and a poster print of the show announcement before exiting.

By this time, I had spent four-and-a-half hours in the Waterhouse exhibit, and though I could have easily stayed longer, I wanted to see the museum's permanent collection before closing.



The Musée des Beaux Arts' collection is not very large, but it does contain several, wonderful paintings that I was happy and surprised to see. In addition to the Alma-Tadema mentioned earlier, the museum possesses three paintings by William Adolphe Bouguereau, one by Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, a beautiful Jusepe de Ribera, a Tissot, several portraits by George Romney, and about a dozen paintings by Sir Henry Raeburn, including the magnificent Portrait of Mr. D..






After an additional hour in the museum, I figured it was time for me to head out and get some dinner (actually, I thought the museum was closed, which was true for the permanent collection, but had I chosen to do so, I could have stayed in the special exhibition section for a few more hours). Several locals had told me that the museum's cafe was surprisingly good, but it was already closed by the time I was ready to leave. Sir Winston Churchill's Pub was recommended in the local travel guide, and it was on the next block (with the museum's front steps at your back, head right, and take first right turn onto Rue Crescent; "Winnie's" is on your left between Boulevard de Maisonneuve and Rue Ste-Catherine), but since I was carrying several items with me, I decided just to head back to my hotel, disencumber myself, and eat somewhere closer to where I was sleeping.

Back at the Hôtel 7 Saisons, I dropped my souvenirs, grabbed a book, and headed out for a simple meal. I walked southeast on Rue St-Hubert, made a right on Boulevard de Maisonneuve at the Berri-UQÁM station, and after two blocks, made a right on Rue St-Denis. I had a particular destination in mind, though that didn't stop me from reading EVERY menu along the street, and believe me, there were quite a few temptations. Three-quarters of the way down St-Denis, I entered Frite Alors!, a chain establishment which serves Belgian style fries, sausage, and beer (like I said, I'm no gourmand). It was recommended by several sources, and it hit the spot for me that night. I sat near the fire, enjoyed my beer from a local brewery, and read a bit while trying not to get greasy fingerprints all over my beat-up art book. On the way back to my room, I stopped for a latte and a piece of double chocolate cake at Second Cup, which just may be my new favorite java joint. In my room, I read some more, filled out a few postcards, and watched a little American TV out of Vermont before getting to bed.

The next morning I was determined to walk off my meal from the night before, and began my day by traveling southwest on Boulevard de Maisonneuve again, past Rue St-Denis, and up to Boulevard St-Laurent (aka "The Main"). I turned left on St-Laurent, and continued on to Rue Ste-Catherine, Montreal's busiest shopping district. I spent the day browsing a variety of stores on Rue Ste-Catherine, from Roots (Canada's answer to Gap, but with better made clothing), Aldo, Simon's, the famous La Baïe, all the way up to Ogilvy's (where I waited for two hours for the daily bagpiper appearance, but he was late, and I got tired of looking at items priced higher than my round-trip plane tickets, so I headed back out to the street).

At lunch, I ate poutine, the regional dish of Québec, at Sir Winston Churchill's Pub on Rue Crescent. Poutine, which reportedly had its beginnings in 1957, is available in a multitude of recipes today, from Italian to Mexican styles, but I chose a traditional Québecoise concoction of fries, gravy, melted cheese curds, and peppercorns. It's not everyone's favorite, but I certainly enjoyed it.


After eating, I travelled into Montréal's Ville Souterrain (the Underground City), consisting of 20 miles of shops and corridors below the city sidewalks, which enable citizens and visitors to travel the city, end-to-end, without once having to come up for air. The best way I have of describing the RÉSO, as it is called, is to have you imagine your local, small mall, and add two to four levels to it. Put this underground. Then imagine that when you walk out the exit, instead of heading out to a parking lot, you step into another mall of the same size. Then another. Then another. And dispersed amongst these malls are subway stations, so if you get tired of walking, you can always take the train. I found it all very overwhelming, and not once did I lose the feeling of pressure on my head knowing I was below ground. If you decide to explore the RÉSO, I recommend you wear layers, as it feels about twenty degrees warmer below street level.


As evening approached, I walked up toward McGill College and entered Parc du Mont-Royal, high above the rooftops of the entire city. By the time I reached the park trail in Mont-Royal, it was completely dark, and I questioned the wisdom of my entering an unfamiliar, unlit woodland area in the center of an urban area, but when I noticed that my only other companions were female, college-aged, joggers, I assumed that the area must be considered pretty safe. After traversing the northeast corner of the park, I headed back toward Boulevard St-Laurent in search of a meal.

On Le Main (St-Laurent) I searched out the touristy, yet highly recommended, Charcuterie Hébraïque de Montréal (aka Schwartz's Delicatessen), for some of its famous smoked meat.
When I got there, however, there was a line out the door of tourists and locals alike, and I was tired (and not much of a meat eater anyway), so I continued walking until I reached Boulevard de Maisonneuve again, and travelled back to Rue St-Denis and the Latin Quarter where I grabbed some pizza before heading back to my hotel, my walking loop complete. In retrospect, I wish I had stopped at one of the Indian or Thai restaurants I had passed on The Main.

The next morning, I packed everything I had onto my back, checked out of my hotel, and took the Metro to a new area of the city, in search of Fairmount Bagel. Fairmount Bagel, which boasts being the first bagel in space, is considered among the best in Montreal, but for me, who grew up on New York bagels, the long trek out to the storefront wasn't worth the effort. Perhaps I chose the wrong flavor to sample (sesame is the most popular, but I went for muesli), or perhaps my tastes are just too highly influenced by my home region, but Montreal bagels didn't live up to their reputation.

I retraced my steps through the Metro, and returned to the Musée des Beaux Arts for a final visit with Waterhouse. I arrived at the entrance to the show and met with the guided tour which was assembling there. To my surprise, several members of the group had travelled from England to see the exhibit, after already seeing it at the Royal Academy (in the face of this kind of loyalty, it still shocks me that no American museum hosted this exhibit). The tour was enjoyable, but far too short: it was difficult to cover everything in the show in the hour that was allotted for the lecture. After I made my good-byes to the paintings, I ran back to the Berri-UQÁM station where I boarded the l'Aerobus shuttle to the airport.

I arrived at the airport in plenty of time, filled out my Customs paperwork, and battled the typical international travel obstacle course before reaching my terminal. Despite a long delay because of weather, the return flight was still enjoyable, and I arrived safely home, tired, but thrilled to have been able to finally see the show.

This was only my second visit to Canada, and I must say, that I really enjoyed both my stays. The people are laid back and friendly, and I find the preservation of cultures there to be exciting and uplifting (unlike America, Canada seems to be more of a stew than a melting pot- the different cultures live side-by-side without an expectation of homogenization). I particularly missed hearing French when I returned home. For those of you thinking of traveling to Montreal to see this magnificent show, I highly recommend it; not only are the paintings wonderful to experience in person, but so is the environment which opened its arms to this fantastic show.

¹Elizabeth Prettejon, Peter Trippi, Robert Upstone, and Patty Wageman, J.W. Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Raphaelite, (Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2008), p. 106.


14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fabulous travelogue and description. I REALLY want to go.
Hope I can make it there before I head south in January. Matt, the way you savor things is almost as good as seeing them myself!

-Andrea Scheidler

Jason de Graaf said...

Man.. You should have called me! I still haven't gone.. I know, the shame. I will definitely get there soon now that I am less busy.

william wray said...

man what a run down-- thanks for all your hard work---

Amelia Landes said...

That was so wonderful! thanks for sharing.

Amelia Landes Taylor

lisagloria said...

What a great post! Thanks so much for putting this together.

patricia_murphy said...

Thank you for the detail, not only of the exhibition, but also of your journey. I won't have the opportunity to see this exhibit, but feel as though I travelled with you, perhaps in your coat pocket, taking in the sights, the sounds and the smells ... Merci!

Anonymous said...

I almost wish I'd never seen Waterhouse.

I'd have been a reasonably successful but terribly apathetic programmer by now, instead of a poor painter.

I'd explain "blah, blah" but if you posted this topic, you get it.

Bummer that you didn't get the "Ophelia"s though.

Artanya said...

Wow! Fantastic post. I am Canadian and went to school in Montreal. Your detailed descriptions of the city took me right back to that wonderful city, that indeed makes me proud to be a Canadian.
And I now I am seriously contemplating catching a flight to Montreal and checking out the Waterhouse exhibit!

Merci!!

Rob Rey said...

I just got back from Montreal! It was amazing. I may go back before the show is over. Reproductions do not give due credit to Waterhouse's masterful value control.

Anonymous said...

I hope they are paying you a commission because you have probably started an avalanche of visitors to Montreal and the Waterhouse exhibition! I wanna go there, NOW !! An excellent post, thank you.

innisart said...

For every 10,000 visitors I send to the Musée des Beaux Arts, I get a coupon for a free medium coffee from Tim Hortons ;)

I really hope that this show breaks attendance records, not just for the sake of the museum, which took on a show when no other museum in North America seemed interested (and for that I am extremely thankful!), but so Waterhouse can thumb his nose at the museums which didn't clamor for this opportunity. I think these institutions which overlooked this show need to start accepting that this is exactly the kind of art that does draw people in to their museums. The powers-that-be who consider non-Modern work to be "so common," need to wake up and realize that plenty of people don't like and will never like Modern art (and don't talk down to us like we are uneducated!). Museums need money to keep their doors open; why not give the people what they want!?

But as one curator/author/educator recently wrote to me "you have no idea of the amount of drivel that the US is producing every month in way of shows at museums. What a total waste." It's very sad for we Americans.

To my Canadian friends- I hope I did not do Montréal too much injustice. I once met a man born in Tobago who had moved and lived all over the world. He told me that the closest place to perfect he ever found was Canada, and I think of him and that quote whenever I think of your home country. My best to you!

Brian said...

Alas, here in Dark Africa, where I live, shows of this sort are not rare; they don't exist, period. And I don't exactly have the kind of money that would allow me to quickly fly to Montreal to go view Waterhouse's marvelous works in person. Lucky for me then that you took the time and trouble to write up this post!

iWoo said...

I'm going tonight. For a brief, frightening moment, I thought I had missed my opportunity. If I see the show tonight, I can also return tomorrow or on Sunday just in case I need more time! I can't take for granted a world-class show like this being curated and assembled at my feet; I am originally from Calgary, AB (in western Canada); there is no major gallery capable of housing an exhibition half the size. Having moved to Montreal, I need to take advantage of exactly this sort of thing!

It really is interesting that the show showed in London and here... and it won't be going to the States. My love for my new "home" city grows more and more.

p.s. In my humble opinion, you didn't miss much not going to Schwartz's. It has a long history and is just hyped well, but if you like your food as varied and complex as you like your paintings, you'd be fairly disappointed.

Thanks for the fantastic writeup and the reminder that this exhibit is not to be missed!

Stephina Suzzane said...

My dream is to walk around the world. A smallish backpack, all essentials neatly in place. A camera. A notebook. A traveling paint set. A hat. Good shoes. A nice pleated (green?) skirt for the occasional seaside hotel afternoon dance. Cheap Flights to Montreal