Pasadena California: The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens Review
The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, located in San Marino, California, is a private, non-profit institution founded by Henry E. Huntington in 1919. It is home to a delightful collection of fine art and a rare and extraordinary collection of books and manuscripts. The Botanical Gardens cover one hundred and fifty acres of land with a stunning and picturesque setting that includes the attractive and fragrant Rose Garden, the impressive Japanese Garden and the intriguing Desert Garden.
The “Blue Boy”, one of the world’s most famous works of art, oil on canvas, by Thomas Gainsborough, c.1770 is Rococo in style. It is by teacher Jonathan Buttal, who was the son of a friend of Gainsborough’s, a hardware dealer. The young man, dressed in majestic blue clothes, shows a self-confident attitude. He looks directly at his viewers with an air of self-assured assertiveness and has a proud posture with a hint of boyish innocence. The artist skillfully depicts the intricate details of his clothing, collar, cuffs and pants. There is an almost flawless reproduction of the flow of the fabric. Our young Master, Jonathan, wears stockings on his feet and shoes with satin bows that give him the air of a gentleman or young man of good stock. There is a soft tonal quality to Master Jonathan’s facial features and a haunting rendering of his eyes. His hair has a baby-soft texture, which again draws attention to his youth. As a characteristic of the Rococo style, Gainsborough’s painting is graceful, light and cheerful. There is harmony in the portrayal of young Jonathan, who is boldly set against a haunting backdrop of greenery and vast gray skies. The dignified young man is the epitome of grace, decorum, and elegance. He is the very essence of charm.
I found the oil on canvas painting “View of the Stour near Dedham” by John Constable, 1822, as a male-dominated natural scene. It is a late realist artwork. Some men go about the daily business of fishing while a lady watches from afar, standing alone on a bridge. Constable has an uncanny ability to capture the beauty of nature and the detail of landscapes. Characteristic of Constable’s style is a facet of harmony of the elements of earth, sky, and water. His use of color, tones and mixtures, light and shadows is exceptional. He skillfully contrasts the greenery of the trees and shrubs with the serenity of the white and blue cloudy skies. His figures seem frozen in time and lack the photorealism of some works of the Contemporary genre. Constable’s painting covers a wide area and meticulously depicts nature in all its glorious magnificence.
The “Young Sleeping Weaver” by Jean Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805) is an oil on canvas completed in 1755. A young woman falls asleep while weaving, with a straw basket on her arm and cloth in her lap. She wears a peaceful, satisfied and serene look of sleep. Her rosy cheeks, her small, well-defined hands and her almost baby-like features have the quality of reality. Greuze exquisitely captures the folds and the fall of the fabric, its own movement. She has an almost youthful appearance with childish playfulness and innocence. She wears a white cap with a blue ribbon and a blue dress with a striped collar. The artist draws our attention to our young weaver by using a rather dark background, which either shifts our focus or draws our attention to her. The artist’s skill in recreating the fabric, its rich bold color and brilliant quality is highly commendable and expertly done.
A review of the Huntington Library would be incomplete without mentioning the exotic Botanical Gardens, wonderful landscaping, and intriguing pieces of sculpture that adorn the acres of land. I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty and sweet fragrance emanating from the Rose Garden, including species like Sexy Rexy, Risque, Lanvin, Pink Parfait, and Rodeo Drive. The Japanese Garden is home to water lilies, spectacular Koi fish, and the Dry Garden. The Bonsai trees in the Japanese Gardens were amazing works of nature created with some human ingenuity. The Desert Gardens with their wide variety of cacti and the Tropical Gardens with their lush shrubs, vines and trees were a delight to behold and impressive to hold.
The Huntington has an exquisite collection of antique settings, Chippendale style and archaic furniture. The elaborate wall carvings, ornate architectural design, floral patterns, magnificent columns, drapery, and spiral staircase gave the building an air of elegance and palatial splendor.
Many outstanding pieces of sculpture, medieval statues, and gothic and mythological figs are well placed in the grounds. Beautiful fountains grace the courtyards, while the manicured lawns are home to attractive flower beds bursting with color and sweet scent.
A walk through the Huntington Library opened a door of discovery for me. It was an exciting feeling to be in the presence of such historically significant works on display as Gutenberg’s Vellum Bible, original manuscripts of Shakespeare and Whitman, and Audubon’s Birds of America.
My one-day visit to Huntington was unforgettable, peaceful, and evoked feelings of nostalgia, especially when I walked through the Tropical Garden and saw many trees and plants that reminded me of my home island, Trinidad and Tobago. This was an educational experience with the added benefit of a more serene environment and several possibilities that offer to avoid boredom.
The Huntington, its Edenic gardens, the atmosphere, the serenity and the richness of the literary, artistic, sculptural and architectural collections far exceeded my expectations. I was impressed with the artwork in the Modernist category, while the atmosphere, setting, and nature trail were well worth it. My visit to Huntington was totally enjoyable and unforgettable. In fact, it was a day well spent, with a secluded atmosphere where I felt at one with nature. I highly recommend the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens as a wonderful place to spend the day, have a date, or just enjoy the beauties of nature.