The Yale University Art Gallery consists of four floors of exquisite and varied art forms- paintings, sculptures, coins, furniture-spanning a myriad of cultures. This is not to mention the special exhibitions that are showcased on sections of the first and fourth floors. All of this, for free.
There’s parking on the side streets surrounding the gallery, with a 2-hour maximum limit. My brother and I came on two separate occasions and spent several hours at the gallery both times (always ended up speed-walking back to the car…), yet we have much of it left to cover. On our first visit, we went through the special exhibition on the first floor, the sculpture garden, and the European art gallery on the second floor. On the second visit, we explored the special exhibition on the fourth floor.
First Floor Special Exhibition— Whistler in Paris, London, and Venice
James Abbott McNeill Whistler was an iconic and eccentric American-born artist with a notoriously combative public persona. He drew influence from both the old masters of art and emerging artistic theories to create a modern, earnest style all his own. The exhibit focused on three major periods in his life-his time in Paris, London, and Venice- and the accompanying sets of etchings that he produced during those times. His art features an interesting progression, from depictions of Dutch country genre scenes to portraits of the commercial shoreline of the Thames River and finally, to the canals of Venice. The aspect of his art that I appreciated most was his focus on portraying the “ordinary”, rather than the most iconic sites in a city, as was the habit of 19th century artists. One of my favourite exhibits.
I’m not arguing with you, I’m telling you.
Sculpture Garden (accessed from first floor)
We wandered out into the sculpture garden after exploring the Whistler exhibit. A staircase leads up onto the main section of the garden, which features several abstract statues. As of the time we went there, there was ongoing construction. Barring extenuating circumstances, it’s certainly a nice, quiet area to read and relax during a sunny day.
Second Floor — European Art Gallery
While there are other exhibits on the floor, such as the Asian, African, and American Art before 1900 exhibits, we wandered into the European art section. The European art gallery, in contrast to Whistler’s exhibition for instance, doesn’t aim to tell a linear narrative. It depicts staples of European culture- portraits of fair ladies, courtly knights, and religious figures, genre scenes, myths- and classic artistic styles. It is an elegant and dramatic collection of art, though it certainly doesn’t constitute my favourite exhibit.
Fourth Floor Special Exhibition — The Critique of Reason: Romantic Art, 1760-1860
In my mind, this was the most vibrant and powerful collection of art that we viewed in the gallery. The age of Romanticism meshed the scientific rigour of the Enlightenment with emotionally evocative imagery. Romantic artists were heavily involved in politics, the manifestations of which were in caricatures of political figures with rounded jowls and enormous, crooked noses, as well as depictions of massacres of innocents.
Another staple of the Romantic artist is landscape art. These paintings were striking, as they focused on capturing the sublime essence of nature. One of my favourites was The Deluge by John Martin. Dark, thunderous skies, lit only by the eerie glow of a blood moon and lightning strikes. Roaring waves tossing around the boat with the helpless figures within. The photo I took of it does little justice to it, but it is hypnotizing. The terrifying beauty of the scene encapsulates and defines the Romantic movement for me.
The fourth floor is rounded out by the sculpture terrace, which has excellent views of New Haven.
The Yale University Art Gallery is among my favourite of the sites that we visited. Honestly, it’s of higher quality than some art galleries I’ve visited with paid admission. It should certainly be made a priority on anyone’s trip to New Haven. I’ll be back, without a question!