A Visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art: Doorway to a Different World

Mention Cleveland to most folks, and you’ll usually get one of two snickering comments: “Oh, you mean you live near the ‘Mistake on the Lake?'” or “Isn’t that where the river caught fire?”

Well, yes, the Cuyahoga River was once so polluted, it did catch fire. That fire, the one you sometimes hear about, was back in 1969, and the worrying thing is, it wasn’t even the first time the river burned. Things have since improved, and although I don’t think I’ll be taking a dip in the Cuyahoga anytime soon, I would be open to kayaking it.

I’ll be the first to admit the city still has its issues, and that’s okay by me because it means us locals can generally enjoy the area’s many attractions without crowds.

One of the best attractions (and perhaps most surprising to those who don’t live in the area) is the Cleveland Museum of Art, home to more masterpieces than one might expect and totally free thanks to the foresight and generosity of its industrialist founders.

To me, the Art Museum is the crown jewel of Cleveland’s University Circle museums, and today I met my childhood neighbor and friend Sue for a wander around.

Sue and I had both recently been enthralled by the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibition, and ostensibly were visiting the art museum to visit the artist’s works there, as well as catch up on each other’s life.

We did both, but in the process I was struck by several pieces of art I would have sworn I’d never seen before despite visiting the institution every few years.

Of course, there were also some old favorites on display as well.

There are surprises around every corner like this doorway and knocker from the “Isaac Gillet House, 1821” designed by architect Jonathan Goldsmith. I love its clean lines, and this little girl seemed to be quite taken by it too.

Because we were there for Van Gogh, we headed to the gallery that focused on the Impressionists. There we found this gentleman, painted by Georges Seurat as a study for “Bathers at Asnieres, about 1883-84.”


Then it was cotton candy clouds in “The Pink Cloud, 1896” by Henri-Edmond Cross.

Camille Pissarro is also represented, and I was absorbed by his “Edge of the Woods near L’Hermitage, Pontoise, 1879.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Impressionist gallery without Monet, and though Cleveland has one of the huge water lily paintings, I was drawn to this one, “Low Tide at Pourville, near Dieppe, 1882,” because it reminded me of the white cliffs of Dover. When I looked on a map, I could see why. Dieppe, while not directly across from Dover, is close enough that it probably shares a geological history to its English counterpart.

Although I didn’t photograph it, Sue and I took a moment to view the famed water lilies painting and realized we’d both visited the museum in 2015 to see the special exhibit of all three paintings of the triptych on display together. (The other two panels are owned by museums in Kansas City and St.Louis, and the three panels traveled to those cities as well before the individual pieces were returned to the institutions that owned them.)

Then, ah, yes, there were the Van Goghs.

“Two Poplars in the Alpilles near Saint-Remy, 1889”
From the same year: “The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Remy)

And, then there was this, which I’m sure I never saw before in my life!

It’s also Van Gogh, but earlier (1883), “Landscape with Wheelbarrow”
I liked the “Villas at Trouville, 1884” by Gustave Caillebotte, though for some reason I just now had the thought that if the buildings are still intact, they’re probably hotels or AirBnBs now.
Andre Derain puts a different spin on “The Houses of Parliament from Westminster Bridge, 1906.” I can’t say I’ve ever seen old English buildings look quite that colorful!

Sue and I also admired this Calder, “White Loops and Red Spiral, 1959.” (There is also an Alexander Calder mobile, but I didn’t take a picture of it).

This painting reminded me of the aftermath of war. It’s by Anselm Kiefer, titled “Lot’s Wife,” and painted in 1989. Turns out I wasn’t far off, the description says Kiefer was addressing the history and legacy of the Third Reich in his native Germany.

For the most part, I realized the paintings I was drawn to were by artists whose names were familiar, even if the paintings weren’t. While I’d like to think this means I have an eye for art, it’s more likely I have an eye for styles I recognize.

Below is an example of this, painted by Andrew Wyeth, it’s called “End of Olsons,” painted in 1969 as the final work produced at the “rustic Maine home” of a family he befriended.

“Gray and Gold, 1942” by John Rogers Cox. The juxtaposition of the clouds and wheat made me feel like I should be choosing which way to turn at that crossroads. Sue said it looked like that scene near the end of “Castaway” (with Tom Hanks), and I immediately could see what she meant. It really does!
This fire screen was designed by Paul Feher and produced at Rose Iron works in Cleveland in 1930. So, not only is it classic Art Deco, it also has a local connection.
For those of you who think Georgia O’Keefe only painted flowers, here’s “Cliffs Beyond Abiquiu, Dry Waterfall, 1943.”
“The Farm at the Entrance of the Wood, 1860-80” by Rosa Bonheur

It was good to see some female artists represented!

This one’s a Hopper, “Hills, South Truro, 1930,” and I think I like it because, like the Wyeth and Cox paintings above, there’s such depth to the landscape.

Below are two more that made me feel the same way, as if I could just become part of the painting’s world.
“The Doge’s Palace, Venice, 1826” by Richard Parkes Bonington
“Pollard Willow, after 1804” by Pierre-Jean Boquet

After all the paintings, it was time to visit some old friends, so we headed to the two small niches containing the Tiffany glass and the Faberge items.

Below are two views of the same Tiffany window, as well as some examples of the company’s lamps.

I didn’t take any pictures of the Faberge items because I couldn’t seem to get a good perspective, but they are decadent and bedazzling.

And we didn’t explore the other half of the museum, heading instead for lunch in the little onsite cafeteria, although I did pop into the Eastern art area to take a photo of this glorious prayer niche.

I also took a picture of this, which I think is just a vent or access door to the heating systems or something. They’re all over the building, but I thought it was wonderful that something functional could also be made so beautiful.

Finally, on the way home, I caught this image of one of the wonderful arched bridges on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.

My route to the museum takes this route, which is through the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, another Cleveland treasure. These gardens are designed and cultivated by 33 different cultural or nationality groups along Martin Luther King, Jr. and East Boulevards in Rockefeller Park. The gardens were mostly vandalized and ruined when I first began visiting the museum, but in recent times, they have been cleaned up (and also, I think, extended). You can read more about them here.

Thanks for allowing me to share one of the reasons I love where I live.

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