So Much Art, So Little Time | Our Recent Travels to Washington D.C. and Virginia

What do gallery owners do on vacation?

Like every other holiday traveler, my wife, Carrie, and I travel to escape from the demands of daily life. With a busy gallery and four children, sometimes we just need to take a break from our routines and recharge. We’ve been married since 1998, and, over the years, have had the opportunity to visit some amazing places and see some incredible sites. We love traveling together!

on our way – 6:00 am flight!

This year it turned out that our children all had fall break at the same time, something that doesn’t always happen with the four of them attending three different schools.  When we realized this would occur, Carrie and I immediately began planning a getaway. We did some extensive traveling with our kids over the summer, so we decided to leave them at home under the care of their grandparents, while we would sneak away to Washington D.C. and Virginia.

Carrie and I have both been reading a lot of American history recently, so we thought it would be fun to visit sites we had read about – especially the homes of great figures in American history and Colonial Williamsburg. We made a careful plan, booked a rental car, and reserved rooms. We were excited for our adventure as the vacation arrived and we set off on our journey.

Now, I want to be clear, as we set of on this trip, we were planning to enjoy a trip filled with history. Somehow, however, the trip, as so many of our outings do, turned out to have a main course of art, with a side of American History!

Day1

It all began on our first full day in Washington D.C. We had decided that we were going to visit Smithsonian museums during our two days in the Capitol, but that we would wait to decide which ones until we were on the Mall. We visited a number of the monuments, and then gravity pulled us inexorably toward the National Gallery of Art. We thought we would just poke our heads in and scout out the gallery to see if we ought to come back with more time. Instead we ended up spending the entire afternoon, not leaving until the Gallery, and all the other museums were closed.

We loved the museum’s collection. Carrie and I each have a long list of favorite artists. Our lists overlap quite a bit, but not entirely, and so it was fun dragging each other to see favorites. We try to stay close enough together that we can discuss interesting pieces.

We saw works by Caravaggio, Dürer, Van Dyck, Rubens, and Rembrandt. Carrie pointed across a gallery and exclaimed “Bierstadt!”; the National Gallery has a number of great examples of his epic landscapes. I got to see several Turners (I’m a bigger fan of his work than Carrie). Renoir. Monet. Cassatt. John Singer Sargent. Church. And many, many more.

The hours in the museum flew by and we felt no regrets at having spent the afternoon with our friends, the Masters!

Day 2

Most of our second day in the Capital was spent at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum was a profound experience. Even though the Holocaust Memorial Museum is not an art museum, art plays an important role in conveying the story of the Holocaust. The museum itself and its design were carefully crafted to magnify the impact of the displays. We saw works of art from concentration camps, and artwork made to help convey the scale of the tragedy of the Holocaust.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit the museum, I highly recommend it.

We spent so much time there, that by the time we were finished, it was late afternoon and we had once again run down the clock. We walked up to the Capitol building. We were too late for a tour, but we got to poke around a bit, and once again, realize how important art is in memorializing history.

We then strolled to the White House and on to the Lincoln Memorial, followed by a sunset trip to the Jefferson Memorial. Art, art and more art!

 

Day 3 & 4

On our third day we headed west from DC across the wooded Virginia countryside to Charlottesville, a three hour drive. We arrived just in time for our scheduled tour of Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello. We were interested to learn about Jefferson’s life, about the gardens, and about the lives of the enslaved workers on the plantation, but once again, I couldn’t keep my attention away from the art we saw on the tour.

Jefferson was clearly fascinated with classical and French architecture, and it was interesting to see how his vision was incorporated into the home (a project that ultimately took 40 years!). Additionally, Jefferson collected paintings and sculptures throughout his lifetime, along with engravings and native American artistry and craft.

What I loved about seeing his art collection was that there weren’t necessarily any “significant” works. Rather, we were seeing artwork by a variety of artists and artisans that would have been active during Jefferson’s lifetime. While it’s possible that some of these artists may have gone on to become famous in their lifetime, most likely remained obscure. After having spent the day in the National Gallery, and having spent a lot of time in other museums, I found it fascinating to glimpse a real-world collection.

It also became clear that most of the art was illustrative or narrative in purpose. Jefferson collected portraits and busts of famous figure he admired – enlightenment thinkers, historical political figures, generals and others. He had engravings of important battles and historical moments. Very little of the art we saw was likely to have been purchased for decorative purposes. There were also painted portraits of family members.

One gets the sense that in an age before television and computers, art was a much more important part of the daily visual experience people were having.

It was also interesting to see how contemporary monumental sculptures have been used by the foundations who run these homes and provide tours to help bring historical figures to life. You can’t escape the art!

The following day we visited Jame’s Madison’s home, Montpelier. Once again – the history was rich, and the artwork critical to the story. Both James and Dolly used artwork to engage visitors in conversation.

It was clear that for both Thomas Jefferson and for the Madisons, art was an important part of their daily experiences and routines.

Day 5

Our fifth day was spent in Colonial Williamsburg, a reproduction/restoration of the colonial period capital of Virginia. Touring the governor’s palace, our first stop of the day, showed once again how relevant art was during the pre-revolutionary period. The art in the palace was clearly designed to instill a sense of awe toward the crown and the British colonial government. We were fortunate to get a great tour guide who shared stories about individual works of art in the building and the effect they had on visitors.

After visiting a number of different restored homes and businesses throughout the day, we made our way to the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum & Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum on the outer edge of the colonial section of town.

The museum is built on the grounds of the old public hospital. As they are building a new entry plaza for the museum, you currently enter through the mental ward of the hospital – a bit of an odd introduction to the art.

As the name of the museum indicates, the collection is made up of decorative and folk art. Unlike other museums where the focus is on well-known artists and their work, this museum houses an extensive collection of antique furniture and folk art by a wide range of artists and artisans.

As we were entering the collection we noticed a docent-led tour making its way through the furniture. We decided to tag a long for a few minutes, but the docents comments on the furniture were so interesting and his knowledge so deep that we ended up completing the entire tour. I have to admit that I am a complete neophyte when it comes to furniture, and it was fascinating to realize that a chest of drawers truly can be a work of art.

 

The folk art section of the museum was likewise focused on lesser-known artists, or at least lesser-known to me. Even though we hadn’t spent a lot of time with folk art, Carrie and I like the simplicity and naivete of folk art. We’ve admired artists like Philip Curtis (the Phoenix Museum of Art has a great collection) and Grant Wood, along with other folk-art inspired artists.

Day 6

On our last day of the trip we made our way back to the D.C. area and visited one last historic site, George and Martha Washington’s Mt. Vernon. To avoid redundancy, I won’t spend a lot of time describing this visit. Like Monticello and Montpelier, Mt. Vernon had many fine examples of period art – including some especially fine landscapes.

If you are interested in colonial and revolutionary history and want to see some great art, I can highly recommend DC, Charlottesville, Montpelier, Colonial Williamsburg and Mt. Vernon. Carrie and I returned from our trip a bit exhausted (we saw a lot in a week!) but thoroughly enriched by the experience.

Do you seek or avoid art on your vacations?

Does art wend its way into your vacations, or do you try to get away from art when you travel? Have you had experiences like ours where art became an important aspect of a trip that was intended to focus on art? Share travel experiences in the comments below.

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Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

40 Comments

  1. Wow, Jason.
    I just realized in your opening words that my wife and I have really never gotten away except perhaps, our honeymoon, and just recently to a spa for 3 glorious days. And as your title suggests, there is so much and so little time. To which I would “and so easily squandered.”
    On to your question. the answer is a question- “How does one avoid it?” I would add one more thought. If one is numb (de-sensitized) to what art is and how it works in the world around us, then one can perhaps “avoid” it, but I would suggest it takes a lot of work to really do that.
    (Most of our trips have been and continue to be art, music, or history related meaning the reason for the trip.)
    Best Wishes, and thank you for posting this.

  2. Forget vacation, I jump into the art on every trip that takes me 3 hours or more from my house. Usually, I travel to work but add a day or so to the beginning or end of the trip just to see what I can see. By researching local museums and galleries and also checking for artist studios nearby, I usually see something I never expected.

  3. So glad you got to enjoy DC area, my home. I love most museum’s are free here so everyone can enjoy art! Natinal Gallery of art is wonderful!

  4. Aloha Jason, thank you for sharing your vacation experience. I have planned many vacations around museums. London, Paris and Amsterdam were all major museum destinations for me. Santa Fe was mainly to see the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. And New York, my god, I have been there twice just to immerse myself in the art – the Met, MOMA, Guggenheim, the Frick, the Whitney, the Nueu Gallery. I used to live outside of San Francisco so I made hundreds of sojourns to its museums over the many years I lived in the Bay Area. Now that I live on the Big Island, where there are no major art museums, it is hard. So every time I visit my daughter in LA I make her drag me to at least one major art museum. Thank God many of the world’s great collections can be accessed online and while I have a huge personal collection of Art monographs and museum catalogs, nothing takes the place of a personal encounter with a masterpiece.

  5. I have made it a personal quest to see art every where I have travled to. I actually love to go to churches to study the messages in the paintings too because I love churches and I have always believed that the art displayed in churches have something to teach us. Now you have peaked me even further due to your trip, to see if I can answer the question of why have those collectors chose to collect those pieces and what the collector is truly like. Thank you Jason and Carrie.

  6. We love visiting Art museums on our travels, and when we retired, this was one of the driving factors in our move from the US to the UK. With easy access to continental Europe, we have spent many vacations over the past 12 years built around European art museums and historically important art oriented locations, such as Monet’s home and gardens at Giverny, a personal favourite of mine. Two summers ago, I visited the Washington, D.C. area and was fortunate enough to tour most of the sites you have described. To do so as an expat was especially poignant. These experiences always nourish my studio practice.

  7. What a wonderful trip and description of your time; I hope you enjoyed the (mostly) beautiful Fall weather. You really hit some of the real treasures of this country and indeed saw/experienced a great deal in a week. More to see at the Smithsonian and everywhere in the East on your next trip; we do love our decorative arts (furniture, etc) and house museums here.

  8. Did you get to see the Vermeer Exhibit at NGA?
    Another museum not to be missed is the Museum of American Art and the Portrait Gallery, just up 7th street from the Smithsonian. Come in the spring when the cherry blossoms are out. You could take the capitol tour in the morning, then go underground to the Library of Congress and then walk from there down to the tidal basin. As you say, so much to do. DC area also my home.

  9. Look as though you guys had a great time, admittedly, its nice to get some adult time away from home. Are you kidding me, Maraya and I plan our adventures around art. Well, art and eating. Glad you had fun in DC

  10. I think we’re always drawn to what interests us…and especially on vacation. Usually when I go away on a vacation I try and take in at least 1 local gallery and 1 public gallery of the town/ city I’m in. I was in Venice a week ago….there is enough art there to fill every nano-second of every day of vacation!

  11. Jason, thank you for sharing this wonderful travelogue! I admit that wherever I go, I seek out (1) reference material, and (2) art. Last time I visited London, I spent all day at the National Gallery, after I had first photographed the horses and splendor associated with the coming and going of the Queen’s Horse Guards (just a few blocks from the Gallery).

  12. Just came back from 5 days in New York. We went to the new Whitney, Guggenheim, Met (both old and new), Frick, MOMA and spent a good part of a day walking the Chelsea galleries and Soho. It was all about the art.

  13. I was a flight attendant for 20 years and made a point to hit every museum I could on layovers, domestically and internationally! It’s food for my soul and spirit! Fortunately, I lived out D.C. for a couple of years and got to see many exhibitions that were unforgettable and had a wonderful effect of my mind and heart! Nothing better than to see an artwork in person! I sound like an advertisement -Support a museum today!

  14. Sounds like you and your wife had a wonderful time and made the most of every day and every place you visited.

    If you ever find yourself in the DC area again, please venture 7 miles south and visit the Torpedo Factory in the historic section of Alexandria Virginia. It’s the oldest and largest art center in the country and what makes it so much fun is studios are all working studio so the artist are generally there working on their art. People are friendly willing to chat and happy to answer questions or demo process.

    Best days to visit (when most studios will be open) are Thursdays through Sundays. Full disclosure, I’ve been an artist there since 2007. My studios up on the third floor, studio 307.

      1. It’s been many years since my family and I lived in the Washington DC area, but another place not to be missed is the Phillips Collection. I think it has been renovated since I was last there, more than 20 years ago, but at that time, the collection was one of the best most dense, in terms of wonderful masterpieces, that one can find anywhere. While the renovation was ongoing, some of the collection was on tour to several cities – which was also a controversy because it was against the rules of the benefactor, but deemed necessary for the upkeep of the collection by the trustees.

  15. Our family went to Colonial Williamsburg in 2007 after the graduation of our first daughter from High School. We stayed on site at one of the period designed motels, with chocolate in the mornings on our pillows, the staff did their best to re-enact the time period. Living History buffs ourselves, we loved the week exploring so much in the area! Thank you for your beautiful pictures, your descriptions, and summaries of the places you have been! It was a great get-away on this snowy day in Kansas today–yes, October 31, Reformation Day, we are experiencing snow. There is art all around us, in real life and pictures!!

  16. Thank you for sharing. There is so very much to see there. While in Philadelphia I was able to tour Independence Hall and the First National Bank / presidential portraits. Amazing! Not to forget the Liberty Bell. So much to see and never enough time.

  17. I’ve dragged my wonderful husband to every art museum we could squeeze into during our travels all over Europe and the United States! I grew up in and around Washington, D.C. and was fortunate to have had the Smithsonian museums, National Portrait Gallery, the Corcoran, the Hirshhorn, et al at my disposal. There are delightful galleries and museums nearly everywhere you travel and it’s both educational and inspiring to see both the historic and contemporary art alive and well!

  18. I’m very pleased you got a taste of DC … the city is sooo much more than politics! It definitely takes more than one trip … you must go back, again and again. One needn’t go to NY to see great art; DC is awash with great museums and collections.
    Washington DC and Paris were designed by the same city planner, Pierre L’Enfant, and one can readily see the similarities. Bit of trivia … DC in the early 60s leaned toward austere structures; the architecture may have been grand but cold marble, concrete, and metal dominated. Here in Texas we bless Lady Bird Johnson for her beautification projects. We enjoy months of scenic beauty from early spring through the summer driving south and central Texas highways with wildflowers in profusion. As First Lady, she did for DC what she did for Texas. She personally coordinated the gardens, the flowers, the plantings, the attention to making the smallest green area an excuse to plant something … I see her direct influence in making DC the lovely city it is today.
    I’m sure you saw all the school buses lined up in front of the museums. DC is where my adolescent interest in art was nurtured with great art in some of the world’s finest museums. Thankfully, I never got over that …. 🙂

  19. Glad you enjoyed your time in my home state (for the last 23 years), Virginia. So much to see here! A couple more excellent museums are the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond, and the small gem that is closest to me, the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk. I love to see art when I’m away too. One of the perks of participating in the Rittenhouse Square Fine Art show last month was carving out time to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation, both superb!

  20. Hi Jason,
    Thanks for sharing some of the highlights of your trip and the great Art! I enjoy seeing art and museums on my travels also!!!
    sincerely,
    Santana

  21. Wow Jason, thank you for sharing your travels with us. We often visit art galleries when we’re on vacation and spend time at museums when they’re near out destination. We also walk and talk a lot.

  22. Hi, Jason–Did you happen to see The Veiled Nun by Giuseppe Croff at the Natl. Gallery of Art? That is my favorite piece–and I’m an oil painter! I also like all things Cecilia Beaux and of course Sargent.
    Anyway, yes–a visit to another place is not complete without a visit to the art museum. It’s nice that you and your wife both enjoy art together.
    Chet

  23. So happy you enjoyed my home town of D.C.–so many additional great Smithsonian art museums to see as well–we discovered Wynwood Walls last year –incredible murals in Miami that change each year –I’ love to see art and sometimes collect it when I travel

  24. I was born and raised in Washington, DC many years ago! My free time was spent in places like Mt. Vernon, the National Gallery of Art, the defunct Corcoran Gallery, Monticello, Montpelier, and more. A guard at the National Gallery once told me confidentially that the single most valuable painting there is a very small piece by Van Eyck – so small (but exquisite) that it is usually overlooked by the crowd. My husband and I relocated to Arlington, then Fairfax, VA when we married, and our children were the beneficiaries of the wealth of art galleries, museums, and other cultural treasures in the area. Your presentation of your vacation is excellent! Any viewers who haven’t yet been to DC & VA will certainly be inspired to make plans to visit. After years of raising 6 kids, and fighting the chaos of rush hour there, we moved to Almost Heaven West Virginia, where life is more primitive, but the beauty of the landscape provides a rich source of ideas for our artwork.

  25. I always seek out art on my vacations. I traveled to Rome & Florence a few years ago & was inspired so much to produce new artwork… heading for art galleries & spending a lot of time in them feeds my soul…

  26. Hi Jason, sounds like a wonderful trip ! Like you I seek art on my travels, and for your future travels I’d invite you to Toronto the Art Gallery of Ontario is superb, and the National Gallery in Ottawa is also wonderful ! Like you said so much art so little time!

  27. Thanks for letting us join your vacation experience. I love going to art museums when I get a chance. 2 gems near where I live, here in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, are one, the Corning Glass Museum in Corning New York and two, the art museum on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York. The art museum at Cornell has a lot of amazing antique asian art and even local folks often don’t know about it. Another thing I’ve been enjoying is doing jigsaw puzzles of masterpieces. I do it online (Jigsaw Planet) and they have quite a few. What a wonderful way to study composition and technique.

  28. I plan a lot of my trips around visits to art museums where ever I go. Last week I drove a piece of art to an exhibit in Lorton, VA from my home studio in NC. Then I drove to the nearby Metro Station and spent a day in DC with two exhibits in mind to see: Murder was her hobby, at the Renwick, and Lumina, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I met a friend there, and we had a lot of fun discussing both exhibits. Check them out online. Great shows! And almost all the museums in DC are free too.

  29. Jason, what a fabulous post!! Thank-you so much for all the time and effort it took to put it together for us. I have never been to DC but you totally inspired me to put it on my Bucket List. My husband and I have visited, viewed, and photographed dozens of art museums throughout our homeland of Canada, the US, and Europe. It is easy to become overwhelmed with the vastness of the ‘art world’. Your narrative, plus that of the folks who replied herein, is like a mini Trip Advisor and I shall save this as art reference for the future. Thanks to everyone.

    Verna

  30. Hi Jason, thanks for sharing your “ART VACATION”. What I noticed in the art of the museums that you visited was a record of the times. Portraits and sculpture. Important people. A record of what was current at the time. Much different than the art we see today. Thanks again for sharing. Next time, make it two weeks. Best Regards, Jim

  31. Thanks for sharing your vacation trip and vivid descriptions of the galleries and art you saw.
    I always try to get at least one art museum and or galleries on my vacation trips.
    David
    Smyrna, GA

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