Chasing art on vacation: Not just another gallery!

Erte's Manhattan Mary hanging in her permanent home above our fireplace -the shot doesn't do her justice!

We doubt that there is anyone among the discerning travelers of the world who has not spent inordinate amounts of time visiting museums and galleries when on vacation. This is perhaps especially so in Europe, but it can happen anywhere.  Whether it’s the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, or even – believe it or not – on a cruise ship, art has often been a memorable part of our travels.

It happened most recently last summer when we were visiting London for a few days before ticking a trans-Atlantic voyage on a Cunard Queen off our bucket list.  Patty had a yearning to visit the V & A to find a handbag once owned by Napoleon that was reported to be in the museum. Museum folks (and librarians) are among the most helpful of people and like nothing more than to be asked to help in a quest – the more obscure the better.  But alas, it was not to be.  We never did find that handbag (which plays a central role in a book she’s currently working on).  What we did find, however, was a piece of art that has great meaning for us.

The original design for the Equus horses' heads now on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London

Among the permanent exhibits at the V & A is their magnificent Theatre and Performance Galleries which include an extraordinary collection of artifacts from West End theatres in London.  One of the plays that featured among the most interesting was Equus.  You might be more familiar with a more recent revival of this play in 2007 on Broadway starring Daniel Radcliffe making his break-out debut post-Harry Potter.  But this exhibit was from the original play dating to the early 1970’s by playwright Peter Shaffer whose story is of a psychiatrist treating a teen-aged boy with a pathological fascination with horses – resulting in him blinding them.  A chill-inducing premise to say the least.  What we found in the display, however, we eerily reminiscent of a piece of art that hangs high on a wall in the great room of our home.

The Equus horse's head hanging in our home.

Created for Neptune Theatre’s production of Equus back in the late 1970’s by designer Linda Whitney, our piece resembles the original, stylized horse’s head costumes that were worn by actors playing the unfortunate horses.  It’s a piece of sculpture that Art had when we were married and has followed us from one abode to another since then.  To see it’s provenance during our travels was to feel connected to the wider world of art and culture that transcends international boundaries.

But there have also been other ways that art has played a part in our travels.

One of the aspects of cruise travel that we would caution anyone about is the art-at-sea spectacles.  Many of the cruise ships we’ve traveled on have carried on board large collections of artwork pieces of which are regularly auctioned through the week or ten days of the voyage.  The art auction typically consists of free champagne and lots of salesmanship – not to mention a collection of pieces that is eerily the same from one ship to another.  Every once in a while, though, a cruise ship actually has on board pieces that are more appropriate for the discerning art collector.

A few years ago, we were aboard the Regent Seven Seas Navigator on a Caribbean cruise when we happened on a piece of art that matched our aesthetic.  A limited edition, signed print, it was a piece of work by French artist and designer, Erté.  It had been created by him in the late 1970’s based on a series of works he had done much earlier in his life.  For reasons that you cannot possibly understand unless you know Patty’s alter-ego, the piece had to make it home to be with us.  Manhattan Mary was not among the pieces that were shown in the art auction – rather it was hanging in one of the stairwells and was framed in the most god-awful frame one could imagine.  After negotiating with the art rep and ensuring that the piece would be reframed in a more appropriate style, we had it shipped home. And now it hangs above our fireplace.

Although we don’t expect to find a piece of art to hang on a wall during our upcoming travels to three Hawaiian islands, one time in St. John’s, Antigua we did find a piece of art that hangs on a gold chain around Patty’s neck .  Maybe there’ll be another of those!

[A note: In Canada,  pieces of original art are not subject to duty.  If you are going to buy art work when you’re travelling, you should check in advance about customs and duty regulations in your country to save you a nasty surprise in the form of a whopping bill for duty owed.]

The art gallery on the Queen Mary 2