Enjoy it with your kids: Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum

Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum . . . with kids | Alamo City Moms Blog The McNay Art Museum is hosting a special exhibit, Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art, through January 4, 2015. I have written earlier about introducing your kids to art appreciation at the McNay, but this exhibit deserves its own post because the McNay has gone out of its way to provide activities and events that the whole family will enjoy.

These paintings are usually displayed in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., but those galleries are closed for renovations. This exhibit has already travelled to Rome and San Francisco, and will go next to Tokyo and Seattle. Visitors will be traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to see this exhibit, and we have it almost in our backyards. Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum The exhibition is called “intimate” because these are small-scale paintings, living-room-size. The subjects are not heroes and tragedies, but include families at play, still lifes, landscapes, beach scenes, and portraits. These paintings did hang in living rooms. They were mostly collected by Ailsa Mellon Bruce (pronounced “Elsa,” as in . . . oh never mind) and her brother, Paul Mellon. As children of Andrew W. Mellon, a banker, ambassador, cabinet official, and philanthropist, they grew up with fine art at home, and continued to collect art throughout their lives. These paintings were in Ailsa’s and Paul’s homes, providing a splash of color in a city apartment, or a nature study in a country home. Some of these paintings were purchased from people (descendants, models, friends) who were close to the Impressionists; you get the sense that these paintings were beloved treasures. The Mellons built this collection and then gave it to the National Gallery of Art to help establish it as a great museum and a source of national pride.

The McNay invited me to represent Alamo City Moms Blog at a preview event. Mary Morton, curator and head of the department of French paintings at the National Gallery of Art, led us on a guided tour and helped us understand the movements and artists represented in the exhibit. Intimate Impressionism Curator Mary Morton The McNay presents the paintings in a soft chronological order, with thematic groupings. The exhibit starts with Eugène Boudin, a mentor to Claude Monet, who painted outdoors and celebrated natural light. Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum:  Eugene Boudin Further rooms feature works by Monet, Auguste Renoir, Berthe Morisot. My daughter is especially fond of Renoir. Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum:  August Renoir painting of Monet's family Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum:  August Renoir landscape painting Then, the collection moves into Post-Impressionism. A Paul Gauguin self-portrait reflects his search for primitiveness and simplicity. An interior scene by Édouard Vuillard has lots of surface detail.

Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum: Paul Gauguin self portrait Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum:  Edouard Vuillard During the preview event, and the tour with curator Morton, my kids were with my parents, and I could concentrate on the art, lingering on a particular painting if I wanted to. Since the exhibit opened, I have come back several times with my kids; it’s a different experience, but still worthwhile. I don’t have the means to collect art the way the Mellon family did, but I can still help my kids grow up with art.

If you take away one piece of advice from this blog post, here it is: buy a family membership to the McNay. With a membership, you can visit for short periods of time, but come often. If a visit is not going well, you can just leave and try again another day. I’m more optimistic than LEGO artist Sean Kenney (“Kids don’t want to get dragged to the art museum,” he said in our interview), but I believe that museum-going is a skill, and it takes kids time to learn to keep their hands to themselves, speak softly, use walking feet, etc. Learning a new skill takes practice, and good habits.

The number of paintings in the exhibit is too many for anyone, even a well-prepared adult, to fully absorb in one visit. Here is a strategy to make it easier. In each room, ask your child to pick one painting to look at more closely: “Which one is your favorite?” Then, look closer (with reminders to keep hands down, don’t touch) and ask questions: What colors do you see, or objects? If there are people or animals, what are they doing? Kids tend to move through galleries much faster than adults. Most kids will not wait while adults leisurely gaze at every painting in a room; choosing one painting in each room to focus on is a good compromise. Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum: learning about natural light The McNay has set up some activities at the end of the exhibit that kids will enjoy, too. On a large wall, a time-lapse video projection shows the changing sunlight on the McNay Art Museum over the course of a long, summer day. Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum: sketching tables Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum: card file with sketching supplies A row of drawing tables with stools invites visitors to make their own drawings. A card-catalog file is stocked with paper, texture boards, colored pencils, and erasers. A mirror provides an opportunity to sketch a quick self-portrait. Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum: do-it-yourself still life And, my daughter’s favorite, the do-it-yourself still life station, with faux fruit, cheese, butter, oysters, sole, and lobster. (In the exhibit, there is an entire room dedicated to still life paintings.) Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum: exhibit catalog and art books to browse Around the corner, copies of the exhibit catalog and books about Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, etc., are available for browsing and for purchase. The McNay is offering a variety of events that are tailored to different ages and interests. Here are some special events that are tied in to the Intimate Impressionism exhibit:

Bonjour Les Artistes! Free Family Day, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.Sunday, October 26, 2014. Free admission to the museum and the Intimate Impressionism exhibit, plus art activities, story time, etc. Free Family Days at the McNay have such a fun atmosphere.

For Vive le McNay!, local businesses are offering products and discounts with an Impressionist theme, including food trucks on French Thursdays, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Voilà Sundays, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. OUI! Wednesdays, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., are geared towards adults, but might be a fun daytime escape for a work-at-home or stay-at-home mom.

In addition to these Impressionism-themed happenings, the McNay will continue to offer its regular, family-friendly programs, and seasonal events.

On the last Sunday of the month, the McNay offers Family Art Play, free with admission, at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.  Members can make reservations by calling 210-805-1768 by noon the Friday before; non-members can pick up remaining passes the day of the event.

A family performance, Modern Art Dance/Play, is scheduled for 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, November 23.

Family Gallery Kits are available for checkout at the front desk from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the first and third Sundays of the month. Different kits offer puzzles, sketching supplies, guide cards, or costumes. McNay Second Thursdays On McNay Second Thursdays, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on October 9 and November 13, the grounds of the McNay will turn into a big party with music, food trucks, and drinks. Museum admission is free, with docent-led tours at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Intimate Impressionism is $10 per adult. It’s family-friendly, and dogs are welcome, too.

As part of the GET REEL film series, the McNay will show The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) on an outdoor screen at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 30—the night before Halloween. The very youngest museum patrons are welcome at ArtStrolls, offered every Friday in November (November 7, 14, 21, 28). Parents, grandparents, caregivers, and little ones spend 15 minutes in the gallery and then 30 minutes of sensory playtime with Miss Tiffany of the Storytime Chicks. The event starts at 10 a.m. for infants and 11:00 a.m. for toddlers. Carriers and strollers are strongly encouraged; the dress code is very casual. To make a reservation, call 210-805-1768. ArtStrolls are free for members and $10 for non-members.

There’s always room on the grounds of the McNay to get the wiggles out before or after visiting Intimate Impressionism. McNay Art Museum grounds I hope you will be able to visit Intimate Impressionism at the McNay while it is in San Antonio, and to enjoy it with your kids. Until then, Artie McNay and I say, “Au revoir!Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum artiemcnay Artie McNay Inga Cotton

Inga is passionate about parent-driven education: helping parents be the best advocates for their children, finding the right schools (or homeschooling resources), and enjoying San Antonio's variety of arts and cultural events for families. She was born in California but has called Texas home since high school. She works part time as a lawyer and also blogs at San Antonio Charter Moms. Her eight-year-old son, F.T., and five-year-old daughter, G.N., attend a public charter school in the heart of the city. She married a techie and is a bit of a geek herself.


  1. Love this! It is LITERALLY in our back yard so I will definitely make it a priority. Can’t wait and thanks so much for the insight!

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