Though Puerto Rico has been making headlines for its devastating debt crisis, the island remains the most fascinating of the islands to visit in the Caribbean. It has beaches on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, a rainforest, fantastic nightlife in San Juan and an excellent art museum in Ponce, "the noble city".
Ponce Art Museum
Ponce looks like many colonial cities in Latin America, though the sounds and flavors are distinctly Puerto Rican. A short walk from the main plaza is the Ponce Art Museum (Museo de Arte de Ponce). The collection is one of the most important collections of European art in the Americas with works ranging from Renaissance to the 19th century with particular strengths in Baroque and Victorian painting.
The museum was founded on January 3, 1959, by Luis A. Ferré, an industrialist, former governor of Puerto Rico and art collector whose hometown was Ponce. At first, it only displayed 71 paintings from Ferré's personal collection.
The museum as we know it today was originally designed by Edward Durell Stone and is a landmark of mid-1960s architecture. Durell also designed Washington D.C.'s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the controversial building called 2 Columbus Circle which was later altered to become the Museum of Arts & Design (MAD) in New York. In 2010, the Ponce Art Museum completed a renovation that was undertaken in order to show more of its permanent collection.
The Art Collection
The museum has over 4,500 works of art from the ninth century to the present including paintings, sculptures, prints, photographs, drawings, decorative arts, pre-Hispanic and African objects, Puerto Rican folk art, video and sound art. Its collection of Old Masters is particularly impressive and was said by the Financial Times of London to hold "one of the most distinguished private collections in the Western Hemisphere outside the United States." Artists included in the collection are Jusepe di Ribera, Peter Paul Rubens, Lucas Cranach, Eugene Delacroix and Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones.
The most famous piece in the collection is undoubtedly "Flaming June" by Frederic Leighton. In 1963, Ferré was on an art-buying trip in Europe and first saw the Victorian painting at The Maas Gallery in London. The collector fell in love with it, but was advised against buying it as it was considered "too old-fashioned." (At this time Victorian art was terribly unpopular.) An image of a sleeping woman in a radiant orange gown embodies the philosophy of "art for art's sake". There is no narrative setting for the image, rather it was created to be a beautiful, sensuous object created only for the pleasure of looking.
Ferré purchased it anyway for only £2,000. The rest is art history. Since then, the painting has been loaned to the Museo del Prado in Madrid, the Tate Britain and the Frick Collection in New York and has been reproduced on countless prints and posters.
Modern legend has it that a young and poor Andrew Lloyd Weber also saw it in the window of The Maas Gallery and asked his grandmother for the funds to purchase it. She said no, confirming the widely held belief at the time that Pre-Raphaelite painters were saccharine and without aesthetic value. Since then, Weber has offered the Ponce Art Museum up to 6 million dollars for the piece, though they are content to keep their treasure for museum visitors only.
Another major highlight of the collection is "The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon" the final work of Sir Edward Burne Jones. Also acquired by Ferré for only £1600, this work has also traveled internationally.
Information about Visiting Museo de Arte de Ponce
The Museo de Arte de Ponce has an open-door policy. This policy guarantees residents of Ponce access to the museum regardless of their ability to pay. (See below for suggested admissions prices.)
Ave. Las Americas 2325, Ponce, Puerto Rico 00717-0776
(787) 840-1510 or (toll free) 1-855-600-1510 firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday to Monday 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Closed Tuesday. Sunday 12:00 p.m. -5:00 p.m.
Members: Free Entrance
Students and senior citizens: $3.00
General Public: $6.00
For groups of 10 or more, please call for reservations: 787-840-1510