Monday, January 2, 2012

Places I'm Visiting: Carmel, Monterey, San Simeon (December 29, 2011-January 1, 2012)

On a short year-end trip to Carmel, Monterey, and San Simeon I visited the Hearst Castle for the first time in many years. The tours are set up in a much better way now than they once were. You can visit one or more of a few sets of rooms with a tour guide and then you're left free to walk around the gardens and visit the indoor pool at leisure. When I last went to San Simeon you could see the pool only on specific tours and you were never set free in the gardens. I took the Grand Rooms Tour, which lets you see the main living room, the dining room, the billiards room, and the theater. Other tours take you through the more private rooms in the house. One goes through the kitchen and other work rooms in the house.

There is much beautiful art in the house. I noticed a very nice altarpiece in the living room, but wasn't able to ask the guide about it. There were some good persian tiles, and a great deal of interesting furniture and architectural detail, much of it shipped over from Europe. Aside from the above-mentioned altarpiece, though, there aren't a lot of paintings in the house, which is a bit strange. Hearst's taste ran to the grandiose and it seems to have been best indulged by acquiring sculpture and buying pieces of buildings. I can't think of another man so wealthy that didn't accumulate a lot of paintings.

There's a great deal of sculpture in the gardens. Some of it beautiful, some of it in comical bad taste. The collections are very uneven. I wonder how much of Hearst's art collection consisted of things he liked, how much consisted of objects he bought because he could afford to and was advised to by others? I liked the lions on a large stone fountain in the gardens (top). A guard told me the fountain was Italian. Although it's topped with a replica of Donatello's David in Florence, the fountain looked more Spanish to me. The young woman with her arms raised at left is an example of one of the more kitschy works in the gardens. As they say, there's no accounting for taste.

I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that the indoor Roman Pool is among the highlights of the castle. The entire place is decorated with gold and lapis tiles. The gold tiles are clear glass with gold leaf infused into them. Many of the mosaics show sea creatures. The gold patterns at the bottom of the pool are intended to evoke a starry night sky. The handrails at the pool exits and the posts supporting the distinctive lamps are made of lightly veined Vermont marble. The statues around the pool are modern copies of Greek and Roman originals made for Hearst in Italy. The pool is directly below a number of tennis courts with glass panels set into them that light the pool from above. One of the guards told me that architect Julia Morgan advised Hearst not to proceed with such a plan as it would surely leak and damage the ceiling, which it has. It remains a very special space nevertheless.

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