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Time for a Trip to the Muzeo

A thing of beauty ...

By Michael Buss, 2011-12-22
Are you wondering what to do over the Holiday break? Here’s my suggestion – Hurry down to the Muzeo in downtown Anaheim to catch the Queen’s Gallery Exhibition before it closes.

I was lucky enough go on the night when the Dr. Howard and Linda Knohl, owners of this amazing display of Victorian art, were there personally to introduce the exhibits and their background.

The Victorians reveled in art and inventive novelty, quite aside from the sheer innovation that ushered in the Industrial Revolution. The Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences attracted the intellectual elite from Britain, Europe and the United States and its annual Spring Art Exhibition was second to none in the world. A good number of the paintings collected by Dr. Howard Knohl once hung on those revered walls. Some painted by Academicians themselves. You will notice the treasured initials R.A. after their names.

As you enter The Queen’s Gallery a large plaque gives the background story to the collection. From being a penniless couple in love in New York back in the early 1960s, to Howard’s being drafted to serve in Vietnam, the couple worked their way to California, started a family, and as they had success in their respective fields of work began to build their lovely home in the Anaheim Hills. In the 1970s Howard began to collect art and antiquarian books; and now his home houses one of the largest private collections in the world. Linda is widely known as a most generous host, lover of the arts and a philanthropist. She heads up the enterprise to build a new Performing Arts Center in Anaheim.

The ride of the Valkyries!

Back to the exhibition. It is hugely to our benefit that we folks get to gaze upon extraordinary collections the like of which we will never see again.

So what’s there? Paintings, of course. Here are splendid portraits, scenes from foreign parts (artists love to travel). Valkyries on proud steeds fly on the clouds, an artist recues his model from the surging tide, the city of Capua surrenders (201 B.C). Landscapes, battles, lofty cathedrals – they’re all there. And notice, if you will, how the Victorians loved to play with light. Not for them bright artificial light, but guttering candles or pale winter sun.

Did you ever think it fun to collect matchbooks from the hotels in which you stayed? Hmm. Well Howard Knohl collects match safes, ornate, finely tooled, beautifully enameled. It’s breathtaking to think that the Victorians put such effort into matchboxes. But consider, how else would one wealthy aristocrat or mill owner distinguish himself from another in London society except by the vanity of accessories.

Admiring His Gun.

Turn around and there is another display case containing Cheroot Cases from Britain’s 19th Century. Holding the gentleman’s cigars the case itself might be made of papier mâché, but the ornate decorations and glazes are simply stunning.

Naturally, any well-dressed Victorian man might also sport a splendid walking cane. Apart from being an aid to navigate muddy streets they were also weapons to fend of street brigands. These canes were fashioned from all manner of woods, with expensive handles. But then, Victorian innovation realized that you could hide a sword in a cane; or a periscope, or glasses and draughts of rum, or medicines and surgical instruments. Yes – another collection favorite for Howard. And you may see these extraordinary pieces in up to about 6 different glass cases.

As you pass through the gallery, do not miss the Yads -- silver pointers, with little hands on the end, used to point to the Holy Scriptures in the Jewish synagogue (for no human hand must touch sacred writ). There are firearms there so extraordinary that I do not recall ever seeing the like in places like Windsor Castle, England. Look carefully at the finely crafted flintlock mechanisms. Hey, Dad, come and see these!

Just part of the cane collection.

As you draw near the end of your visit note the elegant statuary, both European and Asian.

I am a lover of Victorian art – but to see so much of it assembled in one place, here is Orange County, gives one the sense that life is not merely meant to be lived, but lived splendidly, surrounded by soul-invigorating art, created by artists whose passion is to capture beauty and make it available to us all.

The world of art has moved on; but we do well to look back to this most prolific period of art.

You have until January 8th to get there!

Photos by Michael Buss



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