No you DON’T want to hear about the event that happened last week. Not today! You’ll hear about it tomorrow in brief form as I wind this all up. Today it’s more art, by jiminy, and we go to my favorite place. The National Gallery.
It is an ordered place. It is rational and balanced.
There was a large exhibition of Cezanne portraits, the general effect of which was to remind me that I preferred his still-lifes. Few of the pictures hit me where I live.
Nineteenth Century French Painter’s wife, or 1920s American teenager?
The copy on the wall says he made several unsparing pictures of his wife, and she looks unhappy in all of them. Everyone looks unhappy in his paintings.
This is annoying:
That’s his dad. It’s a good painting. But his dad was a conservative finance guy who nevertheless bankrolled his son’s artistic endeavors, even though he didn’t quite think this new stuff was that hot, and Cezanne has him reading a “progressive” journal that championed the new school. It’s like painting your dad reading the Nation when he was more of a National Review guy.
The entire exhibit left me unimpressed. What struck me later, after comparing the French 19th century work and paintings from America in the same period, was how wan French art feels. Not necessarily the colors, but the general mood - it’s either busy, as with some Parisian streetscapes, or it’s just a bit depleted. It feels as if it’s presaging some sort of spiritual exhaustion, or dissolution of something it can’t quite identify.
Again, I like the French work. It just seems as though the entire civilization had iron-poor blood at the fin de siecle. Let’s see what the Americans were doing:
I know one shouldn't prefer landscapes to the hard work of reimagining the portrait idiom, but dang, this thing still feels fresh a hundred-plus years later. I don't mean the ideas are fresh, I mean the painting itself just pops out with remarkable clarity.
Speaking of reimaginning the portrait idiom, Sargent failed in his duty to blow up the old ideals and substitute something modern. Failed, I tell you!
Miss Beatrice Townsend, 1882.
As one art historian noted, “Sargent’s sensitivity to the complexities, intensities, and uncertainties of adolescence, especially of females, is a marked feature of his portraiture.” Here, Sargent captures the confidence and self-possession of his young subject as she meets the viewer’s gaze head-on. Sadly, only two years after this painting was completed, Beatrice died of peritonitis at age fourteen.
ADAM I TOLD YOU NOT TO EAT THAT
Yo Dad hey whatta gonna do
Cavalry, by the Master of the Death of Saint Nicholas of Münster. This does not mean he was in charge of it, or really good at it, but that the artist who did the Death of Saint Nicholas of Münster - which I can’t find online - did this.
Annnnd we've seen about a million of these. Remarkably vivid, though.
It helps to know what's going on here. The good crucified guy who asked forgiveness for his sins gets a gift! here, have a baby.
Actually, no. That's an angel receiving his reborn soul. Rebuker thief gets his soul wrested away by a demon:
All the blood is collected, reminding you what communion is all about.
In the background: That Judas, my friend, is twistin’ in the wind.
Now for something I never noticed before. (You can go here every day and find something new.) Let me tell you about Tuke, and his eye. First of all, here’s Tuke:
The political strength of Henry VIII's regime lay in his ability to choose advisors who were both wise and learned. One of these men was Sir Brian Tuke. As Master of the Posts, he organized and established England's postal service. In 1528 Sir Brian was appointed treasurer and secretary of the royal household, a position he held until his death in 1545. He was also admired as an eloquent speaker and literary figure who authored a preface to an edition of Chaucer.
The portrait, which shows Tuke at the age of 57, exemplifies the qualities most praised in Holbein's work: precise observation of detail and impartial, accurate portrayal of the face. Yet the image is also tinged with gentle sorrow. On the table beneath Tuke's left hand is a folded paper bearing a quotation from the Book of Job (10:20) which begins, "Are not my days few?" The gravity of the sentiment is echoed in Tuke's countenance; his faint smile is pained and his eyes, fixed but not focused, seem melancholy.
By the way, he lived to be 70. So: do you notice anything different between these two views of the same painting?
Note the left eye - his left - on the left image. It seems to glisten. Not so on the picture on the right.
I noticed that this effect changed, depending on where you were standing.
I got as close I could to the picture. There's a tiny notch in the paint. It catches the light. It makes him seem alive.
Haven't found any writing about this anywhere.
Finally, by the exit to the gift shop and concourse to the modern wing, which I declined to visit:
She's by a big Dali painting, so everyone looks at it. No one looks at her.
She seems okay with that.
Tomorrow: absolutely no art whatsoever.
I think I posted the wrong URL for the 20s last week. If so, this has been corrected. Appo-polly-logies.