Tuesday, July 12, 2011

If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Museum Day!

Portrait of Hendrick III, Count of Nassau-Breda
Jan Gossaert

One of the things I really wanted to do while in London over Spring Break was to go to the Jan Gossaert exhibit at the National Gallery.  I read on the web site that Gossaert was a Renaissance painter from the Netherlands who was active in the early 1500's.  Since I've always like the Northern European painters, I made a point of making room in my week for this exhibit. 

Jan Gossaert's "Adam and Eve"
Those apple boughs are very strategically placed!

I got to the museum just after opening and began slowly strolling through the first room of the exhibit, which was devoted to 
Gossaert's drawings and paintings of Adam and Eve.  His Eves were the only chubby Eves I've ever seen.  I always forget that until the 1920's plump women were considered much more desirable then skinny minnies.  Anybody could be skinny in those days.  It was much harder to obtain a little padding on the hips and thighs.  Oh for the good ol' days.  Look at that Adam.  He looks a little like Art Garfunkel!

 Next, I walked into a room of portraiture. Suddenly a very familiar painting popped up before me, a painting from our Kimbell Museum. It was a portrait Hendrick III, the count of Nassau-Breda a Dutch dignitary.  In the portrait he wore a deep blue velvet hat, a fur shawl, and a richly textured herringbone, gold and black tunic. The materials were so well painted that it seems that if the guards weren't watching, we could reach out and touch not paint, but fur and velvet.  The picture was highlighted in the room and given pride of place!   I was busting my buttons to see one of "our" paintings here in London.

Later, in the museum, I ran across a George Bellows exhibit called "the American Experience."  It was interesting to hear American art explained from a European perspective. Here's a bit of the introduction.  "This exhibit is a new National Gallery initiative ...
which aims to introduce visitors to aspects of American painting little known in this country.

Huh? Little known? Why? 

Don't the British show American art very often?  Why not? 

As the British say, I was gobsmacked!
"Lord Grovsnor Italian Stallion With a Groom"
George Stubbs
But the shock that our art wasn't very well know made me redouble my focus on the paintings and begin to look for the differences between European and American painters.  Light immediately jumped out at me.  In European paintings the light was usually soft, kind, almost an after thought.  I guess the sun in the US is brighter than in Northern Europe. I know the sun in England felt much kinder than in Texas.  Here, in the summer at least, it feels like the sun is out to get us!  It is not our friend.  Light was a major component of American paintings in the exhibit.  Sharp almost harsh light, not a soft diffused brush with sunshine.

The next noticeable difference was the energy. Color and movement vibrated off the canvas in the American paintings.  Now, I was looking at works by George Bellows after all, and he was known for the energy of his paintings, but I don't think these could be mistaken for European works.  Water shimmered with waves of emotion; it didn't lay there placid and passive.

"Trout Stream"
George Bellows
Also, in the American works there was a vast sense of space.   Space is not  unusual in British art, but it's different. The space in American works seems matter-of-fact, casual, just the way things are. In British paintings space was a statement of wealth and privilege. It was a bragging right, an oddity.   

"Wave" by George Bellows 
 I don't think I would go out in a boat in these waters!
Although I was gobsmacked at first, I enjoyed the exhibit.  It gave me plenty to think about.  I sat on a bench for quite a long time studying the paintings.  I'm sure the guards at the National Gallery started to get a little worried about this strange woman who kept frowning at the paintings and then furiously typing mysterious comments onto her I-pod.  Oh well!

After a delicious but expensive lunch at the museum, I took a stroll down to Buckingham Palace.  The afternoon was beautiful.  There was a light fog but the sun was out and shining through.  The temperature must have warmed into the 60's because my jacket felt too warm and I had to take it off and carry it.  I got some good pictures of St. James Park and Buck House.  Enjoy them!
This is the walk through St. James Park that approaches Buckingham Palace.  The daffodils were putting on quite a show!

This is a park area just to the left of Buckingham Palace.  See all the people on the walkway to the right.  They are walking to and from the light to cross over to the palace.  Off to the left, behind those very, very expensive townhouses is the hotel where Kate Middleton and her family spent the night before THE wedding. 

I don't know what these pink flowering trees are, but they smelled heavenly and were all over
St. James.

 Buckingham Palace.  Although its only open to the public during August and September when the Windsors all go to Balmoral in Scotland, there were still lots of tourists!  I didn't know what it was in March, but I found out later that that white boxy thing in the left hand corner was the beginnings of the stands they built for the press corp that covered THE wedding in April.

 The front gates to the palace.  Very impressive!

In the winter the Royal Horse Guards wear gray coats instead of their iconic red coats.  I wonder if they ever get to use their little guardhouses?

After I took these London Met. officers' picture I thanked them and said, "My student really wanted me to bring back a picture of some bobbies."  The officer on the right looked at his friend, sort of chuckled, and said, "Only the Yanks call us bobbies."  "Really!"  I said.  "What do the British people call you?"  "They call us all sorts of things, madame."  he replied. 

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