Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘painting’ Category

And she to me: ‘There is no greater sorrow
than thinking back upon a happy time
in misery …
One day, to pass the time away, we read
of Lancelot — how love had overcome him …
this one, who never shall be parted from me,
while all his body trembled, kissed my mouth …’ Dante, Inferno 5, translated Allen Mandelbaum

Francesca da Riminiactoneblog
Act One: the stage scene as a whole

ActOneCloseUpblog
Act One: Francesca (Eva-Maria Westbrook) and Paolo (Marcello Giordani) meet: he pretends to be her bethrothed

Dear friends and readers,

The 1984 Pre-Raphaelite picturesque production of Riccardo Zandoni’s Francesca da Rimini (libretto Tito Ricordi) is wonderfully absorbing in its HD Met Opera format (conductor Marco Armiliato; production Pero Faggioni; set designer Ezio Frigerio; costume designer Frana Squarciapino, lighting Gil Wechsler). I had not expected to enjoy it so much. Breaking through the fussily-decorated elaborate Pre-Raphaelite picturesque and early 20th century art deco decor, its core and action are fuelled by primary passion: the coerced marriage of Francesca (Eva-Maria Westbrook) secured by trickery: Paolo (Marcello Giordnai), the youngest handsome brother of the groom allows himself to be presented as the groom); these desperate adulterous lovers driven passionate in the way of Cavalliero Rusticano or Il Pagliaccio; the violent brutish lame murderous anguished husband, Giancioot (Mark Delavan); the even more brutal vengeful one-eyed malacious younger brother, Malatsetino (Robert Brubaker).

It’s the stuff of a verismo tale except occurring among aristocrats of the 13th century, and first turned into literature by Dante who presents the lovers after death in fifth circle of hell,

… a place where every light is muted …
The hellish hurricane , which never rests,
drives on the spirits with its violence;
wheeling and pounding, it harasses them … (Inferno 5)

“damned because they sinned within the flesh … now here, now there, now down, now up, it drives them./There is no hope that ever comforts them — no hope for rest and none for lesser pain.”

The story has a basis in actual events, and before this 1914 opera after a play by Gabriele d’Annunzio whose language came through the modern English subtitles (“The stars are drowned in the sea” Paolo says), the story had been told in many versions, staged, sung, painted mostly (it seems in Pre-Raphaelite style). Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1855) tells the spiritual after-death Dante version:

Rossettiblog.

but Alexandre Cabanel (1870) prefers the theatrical murder (reminding me of Wallis’s Death of Chatterton, which is just now hanging at the National Gallery in DC, part of a Pre-Raphaelite exhibit):

_Alexandre_Cabanelblog

What distinguishes this opera is its highly dramatic play with effective vigorous scenes, sung to music said to be a mix of Strauss, Puccini and Debussy: the love duet at the close of the second act which in the required way the lovers are reading of Lancelot, let the book fall and then “read no more” is just sweepingly swayingly lush,

Francescabookfallingblog

It ended as swiftly as Cav and Pag; the words were simple and music felt sudden and elemental at the close: the lovers are stabbed to death and the bodies drop on the stairs, with the actors making sure they ended up flung over one another.

It was said the production was revived because Westbrook asked for this, and she sang and acted her part to perfection. She did carry the opera; she was hardly ever not there, and was endlessly singing. She got to wear the loveliest of embroidered costumes. In her interview she insisted the story was not just credible; coerced marriage happens still today. This is a big disingenuous since the motives given the lovers are hopelessly lachrymose and ethical, but the situation is given bite by ferocity of the behavior of the husband and his demented brother. Delvan was powerful, Brubaker memorable, especially when threatening Francesca and then going down below to behead a man in the midst of being tortured and screaming. Jim said Giordani sung weakly; I wished the lines about him had said she loved him for his goodness and kindness, for he’s not handsome, nothing like a Rufus Sewell.

The opera is fleshed out by Water Scott like happening: a comic minstrel opens the piece, offering to serenade Francesca’s ladies with the story of Tristan and Isolde (anticipating the story to come) — we are led to fear for his life because at the hands of these criminal males. Her ladies were characterized enough, her sister (a kind of Dido relationship):

francescaladiesminstrelblog

A supposed battle takes place in Act 2 which is not convincing as the production did not take advantage of modern screen computer techniques at all. It was grotesque, with a gold-layered siege ram set on fire (like something taken from an Aida set). In act three a bloody head is flung about in a pillow case.

Francesca da Rimini
Delavan as Gianciotto in a Walter Scott-like knight-warrior outfit (aware he is a bad guy in the interview he asked our “hostess” what she had in her wallet)

And what a pleasure it was to see a new great grand opera. While I knew the story of course (the opera audience does not practice the inhibiting nonsense of no-spoilers), I had no idea how it would work out as an experience. The surprise element added to my experience.

Any flaws? well, yes. It just took too long between scenes which intervals sometimes seemed much longer than the acts. At one point the camera cut away far too quickly from a genuinely moving scene to Sondar Radvanovksy as “hostess” which her commercial blurb and hype. While we really enjoyed watching the behind-the-scenes setting up of the scenery and curtains, and painted flats, there was just too much of it, and it made the production feel as staid as some Victorian drawing-room. I’d love to see a new post-modern kind of production, with maybe a mimed scene of the woman raped by the husband, a far more effectively suggestive violence for the battles, and a mimed-coda added on where we see the lovers in hell. In Claus Guth fashion, it could critique even Dante for punishing those whom life had punished enough.

Rodin_TheKissblog
Rodin’s The Kiss (1888), said to be originally titled Francesca da Rimini

As to the play itself, there was something funny to see the principles act out the love scene over a book, and wait for the book to drop. Everyone accepted this because it was in Dante. More seriously, while here was the inevitable falsifying of sexual life so that what was the real horror of this situation, marital rape, was obscured from view; as Izzy said, the “lesson” of the play was not that adultery was evil. The lovers are not evil. It was deceit and brutality that were the evils in this opera. So it had no trouble speaking to our time. As Maria Stuarda seems to have not been revived for decades and now is utterly a propos, so Francesca da Rimini, if revived for a diva, seemed to please the audience strongly for its fable and presentation, which (to refer to the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit’s comments on my blog), revealed a pseudo-medieval, literary highly sexually liberated (for the men) art fit the pre WW1 world.

Few women in the arts or as patrons have interested themselves in her story. Josephine Bonaparte bought a 19th century painting of the story; Gabriele d’Annunzio’s play was written for Eleanore Duse:

getImage.php
Eleanore Duse as Francesca da Rimini (1901)

and Olga Gorelli, a 20th century Italian composer wrote some music.
Renata Scotto played the part with Placido Domingo as Paolo, and Cornell MacNeil as Gianciotti in 1984, the production now available as a DVD.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Dear friends and readers,

Théodore-Rousseau-Sunset-from-the-Forest-of-Fontainebleaublog
Theodore Rousseau (1812-67), Sunset from the Forest of Fontainbeau (the Dyke Collection).

twelfthnightblog
Walter Howell Deverell (1827-54), Twelfth Night (with Elizabeth Siddal) (Pre-Raphaelites first room)

EBurneJonesKingCopheuaBeggarMaidsmaller
Susan Herbert, “King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid after Edward Burne-Jones”

Dear friends and readers,

Though we hadn’t a good leg or knee between us, and it had rained as in a monsoon in the morning, yesterday afternoon Jim and I set forth to the National Gallery around a quarter to two because we had promised ourselves we would see the much advertised new “blockbuster” show of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. It was sunny by then and warm, and by the time we left although I was limping super-slowly, letting myself down the stairs one at a time, and Jim not much better, the experience had been well worth it, though as sometimes happened as much for the “lesser” show, Color, Light and Line, that had not been heralded, trumpeted, advertised, several rooms of quietly brilliant beautiful, unusual 19th & early 20th century French drawings and watercolors (mostly) from the Dyke Collection:

Dore-landscapeblog
Gustave Dore (1832-83), A River Gorge in a mountain landscape,

tucked away on the first floor, just before the side entrance of the museum (well after and apart from the ever-expanding Museum shop), as for the Pre-Raphaelites, which despite the large size, unexpected Shakespeare and narrative delights, the delicacy of these, and stunning use of color of other of the paintings, where the colors still sparkled on the canvas

mariana-in-the-moated-grange-1851blog
John Everett Millais (1829-96), Marianna

and originality of still others,

William_DycePegwellBayfblog
William Dyce (1806-64), Pegwell Bay

did not teach us anything new about the Pre-Raphaelites as a group.

We learned more about them or their art as a whole a couple of Christmases ago in one of these small unadvertised shows where it was contended the paintings came far more from an interaction of natural landscape, photography, science studies than literary and medieval longings. That it’s easy to make fun of this exhibit, precisely this kind of picture in a group by substituting cats for the people suggests the solemn absurdity of some of the pictures, and the lack of an adequate perspective.

There seemed nothing set before us to make sense of the pictures in the way of an exhibit a couple of years ago. The individual paintings were therefore what one could enjoy, with each of the rooms having a theme. One of the most interesting for me was the one with wallpaper, furniture, tapestries, screens, but nothing was said about Morris or the Pre-Raphaelites politics. Ford Madox Brown’s Work. I put the lack of discourse down to the way just about any decent political talk is simply erased in popular American media. But nothing on religion much either: the Middle Eastern landscapes of Hunt are not presented as landscape natural art but religious iconography (The Scapegoat). Rossetti’s Found (1854, unfinished) was presented as about modern life (!?): how so? were these 19th century Italian outfits? to me, most of all what was the attitude towards sex here.

RossettisFoundblog
(The colors are all blended so that it’s unfinished is part of its charm)

While the paintings often seem to worship female sexuality and reject simple macho-male images, they can equally be seen to proscribe sex altogether. But there was no feminist discourse either. There were some Julia Cameron photos scattered here and there. But no sense of women’s development of an idiom of Pre-Raphaelitism of which there was one (see Deborah Cherry’s book). No Evelyn de Morgan. Nothing to comment on how these girlfriends were used, no comment on a room filled with huge pictures of so-called “beauties” — to me these are grotesque because of the masculine nature of the faces and huge size of the women’s bodies which seem to encompass one.

PreRaphaeliteRossettiProserpine
This Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is less grotesque than the others, but the face is the same and the allusion to women as dangerous (the apple).

Could the room be about fear? In life certainly these men seemed to be in charge — they had the high status, the money, lived much much longer.

And what is the relationship of this Proserpine to this woman, Jane Morris said to be its model? The photo itself by Wm Morris is a perspective on her so she is endlessly constructed for us:

JaneMorrisphotoblog
The exhibit says nothing

This Elizabeth Siddal, A Lady AFixing a Pennant was there, but no explanation. Gentle reader it’s very small with a modest (very inexpensive) frame:

Lady afixing a pennanblog.jpgt

So, how easy for Susan Herbert to poke fun:

TheAWakening.jpgblog
Susan Herbert’s “The Awakening after Wm Holman Hunt”

PsycheWaterhouseblog
Susan Herbert’s “Pysche after John William Waterhouse”

One consequence was Susan Herbert’s books — two of them in the shop — seemed appropriate without however as I said ruining any enjoyment of the pictures, and the exhibit downstairs feeling superior. Perhaps perversely, but also because I own reproductions of so many of the famous pictures included in the exhibit instead of buying the catalogue, I bought ($40 cheaper), Susan Herbert’s parody, Pre-Raphaelite Cats.

I recommend seeing the exhibit nevertheless. where and when else will you see these astonishing paintings brought together in one place again? Or ever see any of them? The Pre-Raphaelite paintings project, many of them, complex real psychological states, original, beautiful, make statements worth thinking about on sex, religion, social life, and in one room are made from unusual materials too (tapestries, painted chairs, stain glass windows). Although some painters were unaccountably missing (no John Waterhouse), see it also for the lesser known painters, pictures, sculptors, and the striking famous landscapes. e.g., Dyce’s Pegwell Bay. A favorite for me was Ford Madox Brown’s picture from his window: An English Autumn Afternoon — Hampstead — Scenery (1853).

BrownAutumnEnglishAfternoonHampstead

There was this exquisite small marble scultpure by Alexander Munro, Paolo and Francesca (remember “that day they read no longer” from Dante?):

MunroPaoloandFrancescablog

There are many photographs of the company and the women who served them and painted themselves (Siddal, Jane Morris, Jane Burden, Fanny Cornforth, about whom we were told nothing, suddenly she was just there and painted as as “Mouth to be Kissed”). The exhibit ends with some series paintings, one on Perseus: The Rock of Doom, The Doom Fulfilled, and the strangely compelling The Baleful Head, the latter (frozen dead images in a fountain looked down at by Perseus and the maiden) influenced George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda.

What seemed to unite the whole show — one sought for something — was finally it literary content, Shakespeare, Scott, a medievalism which became a rationale or cover.

John Anderson’s review of the Pre-Raphaelites (much of it came from the Tate) is not enthusiastic, but Kayleigh Bryant does the movement justice and gives you a slideshow. The exhibition book catalogue expensive but it might come down in price soon.

The shop for the Pre-Raphaelites had the most exquisitely beautiful scarves, sewn exquisitely delicately with strips of velvet. It was all I could do to stop myself from buying one: $60 each so I didn’t. Perhaps they were intended to be there as examples of Pre-Raphaelite kind of craftsmanship or an artistic ideal? If so, no explanation. One was wrapped around a dummy knight.

*************************

I write this blog, then, also to tell of the other exhibit. Color, light, and line.which does not lend itself to cat parodies.

lemmen-Georgeblog
This George Lemmen was not there, but it represents the quality of the sort of thing by him that was —

lemmen1blog
Lemmen was featured as a pointillist and someone who like Vuillard did paintings of the people he lived with doing ordinary domestic tasks — women sewing

Strange these museums and their curators. Not only was the show not advertised (showing a lack of faith in museum-goers), but the catalogue has been printed only as hard-cover and there were few of them in the museum and at high price (over $60). I did buy the catalogue when I came home, on the Net for less than half that price so can’t share many of the pictures and lack the names of the painters and illustrators, several of them relatively unknown.

Huet-landsacpeblog.jpog
Paul Huet, A Meadow at Sunset, pastel

There was a wall of Paul Signacs, Vuillards, Dores, Monets, George Lemmen, Pissaro, Morisot; watercolor, gouache, pen and ink, charcoal, pastel and mixed medium. The periods of art represented include romanticism, realism, impressionism, postimpressionism, pointillism (neo-impressionism), symbolism, the Dykes looked for quality, not coverage, and were delighted to find great work among unknown artists (so were not looking necessarily to make money). Some of my favorites where I can remember the artists’ names were Eugene Isabey, Alexandre Calame, Maxime Lalanne: here’s a selection of small reproductions.

I’ve found a large version of one where you can gather the quality of the paint: Henri-Joseph Harpingies, Autumn Landscape, Washerwoman.

harpignies-autumn-landscape-washerwmnblog
blog size version

It’s the unexpected that delights us, the unassuming. Many of these were unashamedly romantic: cliffs at twilight, tiny people in forests, near streams. Old people who were nobody. I liked the highly romantic drawings of landscape where there were no people. So often landscapes will have one or two tiny people. Not here.

The Examiner goes over why these colors, light washes, lines should so absorb us, and the nature of the Dyke Collection. The exhibition book catalogue, looks chock-a-block with pictures and has contributions by six people.

There was an informative plaque in tribute to the Dykes who apparently intend to leave most of their collection to the musuem.

**********************

Both shows eshewed painting the rich, famous, the military and the powerful.

Three more pictures:

Arthur Hughes’s April (click for large size which does justice to the purple coloration) is there:

arthur-hughes-aprilblog
(blog size version);

this Maxime Lalanne:

maxime-lalanne

As to the cats, I recommend at least looking at Herbert’s irreverent fond mockery. Apparently she’s done several such books of art with pussycats, often of Victorian pictures. Herbert’s pictures are here on line if you are so unlucky as not to have a live pussycat with you in your home. Looking at them did lead me to some good books on the history of the cat and the pictures we have of them over the centuries, Caroline Bugler’s The Cat: 3500 Years of Cats in Art.

RossettiEcceAncilalDominiblog
Susan Herbert, “Ecce Ancilla Domini after Dante Gabriel Rossetti” (making the expression and stance of the women’s scared eyes in the original — rightly terrified of pregnancy?)

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Hubert_Robert_-_The_Old_Bridgeblog
Hubert Robert (1733-1808), The Old Bridge (1775) — or The Stranded Pussycat

Dear friends and readers,

On Boxing Day we again went to the National Galley as we have for a couple of years now (see Wiseman and Warhol. (We’ve gone to the Philips Gallery also.) Boxing Day is the second day of Christmas, Victorian and modern style, and the explanation for the custom and name is this was the day people who owned and governed great houses, gave their servants presents in boxes the next day. (They showed this in last year’s Downton Abbey Christmas special.) Our way of doing this is to have fun at museums which some years ago now we learned are ready for us: the National Gallery regularly has a blockbuster show, and side-shows too, are ready for the crowd, which, even in the pouring ice of this past Dec 16th, obliged by coming in great numbers.

I admit we waited until after 1 pm when the sky was merely pouring out rain. So it was an abbreviated Boxing Day, without lunch out in the the museum’s cafe. But when we got there we managed a whirlwind tour by 4 or so, when we decided it looked awfully dark and windy out there, and feared that our Jaguar (with its front-wheel drive) would not be happy if we returned to it in the cold dark.

I cannot say we felt inspired or that anyone’s spirits soared as we went through the rooms of Lichtenstein’s pictures. OTOH, the paintings were compelling in their unexpected mimicry of every day forms. Like the marbled composition book: Laura and Izzy wrote in such books for years; Izzy still does.

LichensteinNotebooksmaller
Composition Notebook, a painting by Roy Lichtenstein

There were recognizable washing machines, trash cans (the hinge not open and then open with a woman’s leg in high heels next to it); balls of twine. He seemed to us to be making fun of other artists especially: there was cubism outdone, Picasso exposed (as Lichtenstein first gave us a cartoon-yet-real version of a girl, then half-way to cubism, and then an over-the-top imitation). He redid Monet in his cartoon-y style, and even did seasons (hairy-cupcakes or haystacks in all the seasons).

He’s know especially for his imitation cartoons:

DrowningGirl
Drowning girl

Most of them have lugubriously sentimental cries to “Brad”. This one caught my eye because of the scary hands: limp well-manicured large hands are ubiquitous in these cartoons paintings, making them after a while creepy. This one has thick swirling lines while others have dots: hundreds & hundreds in the three colors used by printers all in straight lines. He was once dubbed “the dot man.” In many of these painted cartoons the women — or girls — are supposed sexy. Really they are bland is probably what Lichtenstein shows us. There were a great many of violence action-adventure.

But here and there one glimpsed a love of art and art objects.

StillLifewithSilverPitcher

I enjoyed the rooms towards the end of his career where he did his studio in this heavy-line bright single color way, projecting a given decade by a familiar object. Very inventive and very autobiographical too.

ArtistStudio

Artist’s studio, foot medication (1974).

There were a couple of beautiful frames of intense color in waves, all shiny (one turquoise blue, the other a pink) that Izzy noticed. One Laocoon with his sons devoured by serpents which emerged from brush strokes of paint.

The show takes you step-by-step through Lichtenstein’s life and works, and milieu. It’s difficult to say what was the original impetus. Lichtenstein had come from a Manhattan family, but transferred to Ohio art school for college, and after WW2 returned to the mid-west to teach. When he came to NYC, he is described as undermining the abstract expressionists, but this seems to me not enough explanation. Lichtenstein did have a financial success using pop –like Warhol — and possibly he found to keep up this kind of ridicule of supposedly pop and cultured art paid well, and his art dealer kept him at making what would sell. The provenance of many of the items was neither the artist’s estate or a museum, but “private collection” (undisclosed). Perhaps later on he felt he could not break out of being “the dot man.” I can’t say. But the exhibition left me cold. Think of how Seurat used dots and one can measure the distance from most of Lichtenstein’s art to visionary painting.

We spent much less time in front of the Michelangelo statue now called Apollo-David — because no one knows which figure the artist had in mind). The statue, though, projected a depth of feeling even in or maybe because of the deliberately unfinished state. There was no hype; it was just in the center of a room. Tellingly, there was hardly any one there. Yet the museums must have gone to intense trouble to move it from Florence to hear. Jim thought maybe they had someone personally carrying it in some super-wrapped package. Handle with care.

Apollo-Davidblog

You can walk very close up and behind and make up your mind whether the figure has a stash of arrows at his back or not.

Two exhibits (one near Lichtenstein) were intellectually stimulating and we had the fun of feeling we came upon them by chance. We hadn’t: “The Shock of the News” was next to the Lichtenstein. The stuff wasn’t shocking but it was an exhibit of newsprint, starting before WW1 when there was a fad for putting newsprint inside a frame or making it part of a painting and bringing the exhibit up to the 1980s or so. Again I was startled to see famous and familiar headlines and pictures (as Lichtenstein startles me). The point of the exhibit was to show the viewer how central newspapers were in our experience at the time — today they’ve been partly replaced by the Internet. You had to take time to read the fine print and look at the images and also read what the curators had to say.

It was a trip through recent history from the angle of what would sell to the general public, what could attract attention.

There was an exhibit of camera work where artists took photos of people or places at intervals over the years was where last year we saw a marvelous exhibit of Pre-Raphaelite landscapes which taught me I had very narrow and distorted views of Pre-Raphaelitism. I watched individuals grow old, sometimes sad; places change or remain the same; one series of four sisters covered a wall – them when teenagers to them in their sixties. They looked like they loved one another, at least stayed together through many an ordeal and some happy moments (at beaches) too.

The National Gallery museum (like the Met in NYC) also practices replacing or changing around permanent exhibits so as to bring up from storage art objects they used to keep hidden in the basement. One large one (it seemed to us) was of American art: furniture, paintings, objects of all sorts (from chess sets to book holders to various instruments). Much of it from the later 18th century into the middle 19th. It was fun for me to recognize Martha Jefferson Randolph’s son (I just read Kierner and Gordon-Reed’s books). Some of the paintings were unexpected good psychological studies. I got an especial kick out of things like an early 19th century chess set.

We didn’t neglect some of our favorites of the permanent collection. Wm Turner, a turn of the 19th century landscape, some Corot, other landscape artists of the later 17th century. For example, this one with its sweet dog:

turnermortlaketerrace1827blog.jpog
Wm Turner, Mortlake Terrace (1827)

For me the best art experience of the day was to come upon the original of Hubert Robert’s The Old Bridge, a favorite of mine, a copy of which is scotch-taped to one of the walls in my workroom — and to discover for the first time the top rung has an old woman reaching out for her tiny cat. Look again, dear reader. You see see a cat crouched on a narrow gate-looking iron. The old woman is trying to reach the poor creature, fearful it will fall.

Nowadays I see cats everywhere — and keep confirming they are in a lot of paintings.

At Christmas the National Gallery becomes a building filled with genuinely stimulating art objects, with good cafes to eat at. It’s not wildly over-crowded (like the Met). Many (but not too many) people enjoying either the exhibits and art or the flowers and furniture arrangements and music in various garden-courts. If you’re seeking some tradition, some habit to enable you to get through this winter holiday season with good memories to cling to, I advise Boxing Day at the National.

I’ll be away for 4 days, at the MLA Conference in Boston. When I come home I hope to have a lot to write about again — as Jim likes to go the modern sessions, all about the movies, is not Eurocentric, looks to understand history. He says we will go to one “unfogged” dinner of bloggers on the Net. I hope we won’t be too cold. We stay at the St Botoph’s Club, a place with a good restaurant, nice rooms, with a long tradition of having music concerts and art lectures and the like.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

boulevardItaliensblog
Edouard Cortes (1882-1969), Boulevard des Italiens (c. 1900)

Gentle reader,

In case you were wondering: yes I changed my header from Antoine Watteau’s Shop-sign of Gersaint (now more fittingly at Austen Reveries, a blog for Austen & the 18th century) to one of Edouard Cortes‘s many depictions of Boulevard des Italiens, one of Paris’s four major boulevards at the turn of the century. Lately I’ve had a strong preference for later Edwardian, early 20th century (fin-de-siecle?) paintings. I’ve enjoyed all the great world-cities I’ve managed to visit. Books, plays, films, opera, art, music, all need the rich terrain of the city to be realized.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Colm Toibin when much younger

Dear friends and readers,

Last night we went to a local bookstore which regularly hosts talks and classes about books (as well as a weekly storybook hour for children and tours too), Politics and Prose. We’d never been there before, and to the area only once, when last July we were invited to come to a fourth of July barbecue (what a treat for us). A member of the Irish embassy asked all those who came to read James Joyce’s Ulysses on Bloom Day. We heard about this because Jim got an email from the Irish embassy which now has his name.

A large old-fashioned bookstore, two floor (!), where books are actually set up by their categories and within that the author’s name. A couple tables upfront with latest sellers, and in the back audiobooks on CD. You can wander about and come upon treasures just like this. I saw Alice Kessler-Harris’s A Difficult Woman (a biography of Lillian Hellman) on display, but had decided for Toibin’s Love in a Dark Time: And Other Explorations of Gay Lives and Literature, a book of somewhat rewritten essay-review meditations published elsewhere (the LRB, the NYRB and other places). If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know how much I like his essays, and how I’ve loved those of his novels I’ve read thus far. It turns out I’ve read 4 of 7 (In praise of Colm Toibin: Un-put-downable).

Last night he was there to promote his latest novel (apparently the 7th), The Testament of Mary. Yes the central character is the Virgin Mary (does she have a last name like the rest of us?). It’s a really a novella, a short one at that, and from what he wrote a retrospective meditation by Mary some 20 years after the brutal crucifixion of her son. She is now living in safety, relative peace, left to herself by all and two visitors show up, one Lazarus. Yes he takes liberties — good historical fiction often does. The core idea is the irretrievableness of what happened and how she cannot forget and if she could change it, do it differently somehow, how she longs to. It’s memories poured out. As a subjective narrative by a women it harks back to his great The South. He seems to have a predilection for writing heroine’s texts (Brooklyn, Henry James in The Master is a kind of male heroine).

What a large crowd. It did not overwhelm the store, but it was much larger than we’d expected of such an intellectual sensitive author. There were not enough chairs for all.

He began by telling us of his trips to Venice and two paintings of the Virgin he had stood before repeated: a Tintoretto, perhaps The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, and a Titian, The Assumption. What he seems to have liked especially about the latter was her red robe and how she soared above reality. He is himself getting older.


Recent photo — he does look like this, only he is a small man, somewhat bent, light brownish-white skin, light brown hair

Today I see that the Tintoretto has Mary in a red robe too, and the picture’s content against the reason for its festival, takes us across her life.

They were the inspiration for the book. He did not tell us why he wrote it, only that he would like it to be taken seriously and he didn’t mean it as a mock. He didn’t think the church would bother notice it — he said this in answer to one question afterwards. He does read very well, and his voice was how I’d imagined it, Irish lilt but not too heavy. I stayed awake and listening for much of it, though when his register came too low I couldn’t hear it all. We were in the back, having arrived only ten minutes before the “reading” started.

It was obvious he’d done this many times. He was smooth, and seemed such a sweet man. These sorts of things are part of what makes an author successful. The book launch. He’s learned how to do it. Among questions asked were does he have a routine, a place he always writes, what does he write with. He said he writes anywhere and with any thing (mostly a pen) and no he’s not a routine type. He does sometimes have to write a book quickly or whatever quickly lest he forget it; get it down, and then he comes back to work at it. He is not a man who has written a lot of very long books, say like Dickens, Trollope, Margaret Oliphant, Wm Dean Howells, and they all had fixed routines and places they wrote. He has made his career through socializing too and his oeuvre (in pages) most actually be preponderantly non-fiction.

I wanted to reply to something he had said before starting his readings. He said that other “classic” fiction novels, 19th century, were no help “here.” He comically alluded to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Dickens’s Miss Havisham, they could not help him. Nor Henry James. Perhaps Mrs Touchett (Ralph’s mother, isolated, alone, an “odd” woman.) While he was reading I thought of Daniel Deronda’s mother, Eliot’s older heroine who returns 25 years after giving her son up to another so she could have an operatic career, a life of her own. Now bitter, not remorseful, but regretful because after all she ended up marrying and having children anyway. The dreams she had had not been realized and how here was this son reproaching her.
But the mike was too far away.

I didn’t try to buy anything directly afterwards. The line became very long. Instead we walked three stores down to the Comet, a pizza place with ambience. A large screen played over and over the poignant short Italian film, The Red Balloon. No sound just the images before you. The walls gray. The tables ping-pong, the seats benches. Soft lights. We had two pizzas, small, a white (all cheese, garlicky nothing else) and a red (just tomato sauce topping, more spicy, reminding me in its heavy dough and yummy surface of pizza in NYC in the 1950s, so-called Napoles-like). A carafe of chianti. The place was moderately full.

We talked. We realized this was probably the first book reading we’ve ever gone to as such. Play readings by a group, lectures, maybe a book reading within a performance of other things, but not alone. Jim said we never went to the Folger poetry readings because they cost. This was for free. Also the people were less known and there was obviously time for too much talk. So too much egoism would be on display he felt. I remembered going to listen to Empson read his poem in the Graduate Center in the 1970s. How he read little and talked much of his poetry. But the talk was splendid, really insightful (as Toibin’s was not quite, though not deliberately misleading as say Andrew Davies on his films), and how John Hollander got up to ask questions, all admiring and how Empson (spiteful in this but perhaps made uncomfortable) cut him down, half-mocked him. Also a lecture by Margaret Mead at the Museum of Natural History. All I can recall is how intelligent and humane she was and ever after have reacted to all dismissals of her work, denigrations of her with a memory of this seeing her and knowing they are unfair to her.

We decided we would try some more at this place. Then to support the bookstore, we went back. That’s when I bought Love in a Dark Time. All the Testaments to Mary were gone. To tell the truth, I was not sure I wanted it, as I felt it would be wrapped up in Catholicism as some level, and I’m an atheist. I was sure it’d be feminist in intent. If Toibin had said he found out or invented a last name for her, and told us of it, I might’ve. They had only had his most recent novels: (Blackwater Lightship two copies, one still left, and mostly Brooklyn and The Master, latest and best known. I have them all plus The South and Homage to Barcelona (not there). But there was suddenly one copy as if from deep in a basement (the girl at the counter said it was “a backlist” book), this book of essays. So I snatched it. His essay on Wilde’s exposure of his homosexuality as “found out,” as a person wanting to be “found out” has influenced my thinking ever since.

We got home by 10ish, not too long to write one final blog on Jane Austen’s letters. I’m not going to give them up, but maybe go yet slower and do it by myself. The prompting from Austen-l helps, and the sense (however deluded) of reaching people, but the flak, the continual cliched readings and occasional either preposterous or theoretical agendas don’t help me at all. I waste time and make no friends refuting them.

Earlier that day I had talked on WWWTTA about Temple Grandin’s film about how animals form bonds, friendships, and people’s perception of them, and the trajectory the film belonged to. Really worth while and gotten into other debates on the growing dissemination of how it’s okay for women to subjugate themselves to sadism, even light fun … ), but I’ll add these as brief comments here later today.

We wished we could have more such nights. People are only gradually becoming aware of what a delightful city DC is slowly turning into. The neighborhood around there is small houses, apartments further off, and some shopping blocks. It’s marred by a large street which traffic streams through daily and that obscures the quiet ambience of the play otherwise. I’ve vowed to myself to read Love in a Dark Time, Homage to Barcelona, and (connected to Toibin and the project on book illustrations to Trollope which I’ve just finished — a blog this weekend), Amy Tucker’s The Illustration of the Master.


Reprinted by Tucker, it was chosen by James as a frontispiece for A Portrait of Lady, and could serve as frontispiece for Toibin’s The Master.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Simon Keenleyside as Prospero

Dear friends and readers,

Lest it be thought I’ve gone over-the-top in my praise of so many of these Met Operas transmitted by HB, my reaction to the first act of Ades’s and Oakes’s Tempest was it’s so still, and “there’s nothing doing.” I didn’t like the (to me) screetch-y high notes of Ariel, nor the lack of long melodic arias. The costumes were trying too hard. Keenleyside with his skin tattoos, feathers on his head, was still not US Indian-like; Ariel in pink fluff with ludicrously heavy-make-up – all green eyes; the lovers far too well-fed and smooth, he like something out of When Knighthood was in Flower, she like some fairy tale maiden in the Blue Fairy Book. Robert LePage’s re-building of aspects of La Scala on stage could have made for a disconnect, it added nothing.

What took time to emerge was the focus on an ethical-psychological relationship between Caliban and Prospero: when Prospero loses Ariel, he’s left without consolatory dreams. Ares really gave us an adaptation, serious interpretation of Shakespeare’s play (Enchanted Island was more Dryden/Davenant).


Audrey Luna as Ariel

The play-story does not depart from any of the hinge points of Shakespeare’s; Meredith Oakes’s script brought over to operatic music Shakespeare’s austere visionary core with its intimations of dream aspiration and realities of brute animal creatures and vicious envious evil (Caliban and the Milanese apart from Ferdinand). The young lovers were appropriately innocent for their short beautiful songs and their and all the music was like Debussy (Pelleas et Melisande) — ever there quietly beautiful. After a while the set also turn of the century, with its conceit the people are in an opera house grew tiresome. Yes there was a computer island, soft sea, and we began to see the slow emergence of Prospero’s character as regretful, remorseful, bitter yet in act willing to forgive began. That’s part of the play’s naturalistic miracles.

The last part or act was so moving to me. Keenleyside showed how well he can act: I identified with him as the older person having to give over, to let go, and I liked the presentation of Caliban as an aspect of the solitary Prospero. None of the really powerful lines were omitted, and Prospero’s response to Miranda’s “O brave new world,” was plangently disillusioned.


Alan Oates as Caliban

I’d like to see it again so I could enter into Act 1 from the perspective of what is to come.

As to the interviews, Deborah Voight can carry these off. To some extent she asks real questions about singing technique. You could see in Ades’s eyes a moment’s oh I wish I didn’t have to do this hype but he managed and gave eloquent interviews where he spoke more simply and directly about writing and putting on the opera and his relationships with the singers. He said that he saw himself as their support.

Some reviews: this review particularly insightful and with good photos and stills. See New York Times review. Another review.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


An internet photo (we do not yet carry an ipad camera as a regular thing)


A cat curled up in its pod (Detail from A Lady with a Harp below)

We spotted the turtles before we did the pussycats, probably because the turtles moved and the pussycats didn’t. Also we were out-of-doors and it was earlier in the day.

Saturday morning our plan was to return to Madison Square garden & exchange our 5 o’clock train on Sunday for one much earlier in the day since for Sunday the reasonable prediction was much colder and heavy rain all day, and thus far our three visits to NYC had involved much living in the streets, walking, eating, watching, strolling, gazing. We’d had our Starbucks coffees and croissants in Bryant Park on the usual teetering pastoral green chairs and wobbly table while reading the New York Times, then succeeded in the exchange ($120 extra), taken the subway up, and entered the Park at 76th and found ourselves in the Ramble.

A lovely thick green lake with people rowing beckoned, so we got on that path, and following the stones I thought I saw a fake (stone sculptures very small) set of 4 turtles sitting very still on some stone or log. In Alexandria, where we live there are fake ducks in some of the ponds so life-like you think they are bobbing for fish. We came up to the log and I thought I saw one of the turtles move its head. Nothing unexpected. Often in Alexandria I see real live ducks come up to the fake ones. But then a much smaller size turtle began to climb the log. It struggled to pull up, and almost fell back, but somehow held out and heave-ho, up it got. Then I saw another turtle on the log appear to squiggle in response, and realized the whole lot of them were alive. This new medium-sized one, then four adults, each with a flipper on the others, and finally a very tiny baby turtle, at first hidden by the mother and facing another way.

We had happened on turtle pond. Over across the other side, nests of turtles.

I don’t know how long we walked, it was such a beautiful morning, in the 70s, sunny, breezy. We passed by some area where people were bird-watching: cameras, binoculars, special outfits, alert-looking with books all announced this. One man smiled from a bench and said hello as we passed.Past a playground named after its benefactor (the one with the three-bears statue) took us to the piazza before the Met museum and we went in.

It’s a vast people’s playground nowadays. We tried two of the exhibits and found one was done from a curator’s perspective (the Bernini clay models a vast distance from the blown up photos of the spectacular installation art (so to speak) everywhere in Rome, another mindless (how people love to fake photographs with no sense of what this implies). On the roof this Escher contraption for which one has to get a timed-ticket. So we visited a couple of favorite places — a room of Hubert Roberts badly hung and badly in need of cleaning amid the formal detritus, all uncomfortable to live in, of the super-rich 1% of ancien regimes (“period rooms”). This day for a time the museum, with its continual atavastic scary animal-like bizarre gods (a middle eastern room) and high hierarchical (wealthy, war-like) subjects (everywhere), reminded us how 90% of art has ever been deplorable.

Jim joked to a guard, where is the nearest elevator. He not getting it, I said “we want to get out.” “Get out!” the astonished man smiled. “Don’t we love it here?” I excused myself that my feet were hurting and I am old. He pointed to a corridor leading to stairs and an elevator.

I don’t mean to say it was all loss. A few good moments here and there. The Hubert Roberts. A Reynolds of a small woebegone young boy aristocrat not yet trained out of his humanity. And Marianne Dorothy Harland (1759–1785), Later Mrs. William Dalrymple by Richard Cosway (English, Okeford 1742–1821 London), which used to be exhibited as A Lady with Harp:

Bad picture, absurd posture, showing off what luck had thrown the young woman’s way (as long as she obeyed all materialistic and rank demands), it had nonetheless caught my attention because of the title (I thought of Austen’s Mary Crawford, of Mansfield Park fame), and when we went over what did we notice but that 200 years ago people were providing pods for cats to curl up in — just the way our scared-y cat Ian loved to. The thought crossed our minds that in this era only rich cats might have this luxury, but then when over an hour later we happened on a museum-school we had never heard of before, the National Academy Museum, and went inside to view its collection, we came across an American picture with a perhaps not quite so rich little girl and lo and behold near her feet, a cat curling up in a more home-made pod.

We’ve become very fond our our two pussycats and as a consequence stronger animal lovers, more alert to the presence of cats than we’ve ever been before and to how others treat them and other animals too. I’m convinced we were too young when we had our dog, Llyr, and were not sensitive enough to her presence and needs.

*********************
We spent 5 days & nights to NYC, the first full day of which I had attended a Burney conference, and the second morning I was with a long-time (constant) Janeite friend and her son. I’ll blog about the conference separately on Austen reveries. Herewith is another travelogue, a record of Jim and my good times together away from home. And again our choice was the exhilarating tolerant good city.

For the first time ever we bought ahead for all 4 evenings plays we wanted to see. The last three times we’d been back to the city this year and last year too we had had some good times, but managed never to see even one serious play. A combination of family emergencies & tragedy, the reasons we had come to the city, and just plain bad luck had got in the way: nothing on at half-price tickets we wanted to see or there between times when the opera or ballet is on or when the Delacorte did one of its marvelous performances of Shakespeare and other plays.

So we determined to make up for lost time. After Obama’s empty-chair indifferent performance against an exultant bully-boy Romney, we needed their inspiriting rebelliousness. How do New York City’s stages differ from those of DC, Virginia, & Maryland? Well, with no effort and on particular aim to see anything closely commenting on the political and economic catastrophe wreaked on the world for the last 30 years by a succession of US reactionary militaristic regimes and all their allies, client states, collusive victims and flunkies, three of the four did just that, and the fourth was not far off.

I’ll begin with the most magnificent and powerful of the lot, the great Brian Friel’s Freedom of the City, at the Irish Repertory Theater, on 22nd and 6th (not far from where Jim and I lived for well over a year — 22nd and 10th)


Joseph Sikora as Skinner dressed up in the Mayor’s robes, Napoleonic hat on head, cavorting about on the Guildhall

The play’s occasion was the slaughter of 13 people when on January 30, 1972 British soldiers shot down a peaceful civil rights march in Derry, Ireland (“Bloody Sunday” it became known as). The Commission and judges set up to investigate found no one responsible, no soldier or officer was tried or even disciplined. Only in the last 10 years has another enquiry been set on foot which reversed the findings of the early court and the Tory PM apologized.

Way too late. One of the awarenesses Friel’s play brings home to the audience is the three people who in the play stumble by mistake and panic into the guildhall will never be brought back. Nothing can ever undo what was done nor make up for it. The fantasy elaboration is to put before us three characters, Michael, an embittered young seemingly permanently unemployed man who longs to live a productive self-respecting life with wife, children, goals, good work; Lily, an impoverished mother of 11 living in a condemned shack behind a railway, with no hope of any improvement in her life or for that of her family (she has had no access to contraception), and a loner outsider, Skinner, refusing to be coopted into, or justify the stupefying displacements and compromises the other two seem silently to accept — all the while endlessly talking. These three inside are interwoven with the cold impassive judge coming to his inexorable conclusion they are dangerous armed terrorists, using the evidence of a constable, and a psychiatrist; a ludicrous professor with her deconstructionist understandings; a reporter. Hovering over them the British soldiers armed, in camouflage outfits, with terrifying weapons at the ready. I reread the play tonight and was so moved. I can’t find any reviews so link in just the wikipedia article on the play itself.

At the Booklyn Academy of Music The Paris Commune, a Cabaret by Steven Cosson and Michael Friedman as directed by Steven Cosson. BAM is now made up of 3 (!) theaters: beyond the opera house, this modernistic building with its black box, and another I saw across a parking lot disguised as a green park.

Most people seem not to have heard of this bloody slaughter, much less know that as many people were killed by the French military in this 4 month period as were murdered in the 1792 Fall Terror so often detailed as a peculiarly horrific occasion in order to indite the French revolution. Basically what happened was the people of Paris took over the gov’t of France and for a time succeeded in holding on and beginning to reform and plan a sort of new deal (separation of church and state, no night work, pensions, remission of rents, ease of debts). This time it did not take the armies of four countries (England, Prussia, Spain and Russia united to defeat Napoleon’s armies) to crush and slaughter the rebellion.


Daniel Jenkins as the baker

Cosson and Friedman present the incident by a combination of rousing songs, actively rebellious character types in soliloquies and scenes interspersed with (ironic) songs of a soprano (Offenbach) and citizen types (baker and his wife, seamstress, politician). Everyone had to work very hard to give us a sense of a large crowd in frenetic activity. The language at the end and final song made the parallels with our own time and the recent destruction of the Occupy movement in the US and elsewhere.


Cock: the title refers as much to the staging of the play (in an apt cock-pit) as the lead actor’s penis

Cock by Mike Bartlett has (I think) an unfortunate title. It is not at all pornographic, not salacious: I took it to be the playing out of the lives of three unlucky people involved with a self-indulgent bisexual young man, John (Cory Michael Smith): M (Jason Butler Harner) the unfortunate male lover who supports him in a fantastically expensive apartment in London, W (Amanda Quaid), a young woman he meets and brings to a dinner cooked by M; and John’s father, F (Cotter Smith) who wants his son to marry and produce grandchildren. The acting is superb, controlled; I didn’t find it funny but rather poignant, a stinging representation of relationships endured under the circumstances and pressures of our era.


The two brothers confronting one another with Kathleen McKenny as Katherine, Dr Stockmann’s wife, as moderating influence

The least exhilarating (the proscenium stage realism creaks) and yet most directly relevant and at moments suddenly so eloquent was the fully (elaborately) staged Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People in a new translation by Rebecca Lenkiewicz in an elegant Broadway theater, formerly the Biltmore now called the Manhattan Theater club (probably the first time Jim and I had been to Broadway in years). The acting was again superb, minor and major roles, but especially Boyd Gaines as Dr Stockman who has discovered the water of the town is contaminated, and Richard Thomas as his brother, Peter, a politician. Reviews have been rightly excellent (see highlights). I just wished that the central speech was not against what the majority wants or needs. Ibsen’s language derives from his own rebellion against the restrictive social mores of his country and class when what is on the minds of US people today is a political and economic and military oligarchy enforcing vast capitalist profits for a very few at the expensive of the decent lives and the earth itself for everyone else.

The four theaters were all just about filled. We also in the DC area do not have a population which goes to the theater like this. To be fair, we are talking about millions living in, close to, or near Manhattan, while in my area we have suburban distances to travel and theater is scattered across the area. This matters.

********************
What else did we do?


Mickalene Thomas: this tiger cat image conveys some of the glittery texture of her work

We made it to the Brooklyn Museum for the first time in a few years, and were fascinated by Mickalene Thomas’s determined reversal images of much French impressionistic and white male art in The origin of the Universe: she replaces the white men & women with black women, and her pictures of the natural world and art in-doors sparkle with glitter and bold colors. It’s true that central to her project is supposed shock, but what has not been emphasized anywhere I can see is there is a story she tells here: of her and her mother’s supportive relationship (many of her pictures are of her mother), of her mother’s hard life (one where she endured physical abuse in a coerced marriage for many years). If you go, you’ll find this one touching rather than just about hard success. We again saw Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, some favorites in the American collection (new ones brought up) and the kind of odd new art (like a covered wagon made out of Christmas lights) found everywhere in active museums nowadays. There is a real attempt at the Brooklyn to mirror its surrounding population’s history and culture too. We were too tired to go very far into the Botanical Gardens once again.

We did, though really look at some some 300 out of 7000 [!] pictures said to be owned at the National Academy of Art. We just happened on the place later in the afternoon. A thin townhouse, its sign for an exhibit of self-portraits by women artists caught my eye, and we went in. It was like a trip through the history of American academic art, and quite revealing it was — we spent 2 hours there. Modernity and women’s art first hit these people around 1970, but they are making up for lost time. I now know what one of my favorite modern artists, Jane Freilicher looks like. Unfortunately, the feel of the place is exclusive, the behavior of some of its patrons snobbish, and online they don’t share much. By contrast, the Neue Galleries make the experience comfortable for all, even non-members. (This business of membership is creating little coteries — one is now found on the fourth floor of the Metropolitan museum.)

I won’t omit Lord and Taylor’s flagship store. Everyone who looks like they have money enough to spend is welcome. It too is filled with lovely art: really nice women’s clothes (probably men’s too) galore set out beautifully. I discovered that just like Kohl’s, L&T today indulges in putting prices on garments they don’t mean. When you get to the cash-register you just may find (not always) several different sales at once. The styles, choice, price and help everywhere account for the store becoming filled by the time Jim and I left. I bought myself a new fall jacket — and when we got back to the Princeton threw out my now ragged black one. Bras, a warm hat, neat thin woolen elegant gloves. I had to restrain myself not to go for more.

And we didn’t miss bookstores. At the Strand I got myself a new edition of a new translation of Lampedusa’s masterpiece, Il Gattapardo (complete with new introduction, notes, appendices), a new volume of Leopardi, a pleasurable and not too untrue anthology of bellestristic essays on Central Park (well chosen and inroduced by Andrew Blauner), a novella by Wm Dean Howells, A Sleep and a Forgetting, I’d never heard of.

Jim did not buy himself any new clothes nor books. I should perhaps have labelled this blog good or magical moments from our celebratory time away: Jim’s 64th birthday (yes we sang the Beatles’ song) and our 44th wedding anniversary. He seemed content to be open to experience, have it accessible, among the endless stream of people, seemingly sleepless once you go outside, staying again at the Princeton, enjoying what we did, being alive together at liberty. We ate out in fancy restaurants two different evenings, once Italian, and (recommended) once French (a place called the Marseille). We inhabited the bar for a time each night, and twice were content just to dine on its snacks, and sometimes talking with the other like-minded circumstanced inmates.

As I trundled my bag behind me on our way home through the tunnel and a narrow space where another person was standing I said to her, “I don’t want to hit your feet” so she smiled obligingly moved them.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Dear friends and readers,

Jim and I are not entirely through with coping with my mother’s estate, we still have some stuff to do about the money she left, which has come to me. Sunday, though, we finished the physical things. This is the story of unfinished business going back to 1971/2.

Shortly after I left my first husband and was living with my parents in an apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant (for a few weeks before I was to go to England), I found myself wandering in an department store. I no longer remember why. I came across this picture I just fell in love with. I didn’t know the artist’s name and still don’t. It was not an original — it was just a print. But it seemed to contain in it a vision of a mood, a life, a lifestyle that had deep appeal. I knew most of NYC city didn’t look like this row of picturesque brownstones through which one could view a young woman walking quietly. It has something of a feel of my favorite painter, Pissaro. I wished I could live in a part of a city that at least faintly resembled it. Its frame was plain wood and the cost $14.00.

Readers of this blog or the list-servs I post to will know how much I care about pictures.

I took it home. It was not easy since I had to bring it by subway. Then I hung it over my new cherry wood bed. It had come with string and all I needed to do was bang a couple of nails in the wall. When it came time to go to England, I knew I couldn’t take it with me. It was way too big. I had to leave it with my parents in the apartment they had just moved into in Fresh Meadows. This was 1967/68.

Fast forward a couple of years later I had returned from England, was now married to Jim and I came to my parents’ apartment. There was that picture again, but now it hung over the central sofa in the living room. Alas, my father had to some extent ruined it. He had re-framed it with an “better” wood frame that had a gold lining in it. It didn’t fit it. It was too pompous. He admitted that was so. It had become his picture in appearance as well as possession. What else would he put over that couch.

So I said nothing.

Well when we came to clear out my parents’ apartment, bag and box everything and remove what we wanted, I almost didn’t take it with me. I still couldn’t bear that new frame. Further, the picture itself had faded and embrowned over the years. (It’s not as dark as it appears in this blog; that’s the result of the darkness of the corridor.) Morning I used to think in the city was the best time of day, the time before people’s faces took on the growing anxieties and stresses of the day. But who would hire someone to clean a print that had cost $14 30 years ago? It had lost that early morning freshness of colors it had had. Also where would we put it in the truck. It was silly of me to care. It was self-indulgent in a way I couldn’t find reason for. Yet I wanted it. As Izzy wanted the china lazy Susan in the front of the house, and a small reproduction of a fin-de-siecle painting (cost $3 in a supermarket sale) that was in the front room.

In the end I took the Susan, small painting and my large one home. My big painting took up the side panel of the truck and it got scratched. Since I decided on this the last moment, the Lazy Susan didn’t get properly wrapped and one of the china pieces got smashed.

Still she was happy with them. She put the three (one chipped) on the round thing that swings about and now has her pencils, pens and other things in it on her new cherry wood hutch and desk affair that stretches from her desk to Laura’s now ex-desk with a new wide-framed TV on it.

When I got my picture inside though, it was not clear where I could put it. We have 54 bookcases. Most of our walls are covered and those which are not have favorite pictures already. There is Jim’s three Italian sloops in the front room. He found that similarly, took it to work in the Pentagon, and the day he retired brought it home.

It was more like $30.00, but then this was 30 years later he bought it.

Walls with small ones: an acqua nymph on a rock, looking dreamily up from the waters to the sky; an Alma Tadema in black-and-white of pseudo-classical figures listening to someone read aloud Virgil (these from auctions); from thrift antique shops, some commedia dell’arte figures sitting and wandering wearily in a park where some kind of masquerade is occurring; and this print of an engraving in bad shape of a salon with a gentlewoman to the side holding (cuddling) a cat:

A Chardin of musical instruments:

But I did have behind the door in the hall and over the small thin bookcase (with audio books), a stretch of wall that had a sort of reproduction of a Monet of an exhibit from a museum in France that I really didn’t care for. Had it had been a Pissaro that would have been different. Would this fit? just? and how could I put it up? My father had taken away the original string set.

Well yesterday Laura and Rob brought over their drill. I had bought a new string set from Home Depot, and voila Rob put it up so it was straight and beautifully cover the whole wall. The bookcase under it prevents the door from slamming at it. It’s a bit dark in that corridor since there is no window and just one light bulb so you can’t tell how the painting needs a cleaning and the frame somehow loses its prominence.

I had held it against my father that he had gotten my painting. I had acquiesced in giving it up because he had made it his by that frame. But over the years it had become his, it had somehow in my mind stood for where we did share a taste, for he liked it as much as I did — though could not just leave it be, had had to make it conform to some imposed norm of impressiveness. But then when he had done it, he saw he had lost part of its charm.

So, at long last I got it back. But I got it back with this new meaning, that it had been his, but time has now reverted it back into being mine through the operation of shabbiness.

Almost there.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Amos Brown house, Whittingham, Vermont (seen from angle of the front porch)


Some of our stuff all over the desk in the front room: guidebooks, the log book of Landmark, my French dictionary

Dear friends and readers,

We returned a few hours ago, from our latest venture staying at a Landmark Trust house, the so-called Amos Brown house, in central-south Vermont, a short walk from the borders of Massachusetts, and not too long a car ride from the Berkshires where remarkable theater, museum shows, festivals of music and art go on during the summer months each year. This is our tenth Landmark house (we have gone to these many more times than 10, having stayed at Amos Brown twice now, and Cloth Fair, in London, many times), and that we did enjoy staying in this place may be seen by our having returned to it, and our new plan to stay at Danescombe Mine in two autumns from now, to be able to explore Poldark and DuMaurier sites in Cornwall.


Danescombe Mine turned into a vacation place, Cornwall

But we did return early by two days and because this time we had a working ipad, I was able to write genuine diary entries each day, I offer to these who are interested to explain why we returned early (a problem with the Brown house), and give more of a genuine immediate feel of our travel experience than I usually do — since travel to and from this house we did.

******************************


Ellen reading later in the evening front room


Jim upon arrival, in kitchen

July 30, 2012

We arrived yesterday afternoon. It is now morning and I am describing our experience yesterday. The place felt lovely partly because it is so quiet. I am now made aware of noisy even our Alexandria suburban block is. Few or no cars pass by here, and we have a minimum of electric appliances. Sitting in the garden on a rocking chair the air is restorative too — as it’s so cool in comparison to Virginia. All is comparison. The house is a genuinely later 18th century house tactfully restored. We can live here in comfort. On the drive here, I finished Graham’s The Angry Tide, began Baker’s The Rise of the Victorian Actor, and am now going to try Holroyd’s A Strange Eventful History (the enormous book you see on my lap). Jim made us a lovely meal and we once again explored the house.

The handwriting style on this iPad is so pretty but I cannot share it.

************************


I find a working radio!


Said to be paintings of Amos and Sarah Brown

July 31, 2012

Morning again.

I should have said yesterday that I regretted not staying to see Laura (that is, getting off at 9:00 am yesterday morning), as after all we got here by 4:30 pm. Last night our i-pad enabled us to listen to Leonard Cohen and Mahler. This morning we found a working radio and outlet and have listened to Boston’s version of NPR. So we had news (Nevada judge says forbidding late term abortions doesn’t get in anyone’s way, India having life-threatening storm), weather (cool), and now Ravel’s Pavan for a Dead Princes.

It is better having this connection to the outside world. I find this time (as I did the summer we stayed in the 19th century New York house, near Glimmerglass in Cooperstown), that I want to have this sense of connection. I miss the Internet and my Net friends, I miss knowing the news. I wished I could work my DVD player to help tire myself at night so I could sleep 6 hours in a row.

At the same time I like staying in centuries old houses. It makes me feel special, as part of history, conjoined to others. After its history as the Amos Brown farm (basically an agriculturally-based middle class family group), this place became a pleasure second-home for upper middle class people. For example, In the 1930s the rich Grace family played polo here with friends. It reversed this trend in the later 20th century, when it became a Carthusian monks’ sanctuary; it was the monks who let the place go to ruin (while they dreamed of paradises), and devastated the still unrestored Unit (it would cost so much to fix) by using cheap materials to fix things (like cement instead of bricks).

Like the other Landmark places, this house’s furnishings are tasteful. The chandelier in the dining room is such as the Brown family might have had had they had electricity, modern materials to look like lovely imitation iron, and a taste for simplicity. The pictures in the house are much improved. Beyond the supposed portraits of Amos and Sarah Brown, nice landscapes, flower still-lifes.

****************************


One of the many new pictures in the Brown house: a landscape in the bedroom


Armide, Cupid, with Hatred (the soprano and two dancers), from 2012 Lully’s Armide, Glimmerglass

August 1, 2012.

Morning again. Last night I had that strange experience I sometimes have at home: I could make out everything in the rooms in this house even though I didn’t put the lights on. This time yes it was the full moon outside. I love the luminosity of the darkness. At nearly 10 pm we did walk out to see the stars and I could make out so many despite the moon making the sky less black. The light comes from 100s of years ago.

Yesterday (July 31st) we drove to Glimmerglass, a long drive there and back (3 hours) but worth it. Beautiful place, friendly talk with people like ourselves in taste, a witty lecturer, Lully’s Armide. The second half very good: Armide is turned from Tasso’s evil witch into a sentimental romance heroine enthralled by Rinaldo, and I feel the story is Dido and Aeneas. I found the music dull, non-expressive. The singers playing the parts looked right. Rinaldo very handsome. The whole thing done accurately as a Baroque opera, costumes, much dancing and beautifully woven in. We ate our own picnic and had white Riesling wine, and ate our dinner at home too.

When we returned, we looked at the Landmark Trust book and discovered we’ve stayed in 10 places: Cloth Fair (London, Smithfield, many times); Fox Hall (Chichester, a duke’s hunting lodge); Elton House (Bath) to follow in the footsteps of Austen, Burney, Radcliffe; Peters Tower (clock tower, near Exeter) to go to a Trollope conference; Shute Gatehouse (Devonshire) to go to Lyme;, the Old Hall (Somerset) to go with Laura and Izzy to neolithic sites, great houses; Georgian house in Hampton Court, the gardiner’s house, wonderful wandering around the grounds at night; Steward’s house (Oxford), from which I went to the British 18th century conference and Jim bought and cooked pheasants; Amos Brown farmhouse, Vermont. Now we hope to stay in Danescombe Mine, Cornwall.

I found in the library in the house (each house has an appropriate library) and red Charles T. Morrissey’s Vermont: a History. Informative, lightly written, decently mundane. 23per cent of people in Vermont live in dire poverty. It’s 19th century iron industries sailing trade, and farming are gone. Factories too — along the road they are arts buildings. Tourism, people who come to second homes, vacationers, and local economies (people serving one another’s needs) are its bases. It’s unlike New Hampshire which is arch conservative, has no income tax, and practically no services for its people. But the decent socially responsible attitude of Vermont’s legislature can be thwarted by the way business is conducted: a meeting is held for passing each law (includes the public and is advertised), thus no laws can get passed constraining hunters to control themselves and keep the deer population up. Hunting and gun types come and shout down, threaten the legislators, and will have brought enough people to vote down the representatives.

We move across centuries in our imagined places.

*****************************


A picturesque but not untrue photo of main street area in Williamstown — first built in the 18th century


One part of one portion of a wall in the Clark Museum Remix/UCurate exhibit

August 2, 2012.

Morning coffee done I sit and write. The first part of yesterday (August 1st), we enjoyed. I wrote on this iPad, breakfasted, and were happy together. We went back to bed, afterward talked, then rested, and then we drove to Williamstown, to the Clark museum. The drive was pleasant, past quiet streams, around mountains.

We had a good time at the Clark even though most of the museum is closed for extensive renovation. The people running the museum set up two spaces which could give you hours of delight. One, made up of three large interlocking rooms was called Classic Clark. The rooms had the usual set-up pictures on its walls (say 4 to a wall), and these had been taken from the museum’s most beautiful interesting paintings: the curators showed their stuff, they have good taste, intelligence, a sense of humor. We saw some favorites we remembered from last time, a few startling ones (one by Laurence Alma Tadema), each group set up by era (such alluring Constables, and set up with respect to the doors and arches so that when you see one set you have an amusing counterpart looking at you (it seems).


The characters in Alma Tadema pictures are so English upper class — these resemble the actors in the BBC I, Claudius — yet the painting is so good, especially the marble

The other was one huge room called Remix/UCurate was a work of inspired tricksters . I had noticed that there was a selection for small paintings in Classic: I thought the criteria was unusual, no it was small to fit more in. So Remix had many small gems as well as some medium-size, and a couple of well-chosen large. Extraordinarily good and unusual choices juxtaposed in non-era and non-school ways, but whose content made all sorts of comments on one another, often ironic. What made it though was words.

On a ledge were about 10 or more i-Pads, tablets like this one. You took one round with you and it was easy to get to literally several intelligent easy-to-read paragraphs on each, sometimes the painter, sometimes the painting – making you see so much more than you can on your own – I have been persuaded (you’d think I would not need this) words can be an intrinsic part of an art museum experience. And of the wonders of technology. They had four cabinets of small sculpture, plates, silver work, all keyed to paragraphs on the i-Pad. They had fit in in effect a floor of fascination in one room. They had two desks with large versions of these tablets: there the reproductions of the paintings could be large, and, candor here, vied with the tiny painting themselves, at least for clarity.

We stopped half way through and lunched at their service cafeteria and had fine meals. Mine was salmon, good lettuce and tomato salad, and yummy potato salad (with egg and onion), with cabernet sauvignon.

It was too hot to walk much and we could not find anything having any wi-fi. We came home. Jim was too tired to go out and we decided to walk to Massachusetts (half hour walk), and stay in to eat our roasted chicken, carrots, salad. Alas, after putting the stove in, it rained, and it seems Green Mountain Electric Company is not prepared for thunder or rain. We lost power. We found we had no water, and the stove provides no way to shut it off. No on of off button, no plug could be found. We feared leaving the house lest the stove set the place on fire. Even if we had planned it, the Bennington concert (we had thought of going to) was out.


The kitchen, showing the stove we could not shut off

This occurred at 5:30 pm. We called the caretaker number we were given and were assured someone would come to shut off the stove. No one ever came. So we couldn’t leave lest the chicken inside set the house on fire. There was one large candle and we drank wine ate peaches and cheese and bread, but soon it was dark, and we were aware of how isolated this house is. I phoned the electricity company several times, each time getting more response. The last call produced someone for me to talk to. We were promised power back at 8:30 pm but in fact it came back after 11 pm by which time we had gone to bed. No water means no working flush.

Someone in the Landmark log book said they had been this way for three days and nights. Someone else said this house is haunted. We heard what seemed to be human howling down the road twice. Jim suggested screech owls but my guess we are again near a man who beats his wife. In NYC across the alley from our apartment every Saturday night we’d hear this snarling gnarled male voice and then a woman screaming screaming and then she’d cry and then silence; this went on for some 7 years.

The working radio this morning (Vermont NPR) says rain, thunderstorms today and tomorrow. Yesternight involved 1044 houses. I know travel means travail, but last night did not amuse Jim. I began to have bad thoughts about my life. Jim says today we will fit in 2 days activities and go home tomorrow. I am willing to chance until Sunday, partly not to lose the money or time away. I have said to him, let’s not over-react, let’s see how the promised rain affects the house today.

I would be sorry not to go through with my plan to spend a day translating poetry by Elsa Morante, using French intermediate verse in a bilingual edition of her Rime I found on the Net. That’s why I brought my dictionaries.

************************


A tall bear made of woolly roses from Oh Canada


Mass MoCA, the outside and parking lot

August 3, 2012

Morning again. Yesterday (August 2nd), we ended on a high note. We have been very good here together, very happy — in the car, walks, touring towns and countryside, a lake, and our bed much used.

We went to another museum, Mass MoCA it is called, in North Adams City. Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, it made the MoMaA look staid. Three exhibits, and a tiny permanent collection.

Most objects were not paintings on walls, and those which were used the cartoon-y style that has become common. I found charming a large dollhouse complete with furniture. There was one called “love which dare not speak its name and it included a dramatization of the Lone Ranger and Tonto (partly meant to be funny). Much was hard satire on modern culture, the capitalist exploitative sexist absurd and cruel arrangements and norms but much was not preachy, and actually understandable. A book of photos of stealth airplanes used to kidnap people and take them to interrogate, torture and imprison them in secret places. Shell planes run by the U.S. There was a hut with a bed, surrounded by electronic gadgets, the hut a hexagon tent on which were beautiful films of nature, the natural world, including people.There was the usual self-indulgent kind of thing which shows no art (a film of clouds given explanations, surrounded by detritus), but Oh Canada (an exhibit) was superior to much contemporary art.


From the dollhouse exhibit

I remember the bad taste of junk across the Whitney one year by star pupils, doubtless conceived in a strongly competitive environment. Oh Canada had scenes of snow, wilderness used, and history. Two paintings on the Acadian deportations and massacre, parodying the lies of Benjamin west and Edward Dicksee. Artist Marie Doucette.

The building itself was a vast factory where the art was continually to show us the bare brick walls, pipes, all the stairways metal, all doors metal, ceilings with bare pipes. This decor was kept up everywhere, toilets too. We ate in a cafe which had good small meals. I note all the people we see in these places are clearly middle class looking, modern dress versions. Near us in this cafe a man read a Wall Street Journal, his wide had her hair carefully died and cut so as to look super casual.


A photograph of the company for A Month in the Country, set against a photo of the theater

The piece de resistance of our trip, and perhaps all the performances we’ve been to this summer was the Williams Theater production of Turgenev’s A Month in the Country. I’d never seen or read it. We arrived about an hour before the performance was to begin, and it took 3 hours, including intermission.

A very great play modestly put before us with a minimum of stage props and costumes and lights. The actors performed it wonderfully well. Real inward selves versus intermittent public facades to protect themselves was the basic perception with a real attention to power relationships undercut by irresistible human emotions and inescapable social arrangements made the perception Turgenev had of the characters. I felt so for the male friend of the family, living off them, and us by them. Hard parts were sympathetically done — like that of the husband. Comedy, pathos, even quiet tragedy as the young girl is driven by our heroine to marry a rich kind man the girl feels nothing for, yet this problem is and was and is the central arrangement of our heroine’s life.

There is just too much to say so I’ll leave it at that only saying my respect for Trollope went up as I remembered how much Trollope admired Turgenev, that Turgenev wrote an empathetic biography of Gogol. I hope Tyler on Trollope19thCStudies is willing to read and talk about Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons.

I remembered the parking garage and the theater from 5 summers ago when we saw here a superbly rich Lilian Hellman play set in Louisiana and a southern woman’s play about 3 sisters. WTF (a pun) is willing to do quiet Chekhovian as well as radical farce plays. Last time we saw 4 plays (a Stoppard comedy, Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession), a Glimmerglass production of an Offenbach opera; we had one day at a lake. This time we have not been as lucky with the summer theater on offer just when we came, and we have had one bad night.

We then drove back to and toured North Adams City, found an assuming good restaurant where “casual American food”, scotch and ginger ale (for me)’ and artisan beer (for Jim) was to be had, and where there was at last wifi. Jim emailed Izzy we would be home today in time for supper; Laura responded almost immediately. They were at the tennis match together.

****************

Our bed


Our clothes across the way

Jim has surprised me by his determination to go home early, as maybe I surprised him with my willingness to stay, not until Monday, August 6th by 10 am (I had thought that overdone), but till Sunday — to see the musical Class Act, about Chorus Line, which Jim had bought Saturday matinee tickets for in Stockbridge where there is an exquisitely good Italian restaurant; to go to a lake (Friday, today that would have been), and in the l’apres-midi sit and translate Italian out of the French Morante.

But no. We had been away from home long enough. I never heard him say that before. Myself I started perhaps for the first time to talk of how I understood now why people took vacations. This year I had had a culmination of more social experience and interaction than ever before, and understood vacationing was getting away from the stress, self-comparisons and beratings of all that. I really was willing to stay, but as I am ever intensely relieved to be home. I remembered how Laura had said “be sure and come back,” and wanted to know how Izzy was doing, how the cats were too.

On the radio the weathermen kept predicting a hard rain, thunderstorm, maybe even lightning (and perhaps the Vermont electricity company was not prepared for this). I had been scared again last isolated position of the house. Ever since I read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood I’ve been unnerved at the idea two lone gunmen can come into someone’s house and bully, emotionally torture and then kill everyone in the house. The recent Aurora massacre had reminded me how the US is a violent place, filled with people driven wild by excruciating demands, norms, and deprivations.

And I usually do what Jim wants. I spent my life by his side and he takes care of me. So we packed, and drove home. I’d like to go to the Berkshires again, next time stay in Massachusetts or New York where we are surrounded by people, houses I can see, and feel I am in an area served by an electricity company prepared for rain.

***********************


Chairs in front room

I did read Kate Summerscale’s Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady (excellent, recommended), Lucasta Miller’s The Bronte Myth (which I hope to blog about), am almost finished with Graham’s Stranger from the Sea (Poldark novel 8, which I hope to write about as I’ve changed my view on it, and now like it very much), and began Charlotte Smith’s Young Philosopher, Margaret Kennedy’s Troy Chimneys (a historical novel set in the Regency period — who knew?). I gave up on Holroyd’s overdone saccharine book on Ellen Terry and Henry Irving and never got into his wife, Margaret Drabble’s Arnold Bennett (another time …. ). Jim read Irving Howe’s Notebooks (critical essays), John Hollander’s poetry, and Sondheim’s Look, I Made a Hat. We listened to much music together, and Jim & I read to one another Hollander’s poem, “The Ninth of AB” which begins

August is flat and still, with ever-thickening green,
    Leaves, clipped in their richness; hoarse sighs in the grass
        Moments of mowing, mark out the lengthening summer.
        The ground
We children play on, and toward which maples tumbler their
        seed
    Reaches beneath us all, back to the sweltering City:
        Only here can it never seem yet a time to be sad in.
Only the baking concrete, the soften asphalt, the wail
    Of wall and rampart made to languish together in wild
        Heat can know of the suffering of summer. But here, or
        in woods
Fringing a pond in Pennsylvania, where dull-red newts
    The color of goals glow on the mossy rocks, the nights
        Are starry, full of promise of something beyond them,
        north
        Of the north star, south of the warm dry wind, or east of the
        sea.
    There are no cities for now. Even in this time of songs
        Of lamenting for fallen cities …

It ends with the poet not escaped after all, in a room dark with the old tropes of despair as he turns to fallen cities, to ruined places, wailing walls, human history. It is a profound lamentation

As I used to say to my daughters, when we got home from a trip, home again, home again, jiggedy-jig.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


George Bellows (1882-1925), Paddy Flannigan (1909) — the insolence with which he guards himself is not going to help him much in life


Bellows, Madeline Davis, the post-master’s orphaned grand-daughter (1914) — the pathos and loneliness of her expressive face has a wounded feel


Moonlight Skating — Central park, the Terrace and the Lake, 1878 (by John O’Brien Inman) — the kind of picture Bellows sought to replace

Dear Friends and readers,

Another must-see! Splendeurs et misères (as in Balzac’s novel). This one is just chock-a-block with these magnificent brilliant stunning pictures, intelligently set up so you can journey through a career and age:

Knowing that I cannot do justice to the initial impact, social vision, painterly splendor, and wide range of the pictures (they seem to come from so many museums, private collections, and books) by George Bellows at the National Gallery, I thought I might suggest why people should be sure and go to this exhibit either in DC, or New York (it’s coming to the Met next) or London (the Royal Academy) by at least displaying unusual images reprinted in the generous catalogue book edited by Charles Brock, but I find that lots of people have beat me to it. The Net has a slew of images of Bellows work readily available, and armed with a few titles and a little effort the viewer can find many lesser known lithographs:


Bellows. A lynching (the caption says the law takes too long it’s meant ironically);

illustrations:


Bellows, Hungry Dogs;

(a favorite subject for Bellows), Hudson River landscapes:


Bellows, Rain on the River (1908);

paintings of widespread banal poverty and mutually-inflicted human misery:


Bellows, Cliff Dwellers (1914) — as a child I watched my mother string out wet clothes across a street in the Bronx (circa 1950);

hugely crowded (not a space, not a place of rest in the canvas) and exhilarating or nearly people-less and desolate nightmare city- and industrial landscape:


Bellows, Building Grand Central (a series);

and of course savagely violent boxing:


Bellows, Both Members of the Club (the way elites watched illegal boxing was to allow the instruments of their appetite to become members for a night).

The Net even has caches of Bellows’s lesser known exquisite John Singer Sergeant (or Cecilia Beaux) type portraiture:


George Bellows, Geraldine Lee (1914) — I just love the tone of that pink outfit, and don’t miss the dark pink hat

So what could I say that would suggest maybe there is something there you’ve not seen before? or remind you of what there is to see in huge and vivid size? or suggest what this particular exhibit might offer them?

Well, first, I lead with two portraits I found especially arresting, and a third picture card landscape (Inman’s populist Central Park). Then show by choices from the wide selection on the Net and my new book that while partly denying this (nervously), the exhibit nonetheless cannot help but insistently demonstrate the moving socialist and pro-people point of view that Bellows spent much of his art making electrifyingly visible.

I hope this choice suggests something of the variety and themes Bellows favored for most of his career. He worked for a magazine called The Masses, and was close with John Reed (Ten Days that Shook the World) whose name pops up repeatedly in the little explanations on the walls of the exhibit. The electrocution is one of these:


Bellows, The Electrocution.

A note of critical evaluation: Wonderfully attractive & sharply incisive, some with satirical commentary (as in his huge pictures of Billy Sunday with huge crowds labelled by his as evil for art, spiritual life and decency) as most of the paintings and drawings are, they did fall off after or around the time of World War I. The exhibit reveals how quickly Bellows was tremendously successful despite his apparent iconoclasm and radicalism. If he did make visible what the elite and powerful did not like to look at in real life, they didn’t mind when it came to his art. And as he grew successful, he seems to have stepped away from painting scenes of modern half-crazy slightly nightmare-like city life and landscape, from exposures of human cruelty.

In the exhibit World War I was a kind of turning point for Bellows’s art. While his WW1 pictures were certainly shocking and determined to show the viewer Writ Large the hideous violence and indifference to human suffering that war causes (hands cut off, a woman with her breast cut off by a man who sits next to her smoking a cigarette) and how people have no problem inflicting inhumane gov’t policies:


Bellows, Return of the Useless [from POW and slave labor camps] (1918),

they are also overt propaganda which falsifies, makes theatrical and turns war into crass displays of sentiment. As Bellows grew richer, went to live in Grammercy Park, took his holidays in Maine,and built a home in Woodstock, he began to idealize and make enigmatic landscapes, which if lovely felt child-like or cartoon-y.

One example: until this turning point, I was so aware of the hard life of horses in Bellows pictures. Big dray ones, tired, men standing nearby with whips; they were ubiquitous, used carelessly and ignored (in the picture at any rate). Then suddenly there was this vision of a horse at last without a harness, making its way towards a heavenly sky:


Bellows, The White Horse (1922)

Now the dog is happy, tail wagging, getting plenty to eat.

His later work is made up of more landscapes (now undistinguished from postcard type), pictures of himself, Emma, his wife, and daughter as, fore example, an exemplary fisherman and family, of the daughter dressed like an upper class lady of long ago, jumping rope in the privacy of Grammercy Park. These show the same splendors of paint and strong theatricality of all the paintings, maybe show it up.

Maybe one of the reasons Bellows did so well was finally his paintings do not disquiet, even the most savage of them. They celebrate being alive; nature is a dynamic glorious force and if many people have to live anonymous hard lives, they are not doing it alone and they do it vigorously.

Throughout the exhibit one read of how “masculine” was his vision and it is true that except as John Singer Sergeant type ladies or young working girls painted with unusual compassion and dignity in the same mode, the pictures are crowded with men, show male activities, present young working boys (rather than girls) bathing in the city rivers. Women appear: scolding children, as prostitutes, as fancy paid mistresses of fat cat males with top hats, but they are more in the mode of side affairs, decorations, there like the horses with male as the main dominating sufferers and power. When his style changed, and grew more stylized, flatter, I liked his pictures less. I found too that I sometimes got more out of his drawings, the lines bringing out clearly what he was showing than the colouristic treatment of the paintings.

Perhaps had Bellows lived into the depression, he would have found a new angle and returned to his original subject matter and perspective, moved into another new style. He did die young: aged 42, of peritonitis after his appendix burst. Cut off but not forgotten.

I do not mean to detract from the value of the paintings at all, but rather suggest that a viewer sees enough to begin to think for herself beyond the incessant praise of the explanations. The exhibit was accompanied by tables in the center of the rooms with hand-written notes by Bellows or his wife of prices, exhibits, their plans of what to do next. You felt them as people, two lives and a career unfolding before you.

As I particularly love meditative landscapes, I was entranced by the vivid variety and intense colors of these, the appropriate objects and things in them, like a particular kind of tree, a lone house, sparkles in just the right corner of something. Winter and (the real effects of) snow were favorite themes for Bellows — and so too for me. And I spent many years of my life walking up and down drives along the Hudson river so was drawn in repeatedly:


Bellows, Winter Afternoon (1908)


Bellows, Easter Snow (something we may not see any more) — I do like that boy and girl (I have a photo of me aged 2, in spring, standing on a mountain of snow)

It seems that Bellows’s wife, Emma (who was a fellow art student) managed to live quite well after her husband died. She had been a central person in his life; one sees that immediately after his death, a wide exhibit was set up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that she carried on selling his pictures for higher and higher prices. His loving picture of her which suggests a fulfilled domestic life is one of the lead pictures for the exhibit:


Bellows, Emma at the Piano (1914)

The National Gallery has quite a summer schedule of exhibits. There’s a fine small display of photography called “I Spy” (“the theater of the street”); pictures by the Renaissance writer, Castiglione; and coming in another couple of weeks
another blockbuster show, this one featuring alluring pictures which remind me of E. M. Forster scenes

Jim and I are lucky to live within a hop, skip and jump of Washington D. C.
We get to the National Gallery by driving at around 2 pm to a street about 5 minutes away from our house which allows three-hour parking. The three hours is over at 5 pm. So we are safe from a ticket. The Metro train is a block away, the trip about 20 to 30 minutes depending on vagaries of fixing, time, crowds. Then we walk a block in the Penn Quarter which is just the sort of place that Bellows would have painted.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 161 other followers