The first time I was blown away by a visit to an art gallery I was 20. A mentor and good friend sent us to the National Portrait Gallery on our first trip to London. Suddenly, all of the pictures from all of my school history books came to life in front of me. Queen Elizabeth I was a living breathing human – and someone painted her – and that painting was right-in-front-of-me-hundreds-of-years-old.
The second time was in Amsterdam – about a year later. Something about seeing a large body of Rembrandt’s work and a large body of Van Gogh’s work in one day changes both your heart and your brain. I recommend it.
Many years later, and many marvelous exhibits later, I have my own modest collection of art, and I still seek out great galleries anywhere I can. Visiting the Hermitage is an extraordinary opportunity, and it was remarkable.
The gallery is an astonishing super-position of the palace of Catherine the Great – who ruled Russia for (count them!) 30 years – and one of the great art galleries of the western world. We’ll get back to the palace later. By “Great Art Gallery” I mean something very simple: even if you know nothing about art, you will be able to walk through and recognize paintings you have seen many many times. Most of us are surprised by either how small (the Tiffany stained glass windows at the Met) or how large (Nightwatch by Rembrandt!) favorite works of art are in person…and by how richly alive the truly famous ones seem to be. A well curated show puts paintings together so that the relationships between them become clear, and provides limited but strategic background information.
Thanks to a lovely and thoughtful curator I was left with a happy Aha! moment on Saturday…the kind where many mysterious pieces of your life suddenly fall into place.
I’ve followed and loved Art Nouveau hints for many years…William Morris (wallpaper and other decorative arts)…Tiffany (stained glass)…Liberty (fabrics)…Klimt (fashion designer)…Gaudi (architect)…the Paris Metro signs…many bits of architectural detail in Prague…the Gibson Girls…the list goes on.
Here is the gift from today’s curator, “The style’s trademark feature is fluid supple lines shaped like waves…often interwoven with the female figure…it arose from the Industrial Revolution and from new technological tools for design”
Well. No wonder I am so consistently enchanted and mesmerized by this good friend! The photo above is a door handle to a book store. I took the photo before I knew why I was taking it – I just had to have that door to take home with me. For fun, I’ve added a couple more below – just so you get the idea of how persistently this feature catches my eye and makes me smile.
That is why I love to go to great art installations – anywhere they pop up. They have the capacity to change the way I think and feel and they add to what I know about myself and the world around me. A great day.