One of the perks of a room on the ninth floor: the view over the city at dawn was lovely.
Breakfast: sustaining oatmeal, doctored with cinnamon, maple syrup, raisins, and bananas, and more brutally bitter espresso. I need get to The Wired Puppy or even Starbucks.
Summoned Uber, and rolled back to the MFA. Not nearly done with it.
Started through the European painting rooms and right away was transfixed by a Greco portrait of a young monk, Fray Hortensio Felix Paravicino. I started sketching his sensitive, expressive face…and there went the morning. I tried to keep moving forward – so many masterworks to see – but could not resist.
Moving along, I talked with a woman behind a little pushcart with implements of metal work; hammers, chasing tools, wooden dapping form, a pot of tar for repouseé. She was parked in front of a pyramid of silver pieces mounted on the wall and was explaining various silversmithing techniques. As we spoke, I realized that over the last year I’ve become familiar with that vocabulary. It’s one thing to have an intellectual grasp of the words, it’s another to understand planishing* from muscle memory.
Somewhere at the crossroads of several rooms, I found this display of glass vases in rows. It was brilliantly lit and the perfect lure for a painter – all bouncing sheen and ricocheting shimmer. Oooh, shiny. Now this would be fun to paint. Famous last words.
Returned to the incomparable painting Automedon with the Horses of Achilles by Henri Regnault and soaked it in. It’s not so much I dislike all art made after 1800, aka ‘modern art’, it’s that it killed this – it made skill and technique and purpose and narrative unfashionable, obsolete and unwelcome. That’s what makes me cranky. But not a hater! That screen modeled on a grater is terrific fun, it’s just not this.
Saw a few things I made note of with my trusty iPhone camera:
Naughty Bread: For some reason, when artists paint bread they appear to have other things than yeast rising on their minds. Seriously, did Luis Meléndez think rendering this in dough would give him plausible deniability?Condiment holder: I inherited one of these, only nicer. It was passed down from my grandmother Irene Lake. Seeing something you cherish presented as a treasure in a museum is a thrill. Weathervanes: I’m planning to make one for the screen porch. A spaniel, of course. These will help get me going.St Luke Drawing the Virgin: Because he’s the painter’s patron saint, yo. And the curator on the audio guide speculated it was a self-portrait of the artist Rogier van der Weyden because of the care and detail with which the sketch beneath the head of the saint was done.
I ate lunch at the fancy restaurant, Bravo. It was pricey but decent.
I was about finished for the day and hastening past the impressionists when I saw this painting of a man toweling off after his bath.
Out came my pencil and the next thing I knew, the museum was closing. Ubered back and spent some time trying to find an easy way to upload photos (use the damn cable) and searching for information about Mrs. Chase.
On another, much cheerier subject, let us now praise modern technology. I’ve never had much luck with binoculars (they bump against my lenses) and magnifying glasses are not much use in museums when you are supposed to stay at least 12 inches away. But I can take a photo with my iPhone, enlarge it, and see details clearly. This was a small painting (perhaps 5-7”) at the Isabella Stewart Gardner in an obscure corner wall in dim light. I could barely make out the subject. I tapped my Camera+ app, took a photo, cropped and enlarged it and OMG. There it was! Buried treasure, lifted into the light. Thank you, Steve Jobs.
And when you ask a kind passerby to take your photo and the backlight obliterates you? Filters are fun too.
*Planishing (from the Latin planus, “flat”) is a metalworking technique that involves finishing the surface by finely shaping and smoothing sheet metal.