There was a nice exhibition of works from the Scottish National Gallery in the East Gallery, and we went to a talk about Raeburn's Col. Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell. I like Botticelli, so it was nice to see The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child, one of his later works, which (according to the Frick) "has never been exhibited in the United States" until now. I found myself happily examining the lower portion of the painting for mille fleurs. (This may be mere contrarianism on my part, as I also end up searching the landscape paintings for tiny details of animal life.) My favorite of this Scottish collection was actually by an American artist - John Singer Sargent's Lady Agnew of Lochnaw is almost hypnotic. I initially assumed the effect was created primarily by her facial expression, and particularly her eyes. But on the way out, I looked at several posters of the work around the membership desk. Some posters showed the full image, while others were cropped to focus on her head and shoulders. To my surprise, the close-ups lacked the curious intensity of the full portrait. It's as the intensity of the eyes somehow requires the setting of her carelessly relaxed posture and opulent dress to be fully appreciated.
I really liked the Turners in the West Gallery - among the rich, dark oil paintings, they looked almost monochromatic and yet felt like a breath of fresh air. On the north wall, one of my companions questioned why Turner had chosen, while painting a ship in harbor, to depict an overturned tree or tangled branch half-submerged in the water in front of the vessel. It seemed to me that the lines of that branch echoed the tangled "sail line" if you will (the skyline formed by the sails of the ship) -- that seemed a good enough reason to include it in the composition.
|Cologne: The Arrival of a Packet-Boat: Evening, 1826|
Through long tradition from ancient times, portraits, especially those carved in marble, were intended to confer upon the subject an approximation of immortality. Hence it was important to convey a notion of permanence and durability, in addition to the sitter's high character. Houdon's portrait of the Comtesse du Cayla seems deliberately to seek for opposites of these traditional desiderata. Lightness and movement, the fragility of time and substance are captured here in lacy stone.That actually crystalizes for me a unifying aspect or common theme in my favorite stone sculptures. I really appreciate sculptors who are able to capture the soft folds of fabric, the delicacy of lace, the looseness of hair in the wind; indeed, to capture all that is transitory, pliant, fragile, in a medium that is unyielding and opaque. Maybe it's that contrarian thing again. (I like a similar look in bronze sculptures, but of course on some level it's less impressive because metal is made liquid in the casting process; it is melted into molds. By contrast, the stone remains solid throughout.)
There was also live music in the Garden Court -- we definitely got our money's worth!
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FN* The words "The Frick Gallery" had, until this day, brought to mind a vague recollection of looking at a single painting or sculpture in a corridor, along with an impression of another gallery (perhaps U-shaped) behind it. It would have been my first summer in New York City, and I almost think I might have been visiting at the behest of a visitor I was hosting from Australia (the friend of a friend, on his way to a fellowship in Cold Spring Harbor, who was amazed at the squirrels in Central Park) or possibly as part of an ill-fated summer associate program with my firm (ill-fated in the sense that I didn't socialize with my fellow summer associates while I was there). The mental image is also - or alternatively? - somehow connected with a guy from England (this time a friend of a friend of a friend), and a story about how his friend (also from the U.K.) embarrassed him by going to Target to see if he could buy a handgun. Either way, I had the impression of a museum that was relatively small (not much to see, and too many people to see it with) and I really didn't have the urge to return. But this visit was not excessively crowded, and absolutely nothing about layout of the place was familiar to me.