On my first trip overseas, to London in March of 2001, art became important to me. The ten day excursion was to celebrate the wedding of my brother Kevin and his wife, Noreen. My sister-in-law was raised in London, attended school there, and is “wicked smaht.” One gray day in Trafalgar Square, the three of us were headed up the rain swept stairs to the National Gallery. Between raindrops, Noreen slipped the question, “Who’s your favorite artist?” She got dead air for a response. I was perplexed. I didn’t have a favorite artist! I felt so inadequate. After all, I had the Sox, the Pats, the Stones and Salma Hayek, but I didn’t have a favorite artist… Sensing my utter despair at having whiffed on the inquiry, Noreen quickly began telling me of her favorite, Salvador Dali. I had heard of Dali, but knew little of him or Surrealism.
As we entered the vast museum, I was lost in thought about my mission: find a favorite artist. Britain’s National Gallery is a perfect option for such a quest. It’s one of the finest collections of art in the world. All the big boys (and girls) are there, including Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian and Claude Monet. A few works really stood out. One, The Ambassadors, by Hans Holbein the Younger, at first appears to be a typical time period rendering of aristocrats. However, on closer inspection, a touch of Surrealism is evident, an amazing inclusion for a painting created in 1533!
The Entombment (1500) is an unfinished work of art by Michelangelo. I contemplated this one for awhile, paying finicky attention to the unfinished areas. I struggled to understand the thought process and technique of the artist as he constructed the image. I think it was time well spent, but can genius be understood?
The Boulevard Montmartre at Night (1897) by Camille Pissarro pulled me into Impressionism, as did an A&E; documentary titled, The Impressionists – The Other French Revolution that I caught later that summer on a hot, sleepless night. I found it ironic to learn the group in fact got their name when a critic panned their work as, “nothing but impressions…”
Later in the year on August 31, I took a vacation day for a leisurely drive West to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, to see Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860-1890. It was a gorgeous ride on a bright, late summer day, a little over a week before the world distorted. The show included some of the best known artists of the group, and I took the time to analyze every brushstroke of several pieces. Then I saw it again.
The Boulevard Montmartre at Night
On loan from the National Gallery, the colors and life of Paris at night exploded off the page and drew me in. My visit was duly extended and much to my delight, the print was being sold as one of three to mark the show. It was the first art print I ever purchased and hangs in my dining room.
A favorite artist remains elusive, but an appreciation of art does not.