gall and gumption

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Spanish Painting Parte Dos

On Wednesday I went with three old friends (you know who you are!) to see the Vollard exhibition at the Met. Some very very nice paintings. I found three of the Gauguins more than restful, with the figures in the dark foreground and this warm outdoor light of the background visible through a doorway. I loved the color of that light.

I also tried to put myself in the frame of mind of people, contemporary with Van Gogh, who would not have wanted his paintings in their houses for any consideration. It wasn't that hard to do, even though I totally feasted on his color, which just seemed magical. Why did I want to imagine such a state of mind? It must have seemed quite reasonable to people at the time. What I imagined was that paintings are status objects, among other things, and sometimes their value as status objects is what makes them appeal to people. Van Gogh's paintings are still status objects but they are now status objects with an incalculably high status value, as opposed to back in the day when they had none, when putting them on your wall might make your neighbors think you had taken leave of your senses. But the greens are just as green, the yellows and the reds and purples as intense as they were then. And somehow the trick for me is to try to see the paintings independently of their status.

There was one of Renoir's bathers. It brought perhaps a little too forcefully to my mind the fact that he had started out as a painter decorating china plates. There was also a one-minute film loop of him and Vollard together. Even though the movements were sped up in the way that old newsreels are, you could still tell that he was a surprisingly animated person, for all that he was so old and stuck in his chair, with his fingers almost useless and deformed by arthritis. I had always imagined him as sort of still. But he was full of energy. That was interesting.


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