Monday, June 06, 2005

Van person

Craig and I went to the National Gallery of Art on Saturday. We have figured out that we can park for free over by the tidal basin close to the Jefferson Memorial and walk to wherever we want to go. I guess we put in about seven walking miles in the heat and amongst the tourists.
The initial plan was to see the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit over in the east building. The west building has a Gilbert Stewart exhibit. He is the guy that painted the numerous famous portraits of George Washington including the one on the dollar bill. Right up Craig’s historical alley. He just finished a whole class exclusively about George.

The National Gallery has an impressive permanent collection, though including one too many classical paintings of the Madonna and Child….one can only take so many. I was losing interest among the numerous paintings of naked, full figured ladies and the blank stares of the people passing from one painting to another. Suddenly there through the doorway across the hall I caught a glimpse of what I knew was a Van Gogh. Right up my artistic alley.
I made my way down the wall taking in the magic and noticed a crowd of folks in front of a painting taking photos (I think that’s wierd, by the way). It turned out to be a Van Gogh self portrait, my favorite of all his work. Vincent created more than 2,000 works of art in his short lifetime and the gallery has 19 of those works. I cannot believe they have one of his self portraits. So, I waited my turn slowy moving closer as the snapshooters line got shorter until I was there… a few inches from the painting. I could see the brushstrokes made by the hand of Vincent Van Gogh.

I have always felt that his work had a sense of lonliness and tragedy… a sort of lostness and longing. Even before I ever knew anything about how tragic his life was I could sense it. Those are elements that I don’t see in the works of other impressionists from that so important time in history. Though there were plenty of artists with tragic lives in that era, the evidence just doesn’t come through like it does in a Van Gogh work. Its like bleeding on the canvas. I haven’t experienced this sort of thing often in art.

I stood and sure enough the tears started to seep out of the corners of my eyes. Happened at the High in Atlanta last year, too, at an exhibit passing through that had a Van Gogh self portrait. It’s ridiculous, I know, but the affinity I feel with Vincent Van Gogh is poignant. I wonder if the quickly moving viewers and photographers know anything about this man’s life and the kind of person he was. I wonder if they see more than quaint paintings of sunflowers or hard working people in the fields. I do. The painter Ben Shahn once said, “It may be a point of great pride to have a Van Gogh on the livingroom wall, but the prospect of having Van Gogh himself IN the livingroom would put a great many devoted art lovers to rout.”
My legs felt like cement standing there making that connection. He was looking at me, I was looking at him. Amazing. It was hard to move on but I move on blessed…..time for Lautrec and dancing ladies……

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