Herewith an account of the adventures in England in 2018, written on the spot with scant reworking. The events depicted took place last week ago.
Settle in. There's a lot today.
Up and off to the British Museum; I was standing in line remembering that I was there last summer and it’s a lot of rock. What I wanted were paintings, so why delay? Off to the National Gallery. Where I was two years ago.
I’ll bore you with art in a moment. First, a complaint about humanity. Mobile phones have made people boors in museums, or rather made the boors more boorish. Perhaps once people were content to get a postcard of a famous painting so they could think “I saw that, locked its image in my brain, and in a way possessed it, if only for a moment.” Or “that’s pretty, I’ll put it on the fridge.” Or they send it to someone as a bit of class-status one-upmanship. Whatever. Now they take pictures of the paintings without actually looking at the painting.
Here’s the famous painting I saw. Well not saw but I was there. Because I am living the Best Life and I believe that Art is a necessary attribute.
Granted, it was a Sunday, lots of tourists, but I imagine that’s who goes to the Gallery.
Some of them weren’t even looking at the Hogarths in the proper order. I mean. I can’t even. But we’ll get to that.
Right away I knew I was in for a good day: a Thomas Cole exhibition. Moralizing story painting? Bring it! I know the series about the rise and fall of civilization, but you have to see the real thing - and the landscapes, of course, are spectacular. He felt so bad about the loss of landscape to industry and humanity that you wish you could’ve reassured him: we’re going to plant a lot of trees. All these innovations mean people don’t have to break their backs in the fields, or never travel more than 20 miles from their birth. I mean, c’mon, Tom old boy, you’ve crossed the seas; more than most’ll ever do. You paint nice romantic images of goatherds and shepherdesses, but it’s crap work. Everyone in your paintings had a toothache.
Found some old favorites.
I love Ingres; this one’s always stayed with me, for her expression. He worked on that one for 12 years, and you wonder if she felt a bit crestfallen when she got it. Or insisted it looked exactly as she did today. The fabric was fashionable “Lyon silk.” Was it still fashionable when he was done?
This one I’ve always admired; it’s Pete Campbell from Mad Men in his earlier incarnation.
But I never noticed this.
Says the plaque on the wall: “The space may have been reserved for a child for Mrs. Andrews to hold.”
That’s poignant and sad. Then again:
According to the National Gallery, it is a Gainsborough masterpiece celebrating a marriage, starring a fashionable young couple and an unfinished spot on the bride’s lap for a future child to be painted in.
That description, according to an art historian, should be swiftly updated, to take in a new theory: the artist was sending up his subjects with a series of rude symbols while hell-bent on revenge.
Gainsborough had fallen out with the Andrews, and loaded the painting with insults.
Among the hidden signs Hamilton claims to have identified are two donkeys trapped in a pen, added in the far background to the left of the painting, a “phallic” bag tied to Mr Andrews hip complete with “floppy leather glove” and a doodle of a penis in Mrs Andrews’ lap.
Says the piece. I’m not convinced.
This one is just a masterpiece - of composition and lighting, yes. Overall it’s not a masterpiece, but the elements are brilliant, and the personalities are deft. The entire painting:
It’s a guy murdering a bird by using the Mysterious Power of Vacuum! Let’s look at some details.
The wild-haired scientist is looking at us, involving the spectator in his experiment. The chap on the left is keen on the display, because he is interested in advancement, technology, the new age of science. His wife - I presume it’s his wife - gives him a look that’s just deadly. Choose your interpretation: oh you poseur, asking questions as if you’re practically a Doctor of Vacuum yourself or if only you were as interested in me as you are in science, or what silly things you waste your mind upon.
Wikipedia says they’re looking at each other, but I disagree. It also names them:
The young lovers may have been based on Thomas Coltman and Mary Barlow, friends of Wright's, whom he later painted in Mr and Mrs Thomas Coltman (also in the National Gallery) after their marriage in 1769.
On the other side of the painting:
Father comforts the distraught daughters but instructs them to look, and learn. This is science, my dears. We must face what science hath wrought.
Your basic adoration, Dutch, early 16th century, had this detail at the bottom:
Do you see it?
WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU GAVE IT TO THE PATRON
Master, he came, asked if it was ready, he was quite mad about the delay - he said it looked finished to him and took it -
YOU IDIOT YOU FOOL! IT WASN’T FINISHED!
Master, what left was there to do? I looked upon it and saw nothing that could be improved. Your work as ever was exquisite.
(Strikes apprentice with heavy brush) THIS WILL HAUNT ME ALL MY DAYS! THIS WILL FOLLOW ME INTO HISTORY!
Master, it is doubtful there will be room on the card in the museum to point it out.
WHAT ABOUT WIKIPEDIA? GOT-DAMN IT
I wouldn’t worry, Master -
WORRY? THOSE BASTARDS AT WIKIPEDIA WILL SAY EVERYTHING! THEY’LL PROBABLY FIND OUT I STOLE THE DOG FROM DURER!
(Actually, Wikipedia is kind, and while it cites the sources of the two dogs, notes that the lines are visible through the stone because the overpainting has faded. )
Left; gloomy outside, with rain. Really! London, gloomy and rainy? It happens, I was warned.