Today was another day on my own so I headed to the National Gallery.
I don’t think I could ever get bored by a museum, especially an art museum. I stopped and looked at every single painting in the building, and loved every one. That’s remarkable even for me because this collection has 2,300 pieces. The paintings I saw include:
Virgin of the Rocks, Da Vinci
Venus and Mars, Botticelli
Sunflowers, Van Gogh
The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan Van Eyck
St. Catherine of Alexandria, Raphael
Self Portrait, Rembrandt
Seeing so many paintings together makes a few things clear. The Masters are called Masters for a reason. I’ve never been one to praise a painting just because I know the artist, but the best definitely stand out. Leonardo, Van Eyck, Rembrandt and Degas are all known for a reason. Their work is stunning. But for me they all take a back seat to Botticelli. Seeing his paintings, especially Venus and Mars reaffirmed his place as one of my favorite artists. His work is just lovely. It is sensitive and playful and full of life. In fact today, I think he became my favorite artist.
Una was with me for part of the morning, but I stayed for hours. I would have stayed longer if there was time, but I had the National Portrait Gallery to see as well. I took a break and sat on the lawn outside the gallery to sketch Trafalgar Square. The week we arrived Nelson was covered with scaffolding but today it was all gone. You could see all the way to Big Ben.
I pulled out my sketchbook and started squiggling. Before long a man in his early 20s sat down next to me and asked if he could watch me sketch. I was a little surprised, but I’m getting used to the being a spectacle when I sketch in public. Inside the gallery a man was reproducing a Rembrandt portrait in oil and people paid more attention to his work than the original. I’ve learned that there is no reason to be embarrassed because chances are you are a better artist than they are. Why aren’t they sketching too? If by chance they are better than you, then you have a chance to learn something.
He talked to me as I continued sketching. His name is Marco and he’s from southern Italy, somewhere “unimportant”. He is spending the summer in London to improve his English, but everyone in his office speaks Italian. He asked where I was from and why I was there. When I told him I was studying design he told me I needed to go to Rome and Milan. That is the home of the best Italian design. He loves art and spends his weekends in museums. Tomorrow he is going to the V&A. We discussed the Chihuly piece in the foyer. He thought the artist was Italian but I had to break the news that he is American. We then talked about our mutual love for Murano glass. When I finished the sketch I asked him his opinion. He thinks I need to add watercolor or an ink wash. He’s right. Here is the sketch.
It was fun talking to Marco, but I needed to leave. I still had the National Portrait Gallery to see. The Portrait Gallery is part of the National Gallery, but it has a separate entrance and the interior is much more modern. The collection is modern as well and it made an exciting contrast to everything else I saw today.
J.K. Rowling by Stuart Pearson Wright
The interesting thing about portraits, especially contemporary ones, is that the subject can be as important as the artist. Sometimes the subject overshadows the artist. The name on each portrait listed the sitter first and the artist second, with a description of both. Does that make portraiture a lesser art than everything I saw today? No where else was an explanation of the subject given greater prominence than the artist. Does it matter who the person in the portrait is? Or does the sitter create the art as much as the artist? I think there are arguments for both sides. The collection here is varied and fascinating, and was a fun way to end the day.
5 months ago