Thursday, April 12, 2012

Two Museums in One Day and a Cartwheel

The next morning dawn broke on a day that promised to be as beautiful as the previous two. The leaves in the trees along the canals, having taken on their yellow hue of fall, glittered like gold as the morning sun filtered through them. The ones already fallen littered the sidewalk and streets. Others floated languidly in the sunlight dappled water.

As had become our custom over the last two mornings we stopped in the bakery for pastries for breakfast; bread, cheese and cold cuts for our afternoon sandwiches and an eye opening espresso. My partner, who does not share my fondness for coffee, had become fond of the occasional cappuccino during our trip to Italy and reasoned "How different could espresso be?" I watched with some amusement when, after his first sip he poured packet after packet of sugar into the thick black brew before grimacing and slugging it back like a shot of tequila. Fortified and caffeinated, we began to make our way to the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum.

The Rijksmuseum, a stately Edwardian structure, was under renovation at the time. Highlights of it's collection were being temporarily housed in the only wing of the large building which remained open. I had never truly realized how extensive the Dutch influence was around the world at one time. The bits and pieces of Dutch history rolling about in my head began to congeal into a more coherent, linear narrative during this museum visit. This was further enhanced by a cruise I took which plied the seas of the Dutch West Indies a couple of years later. The galleries showcased, along with the history of the Dutch influence, a variety of items. From the mundane, such as strap on ice skating blades, to magnificent, elaborate Blue Delft pottery pieces.

I tend to tarry during museum visits. Over the years my partner and I have developed a pattern which works well for us. He goes through the galleries at a much quicker pace than I. After he is done, he finds a bench and sits waiting for me to finish. When I am sated I pick him up and we move on to the next gallery. He says that he enjoys watching people react to the art as much as he enjoys the art itself. On this visit we encountered a room full of Rembrandts. I informed him that he should get comfortable as this gallery was bound to take me awhile to get through.

I was entranced. I marveled at his mastery of light and shadow., In one work he layers gold paint on the brocaded sleeve of one of the characters so that it reflects the light just as the real fabric would. The scenes are balanced yet not symmetrical. His works are like snapshots, capturing a brief, flickering moment of life, movement and time. After experiencing great art such as this I feel as if a part of my soul has been restored to me after being wounded by the stress and toil that sometimes accompanies my everyday existence.

I picked up my partner and we continued on. The last work exhibited in Rembrandt's massive "Nightwatch". It is almost overwhelming. It lacks the inherent balance of his other work as at one time it was cut down to fit a particular wall. Also during it's long history, it was darkened and dulled by various methods of preservation. Much of the darkness caused by these honest, yet misguided efforts has been stripped away revealing that a painting long believed to be set at night, hence the name it is best known by, is actually a daytime scene.

We left the museum and had our picnic lunch of bread and cheese on a bench along side the lawn which separates the two museums. An enormous sculpture spelling out "Amsterdam" sits in the center of the lawn. My partner has done cartwheels in various spots over the years. He decided this location in front of the sculpture was prime. Handing me the camera he did several, after each one reviewing the shot I took until he was satisfied that the moment had been properly preserved for prosperity. We then continued on to the Van Gogh Museum.

The Art Institute of Chicago has a sizable number of Van Gogh's in it's permanent collection. When you add to this the other museums and special exhibitions that I have been to I have been fortunate enough to view many of his most famous and important works. What appealed to me most about this museum was the more off beat pieces of the collection. For example his extremely early paintings and particularly a room filled with his works on paper. Some are fully realized scenes, others are pages form his sketchbooks where a flower might shares space with a drawing of a hand. It's stated that these pieces are not displayed often due to their very fragile nature. I suspect that they rotate the collection on a regular basis storing the ones not on view to rest from their exposure to light and humidity. At Chicago's Art Institute, by example, tapestries are displayed for only a short period of time before being returned to storage. For the centuries old fabrics a year is needed in storage for each month the piece is on display.

An unexpected treat was in store for us in the basement level of the museum. The space is given over to various temporary exhibitions. On view during our visit was an exhibition focusing on Barcelona. Among photos of the city's architecture and examples

We wandered the city the remainder of that day. We discovered, by chance, the cities most upscale shopping strip lined with high end designer stores, strolled through a lush, leafy park and returned to the Flower Market area for last minute shopping. We found the perfect plate, to add to the collection which graces our kitchen walls of antique finds and pieces we have picked up on our travels. Then turned in early so we could catch the first streetcar in the morning to take us to the station for our train to Brussels.

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