Monday, September 7, 2009

The Art of Life

It was a beautiful day in Philadelphia yesterday, so I took a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. One last amble through the halls of the PMA, which sits so regally overlooking the Schuylkill and Boathouse Row, like a cultural sentry standing ahead of the Philadelphia skyline.

There she is, peeking through the overgrowth of summer.
It was a perfect day, and I wasn't the only one out to enjoy it.
A family takes a stroll across the lawn,
while giggling gals snap photos at the top of the steps,
and lovers take a moment to enjoy a chat in the plaza.
I love Diana, perched atop the staircase in Grand Stair Hall. Augustus Saint-Gaudens hammered this lovely lady out of copper sheets over a century ago. Once upon a time she was a weathervane, gilded and decked out in billowing drapery that fluttered in the wind. And now she stands as a centerpiece to the Museum's collection, the virgin goddess of the hunt reigning in the city of brotherly love.
Philadelphia's rare sunshine floods the front window.
And here is my favorite. Alexander Calder's Ghost (1964) mobile hangs in the Grand Stair Hall. Calder's creations have no set form, continually in flux. Ghost hovers high and silent, moving with the breeze of visitors' breaths and sweeping clothes and rogue drafts that steal through the doors below.
Diana and Ghost preside over millions of visitors, silent companions who, despite their innate differences, sometimes seem to see things the same way.
Loved the intricacy of this doorframe. It's situated in the same gallery as Titian's painting.
Mmmm... Benjamin West's Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus 1770). Here's a closeup of Agrippina and her children. In the canvas, the cluster of white figures stands out beautifully in their mourning, as Agrippina, the quintessential Roman wife, returns with the ashes of her noble minded and great warrior husband.
Okay. I love the representations of Greek and Roman history and mythology... as you shall see....
For example, in a back hallway of the European Art galleries is a room with marble statues. Here's a close-up of Venus's face from Venus and Cupid (Mid 19th Century) by Benjamin Edward Spence. She's situated so the natural light bathes the nape of her neck and defines the contours of her face.
Back in the Grand Stair Hall. I love the lines in that place.
Ghost in the light.
Sargent! Oh John Singer Sargent. Here's a close-up of the couple taking their evening constitutional In the Luxembourg Gardens (1879). Sargent, your frothy gowns and subtle coloring...
Then there's Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's A Reading from Homer (1885). Alma-Tadema painted snapshots into a ancient mythic world. It's like he could take mental sojourns to some gorgeous island like Capri or Santorini. Only, instead of whitewashed stucco, the buildings are all made of carved marble, and every house has a rooftop vista of sharp blue skies and clear blue waters. The denizens are always draped in yards of richly colored fabric as they enjoy sparkling sunny days, celebrating festivals or listening to tales, dreaming of places no more idyllic than their surroundings, or stealing away for secret trysts. The settings are strewn with musical instruments and flowers, the telltale signs of their lazy bliss.
Here's a close-up of Alma-Tadema's Homeric storyteller, probably captivating his audience with a rousing rendition of Illiad or Odyssey. The group is gathered in a place probably dedicated to Homer, as indicated by the writing above the laurel-crowned speaker. Are they imagining the sacking of Troy, or perhaps the heroic Ulysses confronting the sorceress Circe?
Give me Cy Twombly over Marcel Duchamp any day. I realize deconstructionists were oh so important in their day, but I much prefer the whimsy and ecstatic expressionism of Twombly's pencil strokes and bursts of color to finding meaning in a re-conceived urinal or the twisted objectification of a violently subjugated female. Fifty Days at Iliam: The Fire that Consumes All before It (1978) is one of Twombly's many representations of Homer's tales.
A close-up of a Jackson Pollock. Piles of paint lying inches off the canvas.
Or Whistler's Nocturne (1875-80). Whistler would look at the night's scenes and take note of the colors, summoning up his perceptive memories to paint them in the morning. They hold the richness and mystery of the night, like a secret window into the land after sunset.
Ghost again, perambulating the air. Isn't she lovely?
The goings and comings of the Great Stair Hall, climbing and descending, orderly columns and stalwart coves.
Ghost melted into the darkness.
Goodbye Philadelphia.

photos: LCT Philadelphia Museum of Art 2009.

1 comment:

  1. That was a lovely last fling, Chesley. Thank you. A perfect good-bye indeed. But not to be sad. You could return many times, each visit a delight.