Yesterday the Admiral, I, and Izzy went to the National Gallery for our annual "Boxing Day" visit. As on previous occasions, we found there were large exhibits there. These seem to be brought to the museum in December precisely to serve those happy to go to the museum as part of their Winter Solstice rituals. Also, as on previous occasions, we found the museum pleasantly full but not crowded.
It did my heart good to stand in front of the pictures in both exhibits and contemplate them. I felt better about being alive when I can come into contact with such spirits as inhabited these pictures.
The three of us all liked them and enjoyed ourselves with one another beyond that, including a yummy lunch (the cook at the National Galley has improved and even the wine was good).
To a few remarks on the exhibits:
Fred. Walker, The Amateur - this was not in the exhibit but the sort of exquistely studied landscape botany that we saw there
The first called Picturing the Victorians British Photographs and Reproductive Prints from the Department of Image Collections, was really a re-vision of the Pre-Raphaelitism. It's secondary title is The Pre-Raphaelite Lens and what it showed what how much photography, especially of the landscape, had influenced the movement: it began with showing how photography itself began by imitating picturesques and sublime landscapes, but then as its techniques improved (to reproduce light, effects of shade and darkness), it began to enable people to see things in the landscape they couldn't before, study the landscape in minute ways and thus captured the attention of artists.
Ruskin's work is central to this exhibit: his botanical pictures so to speak. The aim was in part to counter the idea that Pre-Raphaelitism is
simply (somewhat silly and lugubrious) anecdotal pictures attached to medieval stories, and it certainly did that
One picture in the exhibit by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Writing in the Sand, not typical of the exhibit, but one that is not quite the usual Pre-Raphaelite medieval looking allegory:
It also showed how small was the world of artists in Britain: a friend of Ruskin turns out to be the brother of Wilkie Collins, and also then a friend of Rossetti and possible suitor for Chris tina Rossetti's hand. Similarly Julia Cameron's world is made up of privileged group of coteries. I hope to buy the catalogue book if it can be found in paperback or as a used hardbook later on.
The second exhibit was of 18th century pictures, German Master Drawings from the Wolfgang Ratjen Collecion, 1580-1900 .
Adolf Menzel's sister -- this was one of those in the exhibit
and contains rooms of superb pictures from the early to later 18th century and into the 19th. There is a catalogue book which I hope to buy if it's brought out in paperback or appears as a used book on sites eventually. The pictures taught one things about the era: it's imaginative visuals that connect to the novelsl; if anyone had any doubt the romantic movement (a big word I know) begins in the middle of the 18th century, this should put paid to that. It showed also how few people made any real money to support themselves this way whether they called themselves amateur or professional. Two quietly stunning pictures by Casper David Friedrich were part of the exhibit.
Carl Gasper Friedrich, Evening -- not in the exhibit but like the two we saw -- much of Friedrich's work was destroyed during WW2
I felt by looking at some of them I was seeing the art equivalent of Rousseau's La Nouvelle Heloise, feeling and landscape. Although there were few women I didn't feel they had been excluded because there were a few in both; I had a sense that what women were painting/drawing this way that the group put before us included were there.
It did my heart good to stand in front of these pictures and take them in. I felt better about being alive when I can come into contact with such spirits as inhabited these pictures.
Later that night after the quiet later afternoon home together in our separate ways and rooms, we came together for our champagne & a chicken "at last" (to allude to Lady Mary Montagu's rightly famous poem). I don't know if anything really justifies the engineering of a potentially fraught time year after year but a day like this with its unexpected joy (the only way joy ever really comes) made this year's ritualized time together so good. It was prepared for by our day on the 25th and our evening of the 24th, a kind of slow gathering of good feeling that emerged in genuine comaraderie.