Monday, June 29, 2009

the Frick Collection

Last Wednesday I had the day off. I left the house early for a doctor's appointment in Manhattan. I like my doctor, but I don't like having to go to midtown to see him, and it gives me yet another excuse to avoid doctor visits. This was kind of a part one visit. I met with a naturopathic doctor who works in his practice, and they took a lot of blood, and then I see my regular doctor this Thursday to talk about the blood work, which will mostly be a discussion of how bad my cholesterol is. I've been working hard at improving my diet, and exercising more often for the last 14 months or so, and I've lost about thirty pounds in that time. I feel pretty damn good. But unfortunately, I'm pretty sure I'm still going to have to go on meds to get the cholesterol under control, and that disappoints me.

After the doc visit, I found a diner for some breakfast, since I'd had to fast for the blood work, and after that, I decided to walk the twenty blocks or so up to the Frick Collection, a place that has always been one of my favorite spots in NYC. The secret has gotten out, so it's not quite the restful and quiet place it used to be, but that's okay. It still has some of the most beautiful paintings in New York.

They have all their Whistlers all in one place for a special exhibition. I don't care a whole lot for Whistler, to tell the truth, but it was nice to see the four full length portraits all together in the oval room, just off the courtyard [I have always loved the spitting frogs in the courtyard]. Interesting to see how he used different coarsenesses of canvas with his thin and breathy washes. Only one of the four is a very good painting, although they all are worth looking at.

I have also always loved the Titian, the Bellini, the Holbein, and the great Vermeer of the soldier and the laughing woman. What I found interesting this visit is how different things strike you as you age, even with galleries and paintings as familiar and comforting as the Frick's. I'm getting older, so more than ever I found myself wondering about some of the people in the paintings, particularly Hals' big round guy with the twinkly eye. Like so many before me, I marvel at the silky and luminous blacks, but this time I'm also just a little curious about who this guy was, what it was like for him to be painted by Hals, what was on his mind, what they talked about. Maybe I'm getting sentimental.

With the way the Mets are playing, I'll take all the sentiment I can get. And beauty.

The Frick is the kind of place where every time I've walked out of there I'm sure I've found a new favorite painting. This time it was a smallish painting by Goya, a simple portrait of a woman with pale and fair skin, dark eyes and hair, the hint of a moustache, dressed in a simple black dress, standing against a brownish murky background. What made this my favorite of this trip: the difference in handling between the delicate, gorgeous, precisely observed painting of her face, and the coarser, rough, faster handing of her figure and the black dress and grey gloves. Rough and thick paint there, delicate and pearly here.

I spent a little more time than I usually do with the early Italian paintings, too, especially the little Pieros, so serious and dignified and then that red, wow. And all in all, I came away that day with a new appreciation for the strangeness that runs through the history of Western painting [the Ingres! that arm is all wrong, but who cares! those weird old stories and juxtapositions of scale in the religious paintings, the odd narratives in the Veroneses. And partly, you find what you look for, and what you've been thinking about, and lord knows I've been embracing the oddities in my work lately.].

After the Frick, I walked down Fifth to Union Square, about fifty-five blocks, taking my time, people watching on the Library steps, getting rained on a little bit, window shopping. Highlight was watching a guy in a suit ahead of me fruitlessly trying to catch a cab going downtown, waving and checking his watching and jogging and waving again. No cab for you, pally.

I do like knocking around Manhattan with no place to be.

No comments: