May 5th, 2020

Surpise, Surprise

I've been to the Louvre so I must have seen the Mona Lisa- but I don't remember anything about it.

Don't get me wrong; I love the Mona Lisa but it's a very small painting and they won't let you near it- and if you want to look at it properly you either have to steal it and keep it under your bed (it has been done) or study it online.

So what do I remember about the Louvre?

Rubens's huge canvases in celebration of Marie de Medici. They fill a room. They are totally preposterous. There are 24 of them.

Oh, and the small room- hardly more than a cupboard- where the Louvre keeps its tiny collection of British art. One of their paintings is a full length portrait of a woman in a blue dress by Gainsborough. It's outstanding. Such brilliant colour, such bravura paintwork. It can stand alongside anything else in the gallery and not be overshadowed. British art, provincial? Get on your bike! My heart swelled with patriotic afflatus.

I've been to the Sistine Chapel. There are a paintings all over the wall and ceiling- and it hurts your neck to look at them. Like the Mona Lisa they are better studied in reproduction- really they are.

I've been to Florence. I saw all the art works one is supposed to see. I ticked all the boxes. As I remember The Birth of Venus is bigger than I expected.

But what stays with me is walking into the basilica of Santa Maria del Carmine- not knowing what was inside- and being bowled over by the Masaccios.

I've been to Holland, seen the Rembrandts and the Vermeers- and the artist I fell in love with was the Harlem portrait painter, Johannes Verspronk- who I'd never heard of.

My point is that art never has a greater effect than when it takes you by surprise. Like the time I passed through Avignon and found there was a huge Picasso exhibition in the Palais des Papes and I had it more or less to myself. Or, more recently, when I visit a village church and happen upon a tomb or painting or Norman arch I hadn't known was there...