I spent a few hours in the Dutch wing this week. As I was writing, I watched a DIA photographer take exit shots of all 70 paintings. I think they’re heading down south. Kentucky, maybe. Anyway, it was my last chance to see the few Rembrandts and other incredible still-lifes, for at least a few months.
This is a tad overdue. I spent Tuesday, November 27th at the Detroit Institute of Arts. and as always, I have some reactions for you, in prose.
Peasants Fleeing a Burning Barn – About 1655 – Egbert Lievense van der Poel
I don’t know how to talk about the composition of a painting, nor do I want to. I can only tell you how I feel when I look at it. This makes me feel like America. There are only a handful of shades. Everyone is following someone in a different direction. They are leaving in the middle of the night while the whole fucking thing burns down. They are just leaving it. Nowhere in the painting does anyone appear to be looting or pillaging, but rest assured someone is.
Fire that is the breath of both life and death. Fire that invites us in, and forces us away. You can only control an idea for so long before it becomes necessary to let it burn you, and everyone you know.
Interior of the Church of Saint Bavo, Haarlem – 1676 – Job Adriaensz Berckhyde
I’ve never felt more thankful while standing in front of a painting. Once again, I am repressing tears and the overwhelming sense that I lived during these times, or I was born too late. This has nothing to do with God. I’ve been inside many beautiful churches. You could say there is no imagination involved in this, but you would be wrong.
The imagination involved was when Mr. Berckhyde decided to leave the world with the three archways of St. Bavo. I’ve never felt closer to standing inside the history of God and his followers. That mankind could have passion for something intangible like God is okay with me, now that I’ve seen this painting. I’d have been a fool to tell him not to paint this. It was difficult to leave.
Caernarvon Castle – 1744-45 – Richard Wilson
After the church painting, there isn’t enough left in me to talk about it. I do me best.
The sky is where I belong in a painting. The sky is everything. What surrounds the people, places and things is where my heart goes. Like I said about Metcalf’s White Veil last week, like Caravaggio’s distinctly desperate and foolishly happy murderers and drunks are set against blackness, like the sky around this castle is required to be confusing and morose in order for the castle to have definition. It is absence making the heart grow fonder, or the longing evident in a love poem.
The castle needs the sky to set itself against, or it ceases to exist. Look at the Earth without the darkness of space and all you get is a marble hanging flatly in a boring universe.