Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Symphony in White

This picture hangs in the National Gallery in DC.

It is one of those pictures I've seen reproduced a thousand times.  Whistler, of course.  I've never been a fan of Whistler.  I wouldn't have expected to find this picture especially interesting.  But when I saw it for the first time, it took my breath away.  I mean that pretty much literally.  I saw it through the doorway, hanging in the next gallery over, and I had an involuntary intake of breath.  If I were less cool, it would have been something almost like a gasp.  As it is, I'd say it was an involuntary intake of breath.  I got my breath back quickly enough, but I was surprised to have lost it.  None of the other pictures I looked at that day prompted such a physical reaction.

I'm not sure why I was so affected.  Perhaps, partly, because the image was so large--unexpectedly large.  Perhaps because it was early in the day, and this was the first picture I'd seen than I knew.  (Or thought I knew.)  So I was ready to get things rolling!  

This is not a reaction I've had when looking at Rockwell's work.  But, then, it's not a reaction I've had when looking at Rembrandt's work, either.  Perhaps the closest I've come to such a striking physical response, when looking at Rockwell, was when I saw my favorite Rockwell.  Then, of course, I've had the very strongly physical response of breaking into laughter or a broad smile while looking at Rockwell paintings, as well.  

Anyway, the Whistler painting was far from my favorite of the day.  Actually, one of my favorites of the day was by another painter I don't like: David.  His little portrait of his wife, however, was for some reason very lovable.  It didn't take my breath away, but I stood in front of it for a very long time.  I've stood like that in front of "Girl at Mirror," too.  You can see something deeply human in such pictures.

In the weeks to come, I plan to write a bit about CS Lewis's An Experiment in Criticism.  It plays no role in my book on Rockwell--at least, it doesn't at this point.  Perhaps that will change.  But I think Lewis's views can help make a good deal of sense out of the common "highbrow" reactions to Rockwell, and can help rescue him.

No comments:

Post a Comment