farse_sm.jpg EneryVIII.jpg

Friday, March 25, 2005

A Life in Pictures

RembrandtSelf1.jpgHead full of paintings all week - he's well-and-truly back, and feeding on brainflots like a catchy refrain - it is one of those tired clichés, surely, a conditioned response, to answer "Rembrandt" when asked one's favorite artist? How easily it trips off the tongue. As thoughtlessly as "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" or filthy Mozart, as Lucky Jim would have it, are all of them flung carelessly into everyman's desert island napsack?

To admit of such is foolish: it is, on one hand, a confession of ignorance - it says you wouldn't recognize a Rembrandt if it bit right through your stretchpants? And on the other, which at least presumes you might, you are the despised bourgeoise catamite of imperialist hegemony, and likely closet racist necrophiliac. On yet a third hand - for here in the Xenoverse we are alien as Skandar jugglers, remember - we recall our past lives on another world, where any actual interest was pretentious, suspicious? Frowned upon. Art was for fairies, and fairies themselves - faeries no longer - as emasculated as The Lion and The Unicorn.

So: Ssshhh! Keep it quiet, so no-one finds out?

I hate to draw rank - so many favorites to choose from? So let's just say that Rembrandt is primus inter pares - first among equals - in my little world of Vermeers, Dürers, Botticellis, and Bruegels? There are more, many more, but they won't come to me until tonight, as I lie on the brink on sleep. Rembrandt comes first for no other reason than his were the first I saw, for real, with eyes that could? I'd walked the Louvre years before, it's true, but that was as a schoolboy: when I looked at all at paintings there, it was only for recognition with any I'd seen in books or encyclopaedias. La Giaconda was too small, her encasement too oppressive.

My first Rembrandt remains among my favorites. It is a self-portrait - the one above - which hangs in the National Gallery in Edinburgh. First gallery I visited of my own volition, too. Two crimes right there! Nobody visited galleries unless they'd been dragged by a teacher? But I was out of school, apprenticed to a shipyard - I was supposed to be bumming around second-hand record stores, Cockburn St and Greyfriars, looking for weirdo LP's. I was not supposed to be flouncing around an art gallery. But worse: a self-portrait was anathema to my kind, to the kind I once was. A self-portrait is a self-glorification, a blowing of one's own trumpet. A piece of flash immodesty and self-promotion. A portrait of someone a bit too full o' himself? To have been ensnared and captured by such a thing, to have fallen under its enchantment, such condition could not be spoken of. It meant that, given genuine passions would be instantly detected and jumped upon, I had to change my stock answer to Bosch, who was always considered cool and permissable.

But look at it! Look at the pain, look at the regret?

At this point I ought to quote Pope John Cleese I, annunciating ex-cathedra at the Secret Policeman's Ball... "I don't know much about art, but I knows what I likes!" Any formal education that I may have received in Art began, and ended, with related lines in Miss Noble's class - the same Miss Noble, Head of Culross House, who hovered hawklike at the stairs, ripping earrings out of passing schoolgirl's with a stern "See Me!" rebuke. Paintings to me are like books: I may know that there are multiple layers, hidden metaphors and allusions, but I'm too thick to read them, and need to be drawn by the topspiece?

Still, I was riveted. Stood before a painting as I never had before. Forget the craft - who needs to know or care that they made their paints with earwax? eeeeww - look at the way he melts out of blackness, and look, again and again, at that face.

Rembrandt Van Rijn, it transpires, was a serial offender, an obsessive self-portraitist. He painted other subjects too - all of them stunning - but his portraits of himself, which paint the series of his life, those attract me most. He was cursed with an interesting life, and it all of it shows:

  1. Rembrandt gets laid;
  2. Rembrandt gets screwed;
  3. Rembrandt the Wise retires from the fray.

I've said before I'm lucky to live so close to Los Angeles, with its plethora of musea. Very nearly all of them have something by Rembrandt - the Norton-Simon in particular has, I'm sure I recall, a half-finished portrait of his son, or is it a little girl (I'm not sure now?) which jolted me again. But I'm luckier even than that. I've made two trips to the Metropolitan in New York, and last time I was there, back in November during the World Series, we walked down the eastern edge of Central Park to the diminutive Frick. This, despite it's small size, proved to be a treasure trove of Rembrandts and Holbeins. I looked Cromwell and Sir Thomas More in the face, strode between them thusly, for indeed, were you ever to ask my mirror you'd discover I'm 'Enery the Eighth I am. I am.

[Huge HatTip to the resourceful Olga's Gallery]


  • Scots - "May you live an interesting life"
  • Chinese - "May you live in interesting times and come to the attention of important people"


Blogger DarkoV said...

Great post. You must be one interesting character to go to the museums with. Special appreciation and thanks for all of the links to pictures, other commentaries, and museums.

5:51 AM  

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