Most countries have their emblematic art museum, the best in the nation, in their capital city. We suspect that will never be the case in the US, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Washington DC’s art museums are bad. Quite the opposite, in fact; the National Gallery of Art is quite a decent museum, with a very good collection. Plus, it’s free, which makes it even better (I recently visited Philadelphia’s Art Museum, of Rocky staircase fame, and had to pay… so free is good).
I was there in June 2019 (while exploring Washington on occasion of my visit to the International Space development Conference), and while I usually pay more attention to the 19th century landscape artists and impressionists and post-impressionists than anything else, this time we’re going to be focusing on Flemish and Dutch painters.
Why? Because, on that visit, I happened to grab a booklet entitled The Dutch and Flemish Cabinet Galleries, which I read recently. I generally try to read these booklets eventually, because I enjoy remembering what I saw there, and also learning from curators.
If you have a layman’s understanding of art, the general information about how Flemish and Dutch art developed in the 17th century alongside the newly prosperous merchant bourgeoisie might not be necessary, but I always find the curator’s view of what makes a specific painting interesting to be pure gold. As a layman, I look at paintings and I either like them or don’t, they either generate a specific emotional response or they don’t, etc. But experts can look past that and point out exactly what makes a given piece different from the rest.
And that exercise is hugely worthwhile. As you know, I read a bunch of thick books, where often the pleasure comes in discovering what happens to each of the characters, and how the problems get resolved. So taking half an hour to stare at a selection of 20 pictures that I might not have given a second glance at in a museum (must move over this section quickly, where are the Van Goghs?) is a relaxing exercise. Not quite as good as being in the museum itself, but very good all the same.
One of the things I look forward to most about the end of the pandemic is that museums should reopen fully. The world is so much poorer when these places aren’t running at full capacity.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His erotic thriller Timeless really takes flight after his protagonist has a long think in the Frick Gallery in New York. Art lovers and people who like to be excited in all senses of the world would do well to check it out here.