Saturday, September 20, 2008

2 paintings to consider on a Saturday morning with my eggs and coffee

Roommate Mike visited Chicago last weekend and came back with a print of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, which he purchased after seeing it at the Art Institute. That reminded me of the Hopper exhibit at the National Gallery in DC last year and how I couldn’t at the time find a print of my favorite – Automat.

Both paintings depict isolation and loneliness in a big city. To me, Automat does a slightly better job of describing that feeling. Unlike Nighthawks, we cannot see the street outside through the big dark window nor can we see a reflection of the inside of the restaurant besides the lighting fixtures. My favorite detail is her one gloved hand, which makes me imagine that she is in a hurry OR maybe she just does not care. She is not looking up. There is no one there to impress, and certainly no people-watching.

As a layperson and not a professional art critic, I give myself free reign to judge paintings based on their attractiveness. I find the bright, rich splashes of color on the dark background attractive and think, “Pretty picture.” In Nighthawks, there is no door to get in or out of the diner (representing entrapment), but to me, it makes the diner look sort of like a fishbowl and the painting just slightly “off”.

After reading A Forger’s Spell, I became really interested in paintings by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. In Berlin next week, I plan to see A Glass of Wine and am fiercely hoping that the painting is not out on commission or traveling somewhere.

Vermeer paintings are considered to be beautiful – well-balanced, serene, finely detailed. If this is a scene from everyday life, what is happening? Why is the woman tasting the wine? Is the man getting her drunk? (He seems impatient. Or are those just my 21st century notions?) Why isn’t he drinking? Why isn’t he sitting down with her? Why is he wearing what I imagine to be a traveling cloak? Are either of them going to pick up that guitar off the chair and play some seventeenth century tunes?

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