Saturday, May 31, 2008

Riveting Magnetism And Drama

I am not knowledgeable about art, and I was never much of a museumgoer until I met Andrew.

However, the second day I knew Andrew (February 4, 2006), he took me to the National Gallery Of Art in Washington, and he and I spent a quiet afternoon there. I wrote about that afternoon on my blog entry of August 1, 2007.

I had been to the National Gallery on one occasion prior to that afternoon, but I had found the National Gallery to be overwhelming, and not much fun, and I had never bothered to return until that afternoon with Andrew.

Going through a museum with Andrew was about 100 times more interesting than going through a museum by myself, as I was to learn that afternoon. Andrew is very knowledgeable about art, and very knowledgeable about history, and he is able to connect the two disciplines in a completely captivating fashion that instantly renders both fields more engaging.

Now, when I examine works of art, I see, notice, and observe things I never saw, noticed and observed before. Art-viewing is a much richer experience for me today. Now, one of my favorite activities is visiting museums with Andrew.

That afternoon at the National Gallery Of Art, which we visited purportedly in order to see a Winslow Homer exhibition, Andrew showed me the Gallery’s Van Dyck and Vermeer paintings, after which we viewed the American painting collection. We concluded our visit that afternoon by viewing the Gallery’s collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.

One of the paintings that most captured my attention that afternoon was Gilbert Stuart’s imposing “The Skater (Portrait Of William Grant)”.

Photos of great paintings do not begin to do them justice, but anyone who has seen “The Skater” in person knows immediately that he or she is in the presence of a great, great painting. Eight feet tall and almost five feet wide, “The Skater” is a canvas on the grandest possible scale, a work of startling originality, and a painting of riveting magnetism and drama.

Stuart had traveled from an America on the brink of war to London in 1775 to apprentice with Benjamin West, the American painter who had moved to London several years before the American Revolution. Shortly after completing his apprenticeship with West, Stuart painted “The Skater”. It was his very first attempt at full-length portraiture and it was to become, after his many George Washington portraits, by far his most celebrated work. Stuart was only twenty-seven years old at the time.

The work’s originality is due to Stuart portraying its subject, Scotsman William Grant, not only in some type of physical activity, but specifically in ice skating. This had never been done before, and it was unprecedented for a grand-manner society portrait.

The subject is presented skating on the Serpentine, the small lake in Hyde Park. The spires of Westminster Abbey are faintly visible in the painting’s background.

The portrait was an immediate sensation in London, and it was included in the 1782 exhibition at The Royal Academy Of Art, a highly-unusual honor for such a young artist. The painting made Stuart’s name in London, and he was soon engaged by other notable personages to paint their portraits. Stuart remained one of the most sought-after painters in London until he returned to America, permanently, in 1793.

The painting remained in the Grant family from 1782 until 1950, when it was purchased from Grant’s descendants by the National Gallery Of Art and shipped from London to Washington, where it has been on display ever since.

The National Gallery Of Art owns 43 paintings by Gilbert Stuart, only a handful of which are on display at a given time. “The Skater”, however, is always on display at the Gallery, one of the museum’s most important (and most popular) American masterpieces. Removing it from the exhibition rooms and placing it into storage, even for a short time, is simply unthinkable.

The painting, justifiably, has become one of the nation’s most beloved works of art.


  1. Hey, J.R.

    I hope you had a great birthday celebration last night.

    Yes, I decided to spruce things up a bit, and add some color.

    No one can compete with you, however, when it comes to a beautiful blog.

    I hope you are enjoying your Sunday.


  2. I can't seem to get over that sensational Tiepolo painting you got me for my birthday, Josh. It is probably the finest birthday present I got this year!

    A simple yet superb and elegant and stylish painting that is simply my cup of tea. You knew my type!

    The girl who posed for Tiepolo looks like a Venetian creature in the night, basking in the beauty and luminosity of her rosy complexion, ravishingly set against Tiepolo's riveting application of infinite black.

    I wish I owned this painting for real!

  3. I had a nice, leisurely birthday dinner last night with the people who mean the most to me.

    Thank you for your very kind wishes, which all seemed to come true just before midnight last night.

    I DID eat a slice of my cake for you and, of course, one for Andrew.

    It was not carrot cake, however: It was an all-white confection topped with an abundance of coconut and heavy ivory icing.

    I wish you came last night!

    Have a nice evening ahead!


  4. I have a plan, J.R.

    We will all go to Washington, and proceed to the room in the National Gallery where the Tiepolo hangs.

    Andrew and I will create a disturbance, and you can grab the painting and make a run for the exit.

    The painting is not very large, and you can probably put it under your coat.

    Do you think our plan will work?

  5. I am very pleased that you had a wonderful birthday celebration, J.R.

    It's too bad we were not there to join you.

    Instead, we were home, listening to "Ernestine Schumann-Heink Sings Sondheim".

    Madame Schumann-Heink was far, far ahead of her time, you know.

  6. Or, I could impersonate a certain, notorious, earth-shattering soprano of note with a seismic voice by singing a Wagner aria at the top of my lungs, distracting the guards and the cameras, while Andrew and you try to unhook that Tiepolo, blend in with the crowd and disappear into it, with the Tiepolo in hand. Success!

    I think it could work.

    Your new blog design, by the way, is very you.

  7. I could just imagine your faces squirming in agony while listening to Diva Schumann-Heink belt out a Broadway-inflected, hair-raising rendition of Sondheim's "Being Alive".

  8. That plan would probably work.

    Ten seconds into any Cheryl Studer impersonation, and the entire building would clear, no doubt.

    People would be screaming, running for the exits, just like in a horror movie.

    Amid all the panic, we could probably get away with whatever we could carry.

  9. Yes, Schumann-Heink's rendition of "Being Alive" was truly unforgettable.

    Incidentally, our landlady evicted us last evening.

    Apparently we were creating a public disturbance.

  10. By the way, tell Andrew I've enjoyed listening to Gundula Janowitz over the weekend.

    Her Pamina is sensational. As well as her Countess.

    Hers was a type of voice that is totally extinct today. A pity.

  11. I'll tell him right now, J.R.


  12. Thank you, too, Josh, for recommending me to her.

    I'll be leaving now to spend the evening at you-know-who's Chicago apartment. It's my new home, so it seems these days.

    I hope you and Andrew have an amazing night planned!


  13. I hope you have a lovely evening, J.R.