November 13, 2011

Metropolitan Meetings

"Are you a fan of Gustave Moreau?" That's how the first conversation began. I have the most delightful meetings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I think that's one of the reasons I love it. Since I am usually there by myself, and beauty is enjoyed best in company, I am forced to find a second to make company with wherever I go.

I was there for the forth time in a year just the other day. I wandered my favorite gallery,  listened to my heels echo on the wood floors of empty galleries, delighted in my new appreciation for (and recognition of!) countless artists- de Chavannes, Goughan, Seurat, Manet, Degas, Lautrec, Moreau, Van Gogh, and Klimt! When I grew hungry I grabbed some shawarma off a street vendor in front of the museum and watched an a cappella group perform on the sidewalk. The Met always sounds a bit like an airport- with countless nationalities buzzing about. But that day it was pervasively French- even my teacher noticed it- it seemed every other person was French! But oh, it was delightful. French couples. French families. French old ladies. French ten-year-old girls- sassing each other in French (charmingly adorable?). And more thrilling still- all the French voices murmuring all the French artist names. They sounded lovely rolling off their tongues.

I had been sitting in front of Moreau's Oedipus & The Sphinx for quite some time when a man- about fifty with gray hair and stubble, but with a youthful intrepidity about him- stopped , stooped, and queried, "Are you a fan of Gustave Moreau?"

I explained to him the nature of my paper- that I was making a case that he was not a Post-Impressionist, etc, etc, and this set him off on Moreau-rhapsodies. He agreed with me very much and told me he'd been to the Musée national Gustave Moreau in Paris and seen Moreau's countless paintings.

"I wish you could see this one- he has so many Aztec themes..." He looked around for his camera but remembered those particular pictures no longer on it. "It's just not normal to see somebody sit in front of a painting for forty-five minutes" he told me by way of explanation. We compared Moreau with Post-Impressionist work- and the man again tried to communicate the depth of detail he had seen in this one painting.

"Oh, Jupiter and Semele?" I suggested.

"Yes! That's the one!" (I can't tell you how pleased I was to know the painting's name). He told me I really should see the Moreau museum some day- I said I would if I got the chance. And we parted. And I stared at Moreau's collosal painting for another forty-five minutes.

For the "Master Painters of India" exhibit the Met had- get this- a whole bunch of magnifying glasses for patrons to make use of. And use one I did! The Rajput paintings were unbelievably detailed- with the gems of the tiny figure's jewelry practically indistinguishable to the naked eye.

Then, as I was perusing, I saw on a wall a blown-up photograph of India. I read the small description and let out a low laugh. Bundi, Rajasthan. A young guy (the only other person around at the time) turned around and said something, or simply looked, inquisitive. 

"Bundi Rajasthan," I explained, "I've been there." (Do you know the feeling? Of meeting a friend- someone familiar- unexpectedly in a far away place?)

He smiled and replied rather matter-of-factly, "So have I. It's very beautiful, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is."

A few minutes later I was in the gift-shop and there was this older, earthy-women fingering the wool scarves. They were lovely Indian weaves- my fingers stole to the price-tag- $125. :Gulp: They would hike the prices up- even in the Indian airport the scarves that sold for $7 on the streets were a good $100. The woman was still fingering them- I felt compelled to say something.

"They're much cheaper in India." 

She looked almost annoyed and said, very shortly in an accent- Italian, maybe- "I know. I go there every year. I was just comparing prices." She went back to her perusing- but presently turned to me again.

"Have you been to India?" (I have.) When? (2008). Where? (I told her).... It's beautiful, isn't it? It is. The pleasantries continued for a bit- and when parted and she called over her shoulder- "Maybe I will see you one of these days in India..." (In the Met more likely.)

I wandered some more and wove my way to the Robert Lehman Collection- where Renoir's Two Young Girls at a Piano resides. I looked at a Medieval exhibit- and at last- quite tired- sat down to soak in the atmosphere... I stared at the slits in the roofing- writing up details for my stories in my head. A woman-  plainly dressed with short-cropped gray hair- sat down next to me. We sat. And sat. And at last she says to me, "Who did that painting down there-?" (She points about ten yards away...)

"I don't know- I'll go look," I respond cheerily, popping up. She murmured after me, "I'm too tired to get up..."

It was a Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painting- I knew Lautrec- and I brought back the name to her. She knew him, too. Her English was jumbled- she was saying something about how it wasn't Lautrec's usual style (I agreed) usually he'd darker (I agreed)- usually he's clownish and dark as in- "Moulin Rouge?" I suggested, "Yes, that one!"

She proceeded to tell me that she and her husband were art-collectors. I asked her where she was from (she thought I was from Paris?!?) and she said she was from the West Coast- but originally from Israel. She and her husband had been in NYC for a week- this was their second day at the Met- and she's was sooo tired but they had to go to the opera that night (and she wasn't ready to leave for Paris in the morning). She fell to rambling about this collector and that exhibition and this other person and somehow or other she asked me about myself and I told her I wrote. She never did write- she had a math-mind.

Her husband came by and they linked arms- she said to me, looking for the words, "Success... what is it they say? Success in life to you!" And they were gone.

What is it they say? Success to you? You simply must see this? I'll see you again?

All this beauty...

I am reminded of something Timothy Keller said in one of his sermons... about how  in Christ and Heaven we as Christians have before us the perfect romance- the most handsome prince- the loveliest wedding- a glorious battle and triumphant victory- awaiting, preparing, descending from Heaven. We need be not ashamed of loving fairy-tales. There is something beautiful and true in them: something that IS.

So you can see why I love the Met. For therein are centuries of visionaries,  historians, and poets, people who, in the image of God, are creating just as they were created- capturing the beauty around them- wrestling with beauty- fixating on the truth of Beauty itself. And where such beauty dwells- there also walk the beauty-lovers.

If you were there- we'd delight together.

This post is for Mrs. Viar and Mrs. Petersen. 
*Painting: First Steps (After Millet) by Van Gogh *Painting: Krishna Flirting with the Gopis, Purkhu (attributed to) *Painting: Two Girls at the Piano by Renoir 


  1. Beautiful story telling Linda, I admire your memory, and your art connoisseurness [is that a word? I believe not;]
    Ah Renoir, one of my favorite painters, my favorite of his, 'A Woman Playing Guitar' :)

    And Manet and Degas, two more of my favorites.

    I truly wish I could be there someday to delight with you Linda :)

  2. Oh Linda, this was delicious. Your writing is captivating, and I love these kind of wonderful meetings with strangers, especially when you can talk about such beauty together! Thank you :)

  3. "And where such beauty dwells- there also walk the beauty-lovers."

    Hmm, yes. :)

  4. Love, Love, Love this! Thank you for tagging me.

    Mrs. Viar

  5. It should be a word, Dani. ;-) Thank you. :) Make it out to New York and I'll take you. :-)

    Michael. Thanks. :-) :beams: Yes I love it too- spontaneous conversations with strangers. (One time I had a whole conversation about calligraphy with this lady in the Met lobby...)

    Liz. <3

    You are very welcome, Mrs. Viar! Glad you like (love) it. :-D :-)

  6. Beautiful! I can almost see the dusty halls, the people, and the timeless paintings and statues. Lovely, lovely, lovely! :)

    So much like a fairy-tale, [and yes, they do exist. :)]

    Loved it. :-)