Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
There’s a great deal of art to be found at home, here in Portland; but it’s not so easy to find. My friend Sybilla Cook’s Walking Portland will help a lot.
In older European cities like Copenhagen, on the other hand, art seems to be everywhere. The three entwined dragon’s tails, which represent Denmark, Sweden and Norway atop the 17th century stock exchange are visible from nearly everywhere in the center of town. Was it intended to combine art, commerce and humor, or is that my warped perspective?
This poor polar bear, suffering from the effects of pollution was recently installed in front of the Parliament building.
Everyone, of course, seeks out the famous Little Mermaid. We first saw her on a boat tour our second day in the city.
Later, we stopped to see “Gauguin’s Worlds,” a special exhibition at art museum near our hotel based on the personal collection of Carl Jacobsen (1842–1914), son of the founder of the Carlsberg Breweries. We later learned Carlsberg Breweries and Maersk Shipping have been major arts benefactors over the decades.
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) traveled widely most of his life, in order to resolve the conflict between his dual natures. He wrote to his Danish wife Mette, in 1888, “The oversensitive one has disappeared, which enables the savage to advance resolutely and unimpeded.” Mette and the children stayed in Copenhagen as he roamed ever further afield, in quest of rawness and authenticity in the primitive. I’d never seen any of these head-shaped ceramic cups before, a favorite theme.
Several late 19th century Danish painters traveled south for inspiration in Greece and Italy, reminiscent of the Mediterranean Re-positioning cruise we took last fall.
I like to think that it was Carl Jacobsen, the.original collector, who devised this arrangement of paintings.
And, I think Jacobsen would have appreciated the odd coincidence that I was fascinated by Lorenz Frolich’s meticulosly detailed (for example, the texture of the shiny skin on the rat’s feet), gruesome little study of a dead rat;
which we later saw book-ended, in effect, on the side of an an apartment building in Torino.
I’m not including any of the dozens of portraits, depictions of important battles and other wonderful decorations from the royal palaces we visited, but we did take advantage of a free afternoon to visit the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art following a palace visit and lunch. We’d seen some early, representational paintings by Picasso at his museum in Barcelona. But I’d forgotten that his father was an art teacher.
En route from Copenhagen, after the beautiful gardens at Sofiero–which I already shared– we stayed in Toftaholm, at a small country inn where the evening’s entertainment was a performance by a local folk-dancing group, whom we were invited to join at the end of the show. As the man in the green vest led me out onto the dance floor, I told him, “I’m not very good at this.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, “It’s just walking;” which wasn’t strictly true. We ended up doing the polka and a couple of other complicated routines–but it was fun. Our guide told us we were the first group in which no one held out. Too bad that he didn’t take a photo.
We thought it was also too bad that our trip took place during the opera/concert summer hiatus. But we were treated to a backstage tour at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm, where the cavernous stage and wings were nearly incomprehensible in comparison with the confines that Portland Opera must work within. After the tour, we enjoyed a glass of champagne and a few art songs performed by piano-accompanied soprano.
We flew from Stockholm to Bergen, Norway, where a few buildings from the
original 12th century settlement remain. After the Black Death virtually wiped out the population in the 13th century, the town was, in effect, revived by cod. Hanseatic trade in stockfish and grain kept them going from 1350 to 1750. Emblems are preserved all over town.
Our visit to Edvard Grieg’s summer house, on the water’s edge a few miles from the center of Bergen was very special. From the window of Grieg’s writing hut,
the path beside the grave-site Edvard shares with his widow Nina,
and the concert hall where we enjoyed a superb concert by Einar Steen-Nokleberg (who recently released an acclaimed 14-disc set of the Complete Piano Music of Edvard Grieg , we were reminded of and appreciated Grieg’s choice of location.
That same evening, we attended an organ concert in a beautifully restored 12th cen. church literally right next door to our hotel.
After Bergen, we spent a few days among fjords and glaciers. Then we headed toward Oslo, stopping to admire this remarkable church.Almost iridescent murals line the walls of the enormous, two-story chamber in Oslo City Hall, where about 1,350 guests attend the Nobel Prize banquet each year. The subjects depicted seem to be mostly ordinary people in representative occupations interspersed with a few mythological characters.
We also had the opportunity to walk through celebrated Vigeland Park, where more than 200 bronze, granite and wrought iron sculptures represent the various stages of human life and various facets of the relationships between boys and girls, men and women, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and so on. According to Wikipedia, ” In 1921 the City of Oslo decided to demolish the house where Vigeland lived and build a library. After a long dispute, Vigeland was granted a new building from the city where he could work and live: in exchange, he promised to donate to the city all his subsequent works, including sculptures, drawings, engravings and models.” This fascinating park is the project to which he devoted the balance of his life.
The most famous of the statues is the Angry Baby Boy–you can tell by all the shiny parts people have rubbed.
I, on the other hand, felt an affinity with the Sad Little Girl. I’m sure it’s the haircut more than anything; but it reminds me of a photo of me when I was three–except that I am wearing clothes. It does look like a few people have rubbed the fingers of her right hand and the outside of her right leg in empathy.
I like this concise summary from the Vigeland Museum website: “Whereas the melancholy theme in the fountain is the eternal life cycle…”
Indeed, as far as I can tell, this detail depicts old age and death.
“… the column gives room to a totally different interpretation: Man’s longing and yearning for the spiritual and divine.” If you look at the individual bodies, they are relaxed, hoping and waiting. They are not striving; they await an external force that will draw them up.
There were many paintings at the Maritime Museum. This celebration of Viking history, for example: and the much more poignant painting by Tom Livbat , Salvage of an Empty Lifeboat (1863) .
From Oslo, we flew to Helsinki; where we spent a night and had a full day before boarding the ferry to St. Petersburg. We toured the city: hop-on-hop off-bus & on foot: civic buildings & public markets.Near our hotel, we stopped at the Sinebrynchoff Family Collection, where I spotted a very small–8″ x 10″– 18th cen. Watteau. Small world: a recent book club selection, The Improbability of Love centered on a fictional Watteau–with a very similar theme.
I’ve described many of the wonderful paintings we saw in St. Petersburg. I think it’s also worth mentioning our two musical encounters during our three night stay. The first was at the restaurant which Maria, our guide, recommended, Vodka Room #1. Very near our hotel, service and food were good and the place was busy enough to be interesting. For some reason, the two men at the table next to us went into the adjacent room where a singer and two musicians were performing. I don’t know if a tip was involved, but the group came into the room where we were and sang several songs. Fun local color.
Maria also helped us get tickets to a “Russian Music Seasons” concert at Gran Duke Vladimir’s Palace, a few doors down the Palace Embankment from the Hermitage Museum. ‘International prize-winning’ pianist Anton Samsonov performed works by Tschaikovsky and Prokofiev–then one of his own compositions. He was phenomenal. Russian Music Seasons posted a one minute video of him playing the Prokofiev: https://www.facebook.com/vladmalchukov/videos/10208807404374473/ I also found a small bit about his first public performance in 2011 at The Lutheran Hour Ministries—RUSSIA BLOG : “the sensation of the concert was Anton Samsonov who virtuously performed the piano music of Bach, Rachmaninoff and Schumann. The boy was only 10 years old and came to concert with his mother.” As the video shows, he’s still a boy–only 15 even now–a true child prodigy.
A special exhibition of in the pinacoteca at the Palazzo Reale in Torino reminded me a little of a couple of paintings at the Hermitage:
completely different subjects by different artists, but the two figures are like mirror images of each other.
We found art in unexpected places.
In 2000, forty-two years after opening, followed by a couple of relocations, the Cinema Museum re-opened in the fanciful Mole Antonelliana . Tallest un-reinforced brick building in the world at 550 ft., this Torino landmark was planned as a synagogue in 1863; but the Jewish community had the city take it over in 1876. It housed a series of museums until Torino decided that the Cinema Museum needed dramatic renovation. The committee brought in the Franco-Swiss set-designer Francois Confino to create a presentation that will “offer visitors continuous and unexpected visual and acoustic stimuli, similar to watching a film.” To begin with, a separate ticket takes you up the elevator to view the city and surrounding area:
Then you can insert yourself into the early development of photography by playing in the camera obscura. I was, of course, standing on the floor, but the background was upside down. And this was only the beginning of the adventure…
Thanks to the same designer, Francois Confino– who was was brought in to develop the massive re-design of the Auto Museum just a few years after the renovation of the Cinema Museum– the Auto Museum is equally fascinating. Not just a big warehouse filled with wonderful cars of all kinds, this dynamic museum uses the development of the automobile to frame a narrative history of the 20th century and lead into the 21st: “the car observed as a creation of genius and of the human imagination”.
Settembra Musica, the fall classical music season, began while we were in Torino. Padre e Figli (Fathers and Sons) is the season theme. The concert we saw, conducted by Director Mario Brunello from the cello (a new twist) consisted of works by one composer adapted by another–hence the program title, Shared Paternity.
One last bit: I thought at first the water came from the mouth of a cow. Then I realized it was a little bull–“torino,” of course.
Art is everywhere.