As the charming Woody Allen film ‘ Midnight in Paris’ tells us – Everyone has an imaginary Golden Age in mind , especially when it comes to music, art and things like that. You hear people say, No one makes songs like RD Burman anymore. You ask her, ‘ What about Shankar-Jaikishan or Naushad? ’ and she is likely to give you a blank look. You ask someone who is stuck with Naushad and Rafi, ‘ what about KL Saigal? Wasn’t he a singer of unparalleled musical timbre?’ Blank look again. In case of popular culture like film songs, it is usually tied up with when one was a teenager, falling in love for the first time and things like that. With classical arts things might be a little more complex.
Be that as it may, for me the period in art that moves me the most is the one that featured the French masters at their peak. I cheat here actually and stretch the period to include everyone from Cezanne to Modigliani , Matisse, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh and Gauguin till Picasso and Dali. The Washington DC National Museum of Art had many famous works of Rembrandt, Ruben, Delacroix, and a solitary Da Vinci, but it’s the French masters that I really feasted on.
They just had a handful of Picasso, mostly from the Blue and Rose period; but I had caught most of his cubist work in the exhibition they had in Mumbai years back. Also here is something I realized, Picasso is the ultimate when it comes to artistic imagination and energy, and you can get a fair idea of that from looking the photographs of his paintings.
But the painterly beauty of artists like Cezanne, Monet or Van Gogh has to be appreciated by looking at the real thing where you can see the brush strokes and the actual hues of the paint. I was glad to catch up with the Monets I had missed out in Boston, and he was magnificent.
There was one painting that one of the museum guides drew my attention to. It was a painting called ‘The Lute Player’ by Orazio Gentileschi, done between 1612and 1618. There was a violin in the frame, which when you stood to the left of the painting seemed to point leftwards and rightwards when you stood to the right of the painting. It really did. I think this one is Room No 19 if any of you are visiting.
I talked with one copyist who was working on reproducing one of the masters. She was working over someone else’s botched up copy, trying to rectify the mistakes. When you are working with oil, it is very much possible, as you can paint a new layer over an existing one.
The museum has so much to see it would need a week to take it all. So we had set a time limit.
The idea was to grab some lunch from the food carts and head towards the Museum of Natural history. But it was pouring outside. And regardless of what the management gurus say , optimism is not always the best strategy – we had brought four umbrellas from home, but all save one were left behind in the car.
“ Any idea when will the rain stop?”
“ When will the rain stop? No, we do not have any information on that, ‘the lady at the help desk politely replied. So we turned back to the museum café and sat down for lunch against the background of a wall of cascading water.
Then suddenly Don McLean’s ‘ Vincent’ started playing in my head. ‘ Starry, starry night..’. A pop song about an artist. Can we ever imagine something like that in India? Or something like what Simon and Garfunkel sang: ‘So long, Frank Lloyd Wright…Architects may come and |Architects may go and | Never change your point of view.|When I run dry| I stop awhile and think of you.’ Let alone a song about Charles Correa, how many among educated Indians can recognize a building designed by him? No wonder the richest man in India come up with a monstrosity called ‘ Antilla’!
- Washington DC Museum of Natural History