Tuesday, January 19, 2010

J. W. Waterhouse, Biodomes, and some great times

A bunch of artist friends and I took advantage of the long weekend and headed up to Montreal to see the J. W. Waterhouse exhibit — the largest-ever collection of Waterhouse work, it is on display until February 7th. Montreal will be its only North American venue.

Typically seeing a full body of one artist’s work, being able to view a life-time’s worth of progression, picking up on reoccurring symbols and learning their visual language, makes me appreciate the individual pieces more. I have to admit, in this case I felt I may have gotten more out of the paintings if I had stumbled upon them slowly over time. They are all beautiful, to be sure, but the effect of so many depictions of wistful women as an ideal of “feminine whatever” eventually got me a little eye-rolly. That said, my four or five favorite paintings of the show are amazing and well worth the trip all on their own.

The scale of the paintings was surprising – major works reaching 6 to 9 feet -- and it added to the otherworldliness of the mythological themes he often depicted. The application of paint is loose and wonderful to look at up close. (We were thankful to guards that never seemed to mind us standing nose-close to the works.) It was as easy to get lost in the folds of a woman’s dress as it was the beauty of their faces.

Among my favorites...

“The Lady of Shallot”, his most famous work, is heartbreaking. We see her embarking in what is soon to be her funeral barge. A sense of longing, freedom, and doom woven into her breath. The tapestries dragging in the water, at last a direct connection to the earth. Her face is in sharp focus while everything else softens around her…a moment of clarity within a dream.

“The Magic Circle”, perhaps my favorite of the exhibit, shows a woman of real strength and depth. I love the slightly out-turned knee required to cut through the earth. Each crows looks like they have a part to play in the incantation. And, let’s face it, the live snake oroborus around her neck is just badass.

“Mariamne” Another woman of strength and confidence. She stands strong as a marble column amongst so much judgment, the only figure able to look at the other players in the eye. The glow of her dress is striking but even more evocative is the shadow across her face – she is much more beautiful and mysterious because we can’t quite see her.

I didn’t know Waterhouse’s work nearly as well as others on the trip but once there I realized how many of his paintings are icons. After a while, women standing on their toes with titled heads doesn’t quite do it for me, but individually they are great and it was a treat to see them. Also on display was a room full of his sketch books and color studies.

Unfortunately the museum gets no marks for exhibition design. Matte black walls and glossy black signage gave the place a “welcome to my sexy-den” vibe, and being in darkness meant that the paintings had to be spotlit, causing a lot of reflections.

The rest of the museum is smallish but with some real gems. We ran across this Pascal Dangan-Bouverete painting and fell in love with it. These women are beautifull – stark, formal, honest and direct – without the need of a “feminine ideal.” We also became enamored with this crazy sculpture of a woman embraced by Death. It might be the kind of thing you’d expect tattooed to a biker’s arm, but it had us all entranced.

Day two: Back to the museum for a little refresher and then off to the Biodome. Lynx! Two lynxes. We heart the lynxes.

And the great part about winter travel?: depth of field. The train ride was a blast. I know it would be just as spectacular in the summer and heartbreaking in the fall, but being able to see through the trees and deep into snow covered fields and frozen lakes was mesmerizing. The downside: All the reading and work I thought I would do sat in my bag, mocking me, while I stared out the window for twelve hours straight.

It was amazing to be up there with so many friends, all passionate about art. The combined experience between them must have be in the hundreds of years. Between the conversation, artwork, lynxes, and landscapes, we are all excited to get back to work. Greg, Scott, Scott, Boris, Julie, Kurt, Zelda, Dan, Chris, Kristina, Tony, Nonie, Rebbecca, Rebbecca, Mat, Marc, Chloe, Alex, Elizabeth…it was awesome! What’s next?


capprotti said...

I'm so unbelievably jealous! I can't explain how upset I am that I'll never get to see all those amazing pieces all in one place like that. Once in a life time. That looked like a pretty amazing trip. Good art, good people, can't beat that!

Anonymous said...

Smallish? Is it possible you didn't find your way to the other 2 buildings of the museum? I have to say I love the room with the Bougereau's and the one with the dutch still lives (and we enjoy bitching about some of the contemporary abstract crap in the basement)

bill said...

OK, OK, I guess there are advantages to living in NY. But how many Carman Exhibitions have you seen? We have at least one a year here. Seriously I thoroughly enjoy your travelog and your sharing. A vicarious experience is better than none.

Irene Gallo said...

Quitsune: Sorry! I did get to the building across the street but not to the third one. But we had an amazing time with the whole trip, we are already daydreaming about returning in the Spring so I;ll be sure to catch the entire museum.

Bill: Excellent point. Hmmm...where's that luggage again....

innisart said...

That terra cotta sculpture by Gerrit van Honthorst was amazing! Too bad it is so hard to find an image of it online. It was one of my favorite pieces in the permanent collection.

Imola said...

"They are all beautiful, to be sure, but the effect of so many depictions of wistful women as an ideal of “feminine whatever” eventually got me a little eye-rolly"

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your post echoes my sentiments so precisely!

HANNAH'S DAD said...

typo - I'm assuming you mean "tilted heads" not "titled heads"?

Unknown said...

Magic Circle is still my favorite from the weekend. Great to see you up there! Glad you/Greg finally got to meet Chloe.

AG Ford said...

You have really been posting some helpful things lately. Classic paintings, and new stuff. Thanks Irene!

AG Ford