Today I looked back into some old journals I kept, in the days before blogging, and read some of this one, from a trip to London in 1998. Maybe, when inspiration fails to strike, as it is today, I'll post a little of it here. I was surprised how Cassandra-like the voice was, long before Cassandra got her very own blog. This section took me right back to that day and the room and the feeling I'm trying to describe, but I'm not sure it comes across, or is even possible to express. It's about color exploding in midwinter, and feeling incredibly fortunate to be alive in such a place.
December 16, 1998, 3:00 p.m. The Courtauld Institute, London
I'm on a bench on the top floor of Somerset House, a bit overcome. In front of me is one of my favorite Gauguin paintings, "Nevermore": the enigmatic Tahitian nude reclining on a yellow pillow while a raven watches from the open window. I was here earlier this morning and came back to sit in this room again.
The previous room holds treasures such as Manet's "Dejeuner sur L'Herbe", which I've never seen in person before, and Renoir's "The Loge," the woman in white-and-black striped silk holding a pair of opera glasses. Behind me, in this, the largest room, is "The Bar at the Folies Bergere"; to the left are eight Cezannes, glowing with blue and deep green; to the right, a huge vase of pink chrysanthemums by Monet and a number of other Impressionist works including a lovely, serene snowscape by Sisley and a luminous beach scene by Boudin.
But the paintings on the wall straight ahead are the most moving to me. Two other large Gauguins flank "Nevermore". One is the mysterious "The Dream", a Tahitian interior about which Gauguin wrote, "everything in the painting is a dream. Is it the mother? The child? The horseman on the path? Or is it the dream of the painter himself?" On the right is a vibrant landscape painted just before he went to Tahiti; it is titled "the Haystacks" and shows Brittany peasants gathering hay. The three form a unified group, united by yellow and gold: the light in the Tahitian interior, the yellow pillow against an entire field of deep blues and olive flesh in "Nevermore", the sunlit field in Brittany.
Then, the next painting is Van Gogh with a bandaged ear, probably the most famous painting in the room, if not in the entire collection, and beside it, a brilliant Van Gogh landscape, radiant with joy.