Though temperatures outside were sizzling during the July heatwave in New York, I was cool inside the Frick Museum. Nearing the end of my visit I was standing by a rope that blocked entry to a curved stone staircase – I looked to my right, a stunning Renoir; I looked to my left, a resplendent Vermeer. Each expresses the essence, the sublime – one with misty intensity – the other with focused clarity.
I had started my day at the Neue Galerie New York, a museum dedicated to early 20th century German and Austrian art and design. Unfortunately, similar to my experience in Paris, much of the museum was closed for renovation. But the painting I had gone to see was on display – Gustav Klimt’s 1907 Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer – The Woman in Gold.
Adele, who married the sugar magnate, Ferdinand Bloch, came from a prominent Viennese Jewish family. Ferdinand commissioned Klimt to paint his new wife’s portrait, which became a symbol of Austrian culture and the growing independence of women. The political reality of World War II turned the painting into a different symbol – one of justice. It was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 surfacing after the war – on display in Vienna in the Belvedere museum. Finally in 2006, after an eight year legal battle the painting was returned to its rightful heir, Maria Altmann – the last surviving direct relative of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. Altmannn in turn sold the painting to the Neue Galerie, with the condition that it remain always on display.
During the years Klimt worked on this portrait he had spent some time in Ravenna, Italy where he became very inspired by the Byzantine mosaics of Empress Theodora found in the sixth-century Church of San Vitale. He brought this inspiration to the portrait of Adel Bloch-Bauer – clothing her in a cloak with layers of luscious gold and silver mosaic- like squares embossed with sparkling initials, spirals and other geometric symbols. She is evocative and magical while exuding strength and confidence. The painting literally dazzles the viewer – gold surrounds her and clothes her – suggestive of the golden inner light of the human soul.
Despite the heat I decided to go to The Frick next, wanting to see their collection of Vermeers. I discovered many other treasures there. The Frick closely guards their collection not allowing any photos so I don’t have much to show from my visit.
My tour started with a collection of prints by James McNeil Whistler. His etchings are softly detailed scenes of the waterfront, streets and landscapes – some with figures – and some solo figures. They pulled me in to a contemplation on the relationship between human construction and nature. Longing for color I moved on to discover Whistler’s oil paintings.
Here I witnessed his devotion to color and harmony, even in the allusion to music in the titles of his work. I was completely enchanted by his Harmony in Pink and Gray: Portrait of Lady Meux” Her face, almost but not quite hidden by her hat – shines forth with a straightforward beauty. She becomes like a goddess, clothed in sumptuously glowing pinks and grays. Slightly more wistful is his Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink: Portrait of Mrs. Francis Leyland. For me both paintings express the sensual beauty of the human body yet not in form alone – the depth of the human soul, the unmanifest from which we come – radiates through the physical forms.
Ever a lover of trees I was captivated by Corot’s painting – The Lake.
Always drawn to Medieval Art I spent many minutes in front of The Coronation of the Virgin by Paolo and Giovanni Veneziano. The gold leaf is beautiful as always but the use of sacred geometry in the composition truly lifted my spirits. The square of the figures within the upward moving triangle, reaching an apex of overlapping circles made by the angels at the top gave me a deep wordless understanding of our human connection to the divine.
On my last day in New York I decided to tackle the enormity of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by going directly to view their ongoing exhibit, Dutch Masterpieces at the Met. I diverted from that plan slightly with a detour into the Egyptian Gallery where I spent some time drawing little images from pottery of the pre-dynastic period. Drawing from work in museums is one of my favorite activities.
From there I headed on to the Dutch Masters exhibit – a long walk through much great art in which I dallied a bit and photographed random pieces that drew me in. Here’s a sampling of what I saw on that walk.
Arriving at the display of their collection of Dutch masters I was again transported to a world of intense color and form depicting the human condition with a sense of sacred beauty. My favorites were the paintings of Rembrandt and Vermeer – both of whom possessed the ability to turn the transitory into the eternal.
The Met owns only one painting by a female artist from that period – Margareet Haverman – who not having access to nude models like her male counterparts, focused on still-life paintings. Her painting, A Vase of Flowers, shows her mastery of technique and creative expression. One can only wonder what she might have done with the human figure had she had the opportunity.
The portraiture created by the masters of the past present a view of humanity as a species filled with divinity. Goddess/God shines through their eyes. Living in a world where hate is once again ratcheted up and the sacred nature of our being is hard to find – these works are a reminder that we can access our true nature and let the divine nature of love shine forth.
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck from Judith’s Etsy Shop. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.