Sunday, January 30, 2011
Every time I visit the Museum of Fine Arts as well as every day I worked there I would make a daily pilgrimage to a simple, beautiful, deeply personal little painting "The Artist in his Studio" by Rembrandt. It is special to me because I was there in that very studio during a visit to Holland in 2008. I went to Holland as a birthday present to myself during tulip season (gorgeous!), I developed a craving for raw herring dipped in onion with a big mug of beer, learned that the Dutch make the best soups ever…especially pea soup which is so thick you can stand a spoon in it. During the last few days of the trip our group was taking a canal tour of Amsterdam (fabulous!) at the end of which we were let off by the diamond factory for a scheduled tour but I learned that Rembrandt's house was only a block away…that's better than diamonds for me. I'd heard about a show of botanical paintings by Maria Sybilla Merian which turned out to be mind-blowing! She watercolor paintings on vellum in the 1600's but they were so bright and clear they could have been done yesterday! She is one of the rare, deeply gifted women who break through in a time dominated by men. But then again Holland was/is a very progressive place and Maria was held in high esteem given opportunities as an artist that were unheard of, she got to travel to places women rarely went so she could study then paint the flora and fauna. That exhibit was in a modern looking part of Rembrandt's house, so I figured maybe it was the "site" where Rembrandt's house once stood, maybe they had built over his place. Not so, after a bit more exploring I ended up in Rembrandt's very home!!! Saw where he slept, ate his meals, did his etchings. I was the first person in the door that day so had the place to myself for a little bit. I saw an impossibly tiny, twisted staircase to the upper floor the guard hadn't even made it up there yet and there I was in HIS studio, with his brushes, palettes, a partially prepared canvas on his easel…I felt faint. The light was dim because the shutters were still closed. Moments later the guard walked in, we exchanged good mornings as I was standing in the middle of the room with my hand over my heart, gently tapping, trying to breathe. Once the guard opened the window and saw me better she rushed over rapidly speaking in Dutch something about "was I ok?" It dawned on me the I might have looked like I was having a heart attack, she kept trying to get me to sit down, her hand was on the walkie talkie when another person walked in who, thankfully, spoke English and Dutch. Maybe I also looked pale, after all it's no small thing to be standing in Rembrandt's studio with his brushes and all he touched so close! This new person translated for me that I was fine, completely fine, but overwhelmed to be in the Master's Studio. The guard relaxed and I got over being stunned then took a great deal of time to look at each of this things…oh how I wanted to touch them! My other favorite room was the one that housed his collections of bones, sticks, flotsam and jetsam of all kinds…in that way we are similar. The studio in this painting is the very one I stood in and it was an immense thrill to be there in the spot where he stood. Plus with all the grand paintings he did this one is small and simple, clearly a deeply personal painting for him to give us.