Art History 201

April 5, 2012

Three years ago I was dating someone and in hindsight, I should have known it was about to end. I invited her to go to a concert with me and she declined. Happy hour on Thursday? She had to study. My friends and I were going to the SAM Remix and again I invited her out once more — she politely told me she had plans.

Even with my dejected headspace — and my spider-sense that the relationship was over — I decided to go. I wandered through the galleries at the Seattle Art Museum, moving past and through the hundreds of people in the museum that night and eventually I found myself examining SAM’s permanent collection. There were pieces that were as old as 4 B.C. And it struck me at that moment — that no matter what happened between her and I, that I would be fine. That man/woman interpersonal relationships have been challenging since before some of these pieces of art were even created.

At the Louvre — I literally ran, yes ran, to the Mona Lisa. I had taken Rick Steve’s advice and didn’t go to the Louvre on a Wednesday (I went on a Thursday) and got there early — before it opened. There were about 75 people in line in front of me and everyone has to go through airport-like security. From security the race was on.

I passed most of the early birds in front of me on the stairs. Still being in my twenties (okay, late-twenties and yes, I knew I was turning 30 the next day) I could out climb most other people. I passed the second wave of onlookers who got distracted by Venus de Milo. And by the time I entered the Louvre’s Grand Gallery and reached her, there were about 18 people in the gallery where she is located. I walked right up to her.

The Mona Lisa, Photo taken on April 5, 2012

The Mona Lisa, Photo taken on April 5, 2012

There have been only a couple of experiences here in Paris that gave me chills. Seeing the Mona Lisa was one of them. She is much smaller than you would expect. But that makes sense. Leonardo just painted a portrait of the wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant and he never knew at the time it would become one of the most famous paintings in the world. Also, given her placement directly across from The Marriage at Cana — a giant, room sized painting dwarfing everything else, you can see why she looks petite. But size aside, she is amazing. Knowing that you are looking at one of the most famous paintings in the world is humbling. The Mona Lisa — by a wide margin — is not my favorite piece of art that I have seen on this trip. But the majesty of the Mona Lisa is knowing/remembering all of the references, the memories, the pop culture mentions, the homages, the historical footnotes, etc, that you have seen or read your entire life — these flood your mind when you see her. That is why it gave me chills. This one painting has inspired so much.

The rest of the art here has been amazing. It is like I am walking — page by page — through my college art history book. Instead of reading about the Manet’s on page 205 and the Monet’s on page 242, I can see them in person, in the same room, right next to each other.

My favorite Museum was my last (at least last on my two-day Museum pass) — the Centre Pompidou, which is a look at the best of Modern Art over the past 115 years. Here I gazed upon Picassos, Matisses, a Klein, a Warhol, a Calder, among others. There were other artists I didn’t recognize but I loved their work. I saw some disturbing performance pieces that made me think I was at the Frye in Seattle. And even though, I was exhausted loved this museum.

I took the escalators to the top of the Centre and gazed out over the city. The sun was setting over Paris. But as I looked out at the stunning beauty before me, my mind drifted to Seattle — And I thought about the new beginnings that were waiting for me at home.


One comment

  1. That was my first thought when I saw her…how surprised I was at how small the painting is! But isn’t it a great museum!???

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