The Netherlands are still reverberating in my imagination since my recent trip. And who of the Dutch is apt to reverberate most of all? Rembrandt. This is the Frick Collection’s Rembrandt Self-Portrait. Paintings bought during Henry Clay Frick’s lifetime (1849-1919) are not allowed to leave the Collection. The 1658 self-portrait was bought in 1906. I asked an artist friend about the staff that Rembrandt is holding in his left hand. Frank Galuszka, an artist, wrote me that it was a mahlstick. To quote Frank, ” I have used a mahlstick – I bought one at Winsor & Newton in London more than forty years ago and still use it, though not frequently, since I feel like I need three hands to paint as it is and handling a mahlstick would require a fourth! It was awkward to bring on the plane because the stick-part was bamboo. Now they have them unscrewing into sections. The head of the maul/mahl stick was chamois. More than you need to know, but who knows it could turn up as a murder weapon in your next book! (Readers, take note!)
It was so important to Rembrandt because he used straight linseed oil as a medium (the historian-conservators tell us this- I didn’t believe it at first) and that means his paintings would stay wet for a long time. This makes his terrific blending possible through all the varying stages of resistance as the paint sets up, probably a week or more. each stage of resistance offers unique possibilities, giving a dimension to the possibilities of paint-handling in painting.”
Viisiting the Reiksmuseum and going to the Wardens of the Amsterdams Guild on the fourth floor (?) of the Rijksmuseum was cosy, as if we were all squished together into the 17th century. Rembrandt was an interior painter, mostly. Even the Polish Rider, painted in 1655, doesn’t dwell on the details of nature. None of Vermeer’s lovely cityscapes or opened windows.
Back to Frank Galuszka: “I have just finished a completely Dutch painting that I am happy with. The Dutch had (procedural) secrets for everything, and I think these secrets are still unknown. I am absorbed working out an understanding of how they conceptualized painting certain things, such as clouds. Very exciting!”
A toast to the British Parliament and its recognition of the Palestinan state.
I went to a party last night. It was filled with warmth, dancing, glitz and humor. It was principal dancer’s Wendy Whelan’s Farewell to the New York City Ballet. The David H. Koch Theater was packed. It was a wonderful tribute from behind the footlights. Two of the choreographers who have worked with Wendy Whelan closely, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky, created a ballet for her and her two principal partners, Tyler Angle and Craig Hall. It’s called BY 2 WITH & FROM. Last night she and Hall also danced Wheeldon’s AFTER THE RAIN and she and Angle danced an excerpt from Ratmansky’s CONCERTO DSCH. During the evening there were short clips from a documentary about Whelan. She was shown fostering to NYCB younger dancers and celebrating, in bittersweet fashion, her October 18 retirement after thirty years. The affection for Whelan flowed across the stage to the audience and visa versa. At the end of the evening, most of the NYCB appeared on the stage. At first, they arrived one by one, each offering W. W. a bouquet. It was a lovely, gentle sight gag. Within minutes she was weighed down with flowers. Still, they kept coming and we, the audience, kept laughing like kids watching a beloved relative being teased.
Since I couldn’t offer Wendy Whelan real flowers I’ll offer her virtual flowers.
We returned to NYC yesterday. On the Delta flight I watched two movies and one documentary. There are movies and then there are the ones you watch when you’re in the air. Blue Jasmine is a flight flick. Cate Blanchett looks like a tired swan who sweeps through her scenes talking in her Katherine Hepburn accent. At times I thought I was watching A Streetcar Named Desire. Veronica Mars is an awful, homemade movie. It’s not even a flight flick. Then, the documentary, Nixon on Nixon. Usually, I can’t wait to get off a plane. Many people tense when landing approaches. Not me except yesterday when I was so enthralled by the late and ex President Nixon’s comments that I wanted the flight to continue. I can understand in a Machiavellianway why a paranoid and powerful person would have people secretly recorded. What I cannot understand is why Nixon, knowing he too was being recorded, would not have been more circumspect in his comments.
I’m in a movie frame of mind. In Amsterdam we went to the Tuschinski theatre. It’s a massive 1921 movie palace. If you sit in one of the private booths, drinking champagne, you can imagine the days when Marlene Dietrich appeared there in variety acts. Otherwise, you can sit in the comfortable seats and stare at the beautiful balconies and ceiling. We saw Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn’s wonderful novel. It’s an engrossing adaptation, but the ending was rushed, as if the director had another project in the wings. Rosamund Pike was perfect. Ben Affleck was a big mistake. He’s a movie star, not an actor. But what a theatre. Oh, yes, the movie is subtitled in English.
We flew to Amsterdam, took several trains and trams to our funky hotel, fell into bed and several hours later explored the lovely, charming neighborhood. If you’re a bike phobe like me you might want to jump on the nearest train or plane, but after a day I had a change of heart. At first I thought the Amsterdam bikers (old, young, kids and or dogs in barrel contraptions attached to the front of the bike or seated on tiny bucket seats) were like flocks of starlings but I was wrong. They are like swallows. They swoop and swerve, as graceful and skillful as dancers.The Reiksmuseum, renovated after ten years, is sleekly modern and classically (17th Century) Dutch. We bought the 60 euro ticket that allows you admittance to most museums over the entire country for a year. Well worth it. We went to the Van Gogh, naturally. Museums are going through an upheaval about the cell phone camera, as if you didn’t know.You can photograph in the Reiksmuseum but not in the Van Gogh. There’s a purse museum (no photos) not to be missed.The Hermitage (Photos are okay but leave your purse, bag pack etc. at the counter.) has a place in Amsterdam.Nearby is the delightful botanical garden. About the food: the Dutch stands with the fresh, raw herring, salmon and beer were a treat. We took a side trip to The Hague and its wonderful museum More later.I’m writing this from Venice and battling an aged computer.