I went on my first date with my second boyfriend to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. It was an unseasonably warm November day, but there was a crisp charge in the air as I walked up the enormous marble stairs to meet him. Inside, I was once again swept away by the domed atrium, the fountain topped by a likeness of a wing footed Mercury, and chamber upon chamber of the most beautiful works of art I had ever seen. I couldn’t imagine any better way to spend an afternoon and honestly, I still can’t.
My boyfriend was less impressed, though indulgent, as I practically skipped from one gallery to the next. Things didn’t work out between us, but between you, me, and the rest of the internet, that had a lot more to do with me being a terrible girlfriend with commitment issues, and less about the art thing. #personalresponsibility
I’ve been to the gallery dozens of times; sometimes wandering around for hours getting lost and sometimes heading straight for my favorite spot, Gallery 85, to visit my favorite men, Messrs. Monet and Renoir. I sit, memorized, by Monet’s Woman with a Parasol wondering what this woman is thinking. Slightly dismissive and almost forlorn as her companion waits for her, her full skirts cast a rather small shadow on the wildflowers growing up around her feet as the wind whips around her. Close by, one of Renoir’s girls looks positively pleased about her blue dress, with its decorative lace and high collar. I love these pieces; they are old friends of mine.
A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to visit yet again. It seems so long ago, just a week before my world fell apart. I visited my boys, but a melancholy struck me and I wandered off into Gallery 50, the land of the 17th Century Dutch Painters. I had never given these paintings more than a passing glance, but on this day I was struck by Still Life with Flowers and Fruit by Jan van Huysum. The piece is so realistic I had to stop myself from reaching out to snag a grape.
With a little digging, I found that the painting has a bit of a history. This was one of the masterpieces stolen by the Nazis during World War 2 to be used in Hitler’s own museum. Eventually, it was recovered and returned to its owners. Other paintings weren’t so fortunate. It amazes me that this work, just oil and pigment on a board, having been through so much and withstood it all, stands a kind of monument to the wonder that people can accomplish when they take their God-given abilities and develop them fully. Hardship does not diminish beauty. This fragment of the artist’s soul has not lost its ability to take my breath away in the the 300 years since it was created, despite all it has gone through.
As my sweet friend Kristi recently reminded me:
When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person that walked in. That’s what the storm is all about.
Not the same, but no less beautiful.