[Samuel Palmer: Coming From Evening Church]

I was fortunate enough to have some spare time in DC last Friday to visit the National Gallery. I absolutely love that museum, and have found myself missing it lately, especially as I attempt to swallow my quick-to-flare frustration at the crowds in most NY museums. The thing about the National Gallery that I love is that it rarely feels crowded to me. On Saturdays, perhaps, and during the Cezanne exhibit definitely, but last Friday afternoon was just perfect.

The Rembrandt exhibit was, above all, instructive, often presenting multiple states of the etchings/drypoints/etc. which allowed for new comparisons, and on my part, some close scrutiny of details. I've never played around with the drypoint method but am finding myself to be quite mesmerized by it, even the little museum-made placards made it sound lovely--the little curls of copper like soft riverbanks alongside the deep marks made by the stylus. You could also see the difference in the amount of ink wiped from the plate and the effect that would have on the composition (like Rembrandt's Three Crosses which was shown in a series of four states, each with a different amount of ink left on the plate)

I toured the British Romantics exhibit next, where the crowd was smaller, despite two fantastic Blake images, some fine Rossettis and Burne-Jones, and a handful of Samuel Palmers which I loved. I found out about Palmer quite a few years ago when I was visiting London. We were at the Tate Britain (another of my favorites for museum-going experience, though the Pre-Raphaelite rooms are always mobbed) which had a small exhibition of British prints and drawings, including many of Palmer's. I love the rustic, deeply spiritual and symbolic quality to his images, drawing of course from Blake, but reminding me also of Gauguin's Breton paintings and classic storybook illustrations.

I finished this quick tour with the very interesting exhibit on Netherlandish diptychs. I have a soft spot for Northern Renaissance art and loved these intimate little pieces. Many of them were displayed so that you could walk around the unfolded frames to see the back panels, which are often left hidden from sight. My favorite may have been the small Rogier van der Weyden image of St. George and the Dragon (the Met has a great collection of van der Weyden also), which the National Gallery had paired with what they were describing as the long-sundered other half of a diptych. The single small panel gleaming with George's armor, the dragon's scaly green, and the lush puzzle of detail, this piece now appears to have been accompanied by a serene Madonna and Child image.

I'm still reading Man Without Qualities (and loving it), and I'm still thinking about Magic Mountain, especially one of the final images in that book, of the fruit of life which is pregnant with death and was sired by death. I've also been tangled up in the "poem" of Holger which is paraphrased by Hans. I must have missed it the first time reading through, or at least missed its significance in tying up many of the far-reaching ideas.

Other than that, I've been struggling to stay warm, motivated, and not mind-numbed at the thought of the long stretch of time before I can go back to the academic way of life, surrounded by books and words, and comfortable cocooned away from this massive, frequently-overpowering city which is starting to get to me.