Today was rainy and cool, so we went to the art gallery of the National Museum, which displays art from Roman times up to the mid-twentieth century. Much of it is from Norwegian artists, but there is art from all over the world. (There’s even one piece by a Swedish artist, Anders Zorn.)
The go-to piece here is Edward Munch’s “The Scream.” As you might expect, it draws quite a crowd – but unlike the Mona Lisa, you still can get close enough to appreciate it – if art appreciation is what you had in mind.
Maggie and I hadn’t had that much exposure to Norwegian artists. We were impressed by the quality, and by how connected they were to trends in the rest of the art world. They had an intense appreciation for the natural world around them; even though it was sometimes pretty harsh, they found beauty.
Another feature that differentiates the Norwegian art is how unhappy so many of the subjects were. For the most part, they were sick, hungry, cold and tired. The people seem to feel all of the depths of the human experience with very few of the heights. Their only saving grace seems to be that they had artists of passion, skill and empathy to capture their misery.
The art from the rest of the world is more upbeat. One piece that stood out to me was Artemisia Gentileschi‘s “Santa Maria Maddalena Penitente.” Take a look at this for a minute:
This painting is unusual for several reasons: for one, it’s by a female artist, one of the few women painting in the post-Renaissance era; for another, the tone of the painting is completely the opposite from that shown in most of the other paintings of Mary Magdelene, where instead of being filled with inspiration as she is here, Mary is either sexualized, consumed by regret for past sins, or both; her life is spent, and all that remains is fear of divine retribution. It goes without saying that those other works were all painted by men.
For us, the one take-your-breath-away painting was Andrew Wyeth’s “Albert’s Boy.”
It’s hard to see in this picture, but the level of detail is amazing. Maggie and I were sucked into this boy’s world and couldn’t get away. Even the detailed photo below doesn’t begin to show the work that went into making this painting. The surface has been repeatedly scraped and scratched, then washed over with a fine glaze. Clearly, Wyeth was expressing the depths of feeling that were raging under this placid exterior.
It was a good reminder for us of why we need to keep going out to look at actual paintings. A photo just can’t convey the three dimensional reality of an original piece.
All in all, this is a fine art museum. There’s a nice variety of art, it’s all approachable, the crowds were manageable on the day we went, and it’s a decent size, so we weren’t overwhelmed at the end of the visit. If nothing else, for a few hours we left the crushing reality of the outside world and entered into other people’s reality for a little while. I’m happy to say that we were glad to be back – those “good old days” weren’t necessarily as good as people would like to think.