A Vermeer Souvenir

I’m a sucker for museum gift shops. To me they are vastly different from the typical tourist knickknack stand. Why? Because a shot glass with the I <3 NY logo on it isn’t nearly as charming as a shot glass with Matisse’s Blue Nude. Then again, maybe shot glasses aren’t “charming” at all, so let’s ditch the shot glasses and consider the notecards and postcards, ready-to-hang prints, umbrellas, glass paperweights, and tote bags. Art museums are proud of their permanent collections, as they should be, and they happily hawk goodies that bear the images of the mainstay masterpieces which adorn their gallery walls.

The gift shop at the National Gallery of Art was huge! Like a floor in a department store. When I strolled in after viewing the Degas/Cassatt show I thought “I’m gonna be in here for an hour!”. Luckily I kept the time, and my spending, to a minimum. I came out with a bookmark of Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance, one of the National Gallery’s prized possessions. I was genuinely in need of a new bookmark so it’s all good. Here she is already at work holding a place:

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It’s a trivial thought, but I wonder what the great artists would think if they saw their work mass produced in this way .. on bookmarks, baubles, and magnets? How would Degas feel knowing that his Dancers were holding a grocery list on a refrigerator? Or da Vinci if he learned that people were sipping coffee from a  Mona Lisa mug? We’ll never know. The way I see it, if I’m going to use a bookmark, why not glance at a Vermeer when I turn the page? He comes with me as I ride the train and read, and to modeling jobs when I read on my breaks. How I love Vermeer :-)

And here is the full Vermeer painting Woman Holding a Balance, from 1664:

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This is a magnificent painting in so many ways, considered by some to be Vermeer’s best. The woman is most likely Vermeer’s wife Catharina, who was probably the model also for Girl Reading a Letter by an Open WindowOne can clearly see a resemblance between the two. As always with Vermeer, the composition is extraordinary. Horizontal, vertical, and diagonal “lines” are organized with geometric brilliance, and they converge at the visual center of the piece which lies at the woman’s hand holding the balance. And since a balance is a weighing and measuring instrument, Vermeer creates a fully realized work consistent with the theme of equilibrium. Also take note of the arrangement of color: two masses of blue in the woman’s jacket and the blue cloth on the table, and small dots of sparkle in the pearls in the open jewelry box.

The intriguing nature of Vermeer’s work takes us deeper when we analyze the subtext of this painting. Art scholars have stressed the significance of the painting in the background. It is a depiction of “The Last Judgment”, and you can bet not some random choice by Vermeer. The artwork page for this work on the National Gallery website offers this interesting assessment:

The woman’s gaze at the balance, when considered in the context of the Last Judgment on the wall behind her, suggests that Vermeer, a Catholic, sought to infuse this work with religious and spiritual significance. Saint Ignatius of Loyola instructed the faithful to examine their consciences and weigh their sins as if facing Judgment Day. Only such deliberation could lead to virtuous choices along the path of life. Poised between the earthly treasures of gold and pearls before her and Last Judgment painting’s stark reminder of the eternal consequences of her actions, this woman personifies the values of materialism and morality that jostled for dominance in 17th-century Dutch society.

Yeah, maybe that is too much to squeeze onto a bookmark! But I don’t care. Vermeer is marking my places as I read, and learn, and embark on journeys both intellectual and spiritual, and reminding me, with his serene and contemplative woman, to seek balance, harmony, and sound values in life.

Explore this painting further at Essential Vermeer

Portrait of Jessie

Helloooo friends! Hope you all had a great weekend. Is it just me or is this summer just flying by? I need to get more sun because pretty soon I’ll wake up one morning and it will be Labor Day already!

I’m hoping to get down to DC this week for two shows: Degas/Cassatt  at the National Gallery and Artists and their Models at the Archives of American Art. I also have two modeling gigs and possibly – hopefully – a family sit-down to straighten out our issues. Oblivious to all of this human drama is Jessie the cat, who hasn’t made an appearance on Museworthy in a long time. I realize that cat pictures are not exactly rare on the Internet, but I couldn’t resist sharing this one with all of you. Sweet Jessie was taking a nap in the garden this afternoon so naturally I had to disturb her for a little photo shoot. My girl :-)

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Thank You Robin

The evil beast has snatched another victim. Or the “Black Dog” as Winston Churchill called it. No matter the descriptive epithet, depression is an absolutely brutal, unforgiving, unrelenting vicious illness. Those of us who suffer from it can try to convey its debilitating effects to non-sufferers and hope that they simply take our word for it. Clinical depression is nothing short of a fiend. A malicious demon that battles for your very soul. It keeps you constantly on the defensive, menacing you, taunting you. Yesterday, beloved actor Robin Williams tragically reached the point – the point of no return – where he just could not make it through one more day. In his California home, he took his own life. He was 63 years old. God rest his soul.

A shy, bullied only child, raised in the midwest, often left alone to his own devices, Williams seized his coping mechanisms, carried them into adulthood, and spun them into pure magic. A husband, father of three, Julliard alum, Oscar winner, stand-up comic, devoted friend, tireless supporter of the USO and St. Jude Children’s Hospital, actor of such astonishingly vast range he could communicate, and communicate with complete authenticity, both hilarity and heartbreak, joy and pathos, absurdity and earnestness. The performer who can transition between comedy and drama is a rare breed. Jack Lemmon comes to mind, as does Tom Hanks. But Robin Williams as an individual revealed a warmth and self-deprecating candor that is uncommon among show business types. He made no secret of his drug and alcohol addictions, his insecurities, and of course, his decades long struggle with depression. He sought, above all else, to entertain us. And boy did he.

Robin Williams, our genie and jester. Our alien, our mime, our english teacher, our Boston shrink, our stream-of-consciousness talk show guest … ours. Rest in peace. And thank you.

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Light Years

I was going to open my birthday blog post with some “wise” and insightful quote about how aging is really a liberating, beautiful experience full of maturity and honesty or whatever, but come on . . . those quotes are all horseshit. And if anyone tells me that as a woman at 46 I am “ripening” they’re getting a knee to the groin. Ripening? What am I, a banana?

It goes without saying that I am grateful to be alive, healthy, and celebrating a birthday as opposed to, you know, NOT celebrating one. On the other hand, I can’t exactly bring myself to jump for joy either. It doesn’t help that I overheard a conversation between two guys on a crowded subway a few weeks ago. One of them was telling the other about a woman at his gym who flirts with him regularly. While he conceded that she was very nice and looked good, attractive and fit, he said he’ll never ask her out because, and I quote, “She’s old. She’s like 40!”. His friend shared in the horror by replying “Ew! That sucks.” The “ew” was a nice touch, don’t you think? There I was standing right next to these guys, trapped with no way to escape until my stop came up. The conductor’s announcement of 14th Street never sounded so good. I was outta there. What a relief.

Just a couple of New York jerks, right? Not worth getting upset over? Perhaps. But that attitude is much more prevalent than you think. Much much more. Especially in this city, which has ruthless tendencies. Yes, that attitude is hurtful, even cruel at times. Take my word for it. I have extensive firsthand experience. So today, on my 46th birthday, I feel like I have to apologize for not being Kate Upton.

My mother gave birth to me in 1968 and there’s nothing I can do to change that. Nor can I change, apparently, my habit of taking selfies on Photo Booth after knocking back a couple of Mike’s Hard Lemonades. Heck it’s my birthday. If I want to make an ass out of myself I will ;-)

4-up on 7-21-14 at 7.47 PM (compiled)

4-up on 7-21-14 at 7.48 PM (compiled)

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Summer in Full Swing

Helloooooo friends! It seems that I left this blog in the hands of Gaston and Isabel for the past week. And what have I been doing in the meantime? Nothing particularly interesting. A little summer reading, a little gardening, a little bike riding.

As the hot temperatures have set upon us and a hurricane pounds up the east coast this Fourth of July weekend, I’d like to offer my yearly Auntie’s brag about my niece Olivia. She just completed the 6th grade with stellar marks and, to top it off, won the end of year award for “sportsmanship in softball”. Yeah Olivia! At the age of 11 she’s already a better athlete than I’ve ever been. My brother took this picture of Olivia at the last game of the season. As you can see, she’s contemplating her strategy for her next at bat. Love this girl :-)

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Olivia is now enrolled in summer day camp and having a blast. My brother is immersed in music composing jobs, my sister-in-law is doing some renovations at the country house in the Catskills, and Mom is working on paintings for her solo art show in the fall (more on that to come). As for me? Just taking life one day at a time, anticipating a summer of afternoon sunbathing in the park, some writing, volunteering, plenty of reading, visiting friends, going to church, and, lo and behold, some art modeling! Yes I actually have gigs booked in July. I had to hustle and harass for them, but I got them all the same.

I wish everyone a fabulous weekend whether you will have rain or shine, mild breezes or stuffy humidity. Happy Fourth of July! Be safe, be joyful, be grateful. I’ll see you all very soon. Peace, friends.

Central Park, New York City, July 4th, watercolor, Maurice Prendergast, circa 1903:

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Models Front and Center

~ Be still my heart ~ Can it be? Is it real? A museum exhibition devoted to artists’ models? Why yes, yes it is! Hallelujah! :happy dance:

The Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian has organized “Artists and Their Models”, a collection of photographs, letters, journals, and drawings exploring the professional experiences and interactions between models and artists over many decades. From the exhibition page, one passage jumped out at me: ” Models are too often given short shrift in art history, their names and stories left unknown unless their fame came by way of scandal.”. How true that is.

Many thanks to Fred Hatt for emailing me this story from NPR and to Andrew for posting it on Twitter. Good work guys! The exhibition is on view until August 27th. Think I’ll be making a trip down to D.C. :-)

And now a snapshot into the current art modeling world that may find its way into “archives” someday. I took this picture at the National Academy, Saturday painting class with Dan Gheno. It was the long break and everyone left the studio for coffee and fresh air. That’s a work-in-progress of me on the canvas, and my modeling partner Raven resting on the platform. He looks comfortable!

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In Case of Failure

On December 7th, 1941 the Japanese bombed the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Five weeks later on January 17th, 1942, a 33 year old man in New York City – an Armenian immigrant to America – enlisted in the U.S. Army. On Ancestry.com his civil occupation is listed as “skilled motion picture projectionist”. He was “single, without dependents”, 5’6″ tall, completed four years of high school, and was a private in the Infantry. He was my great uncle Leon Krikorian, and I remember him well :-)

Leo was among the 73, 000 American troops (156,000 Allied troops altogether) who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, a mission known as “Operation Neptune”. Today the free world commemorates the 70th anniversary of that historic mission. My uncle was wounded on those beaches and was awarded a Purple Heart, something he always dismissed in conversation and never wanted to talk about. He’d talk about the war, yes, but not his medal. And he admitted with candor and honesty that he and his fellow infantrymen felt “fear” that morning under stormy ominous cloud cover, and endured hours of seasickness during the rough crossing of the English Channel.

In a letter written the day before the invasion (mistakenly dated July 5 instead of June 5) General Eisenhower penned a worst case scenario note in the event that the mission failed. It is known as the “In case of failure” letter, although that phrase does not appear in the text. Scrawled on a 4 x7 inch sheet of beige notepaper and written on a portable desk, the note is brittle and worn. Eisenhower had folded it and tucked it in his wallet. In it he wrote, “The troops, the air, and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” That’s a five star General right there.

Uncle Leo achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant. He died in 1992 and is buried at Long Island National Cemetery. RIP.

Photos of D-Day, which speak for themselves:

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