Courbet and the Sea monster

On Saturday afternoon, I walked slowly through the rooms of ‘the little house’ at the Phillips Collection in out nation’s capital. Duncan Phillips loved art, studied art and after the death of his father in 1917 and his older brother from influenza in 1918 he started collecting works of art as a memorial to them both. From his grief emerged a passion of art and paintings. He later married an artist, Mary Acker and through their shared love of art, our nation benefits. I visited the Phillips Collection to see the Degas Exhibit. What I got was so far beyond the ballerinas drawn, sculpted, sketched and painted by Edgar Degas in the 1880’s.

I saw Paul Cezanne’s less than flattering self-portrait. The large Renoir painting titled Luncheon of the Boating Party hung not far from Honore Daumier’s The Uprising, a 1848 painting capturing the rebellion against the French Monarchy. It was dark and disturbing with faces that looked alien, almost science fiction even by 2012 cinematographic standards.

And then I stumbled upon a painting title The Meditteranean by Gustave Courbet, painted in 1857.

I read the monograph beside the painting and was suddenly and profoundly overwhelmed. And then I wept harder from sheer and utter gratitude for having the experience. This was the ultimate reason and value of art and the artistic works: to MOVE us, the effect our heart, our emotions our sensibilities. Art is meant to evoke and provoke and assuage our senses. And yet, we can stand safely in the gallery, illuminated brightly and surrounded by hushed fellow onlookers and peer into the heart and mind of another man’s vision. We can accompany them into that inner space that is their vision. And the artist is so profoundly astonishing that they can invite and capture us as if pulling us through a looking glass. And so I agree with Gustave Courbet’s words:

The Sea! The Sea with her charms saddens me; in her joy she reminds me of a laughing tiger; in her sadness she reminds me of the tears of a crocodile and in her fury,  of the raging, caged monster that can not devour me.

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