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Friday, January 19, 2018

Last Washington weekend for Vermeer and Golden Age artists

Johannes Vermeer, Dutch, 1632-1675, Woman Writing a Letter, With Her Maid, c. 1670-1671, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

 Contingent upon the powers that agree or not agree on a government shutdown, it was reported last night that museums will remain open until Monday enabling the National Gallery of Art to present a major show for one more weekend.

At the Gallery guests will find others standing in a long (but fast moving) line to see a probable once-in-a-lifetime exhibition which is well worth the short (it may not look it) wait.  Private collectors and 33 museums from around the world loaned works for the show.


 Frans van Mieris, Dutch, 1635-1681, Woman Playing a Theorbo-Lute, 1663, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburg.  Mieris' teacher was Gerrit Dou (below)

Once inside the galleries, visitors will view domestic scenes of the 17th century by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) and his Golden Age colleagues whose competitive streaks drove them to achieve mastery in this genre of domesticity.

 Edgar van der Neer, Dutch, c. 1634-1703, Woman Tuning a Lute, 1678, Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Segregated in galleries by theme, motif, and composition, paintings were generally completed over 30 years (mid 1650s to about 1680). They depict everyday life in almost 70 different scenes, including ten by Vermeer, some of which have not been seen in the U.S. since their last presentation 22 years ago at the National Gallery. (Then, during the Vermeer exhibition of 1995-1996, the Gallery suffered two government shutdowns  but private donors came to the rescue, permitting the Vermeer exhibit to be open while the rest of the National Gallery remained closed.)
 Gabriel Metsu, Dutch, 1629-1667, Woman Writing a Letter, c. 1662-1664, The Leiden Collection, New York

Vermeer painted painstakingly but his work was generally unknown during his lifetime outside of Delft where he lived with his wife and ten (or eleven; depending upon what you read) children. (Four other children died as infants.) 

Perhaps because of his large family and obligations as an innkeeper, art dealer, and his meticulous attention to his art,  Vermeer's output was small (only 34 or 35, depending upon your sources) limiting dissemination to the public to purchase and support the artist. His wife, Catharina Boines, attributed her husband's death to financial pressures. One day he was well, and the next day, not so well, she wrote.  Whatever he was, his family was left in heavy debt.
Frans van Mieris, Dutch, 1635-1681, Woman Sealing a Letter by Candlelight, 1667, Private collection.  Mieris' teacher was Gerrit Dou (below)

About two centuries after his death, Vermeer was "discovered" by a German museum director. 

This information and much more is found in the 320 paged catalog with 180 color illustrations, available in the National Gallery's shops.

Gerrit Dou, Dutch, 1613-1675, The Dropsical Woman, 1663, Musée du Louvre, Paris.  Do you like the adjective? The label copy notes the physician examines a vial of urine to try to determine what ails m'lady while the catalog says doctors visiting female patients in the second half of the 17th century "enjoyed considerable popularity." A chapter in the catalog, "Heartache," includes other works of doctors' visits to women:  The Doctor's Visit (Steen and one by the same title by van Mieris), The Swoon (van Mieris), and The Doctor (Dou).  You must see to believe! 

Besides Vermeer, the other artists represented are Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu, Frans van Mieris, Caspar Netscher, Jan Steen, Cornelis Bisshis, Samuel van Hoogstraten, Nicolaes Maes, Cornelis de Man, Eglon van der Neer, and Jacob Ochtervelt, all from the Netherlands, all from the Golden Age of Art.

Gabriel Metsu, Dutch, 1629-1667, Woman Reading a Letter, c. 1664-1666, The National Gallery or Ireland, Dublin. How many dissertations have been written about this painting? I think it is my favorite in the show because of its complexity and once you think you may have discerned a possible meaning for a portion of it, another door opens to another possibility and endless interpretations.  It is a huge puzzle which I could gaze upon for hours, I believe. Note the maid, with her back to the viewer, holds a letter and looks out the window upon an angry sea. What is going on? Is someone longing for...whom? Upon the floor lies a discarded shoe while the lady reads a love letter?  She threw the shoe at her lover who escaped through the window to another shore?  What say ye the meaning of this? This is fun.  You see, art doesn't always have to be serious.  Find your meanings and observe the similarity with Vermeer's Woman Writing a Letter, With Her Maid, above, and write soon.

For some reason the show's paintings which were of most interest to me and pictured here, show the subjects looking to their rights which is the source of much of the light (the viewer's left). Sometimes the subjects greet guests face on. Why does the light never come from the right?  Many of those hanging on the walls feature women in similar constructions. Please see what you think and write soon.
At the opening of the exhibition, His Excellency Henne Schuwer, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United States, praises the warm relationship between his nation and the U.S.  To his right is Earl A. Powell, III,  the director of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and on Ambassador Schuwer's left are Mary Streett of BP, the major sponsor of the Vermeer show, and Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., curator of Northern Baroque paintings for the National Gallery of Art/Photo by Patricia Leslie

The exhibition was curated by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of Northern Baroque paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Dr. Adriaan Waiboer, head of collections and research, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; and Blaise Ducos, curator of Dutch and Flemish paintings, Musée du Louvre, Paris.  

Before the presentation came to the National Gallery of Art, it opened last year at the Louvre, followed by exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland. 

On the first page of the catalog, BP, the major sponsor, commends the National Gallery:  "What makes the National Gallery such a special place is not only its extraordinary collection but the fact that its offerings may be viewed free of charge."
Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry

When: The National Gallery of Art is open 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sunday. The exhibition closes Sunday, January 21, 2018.

Where: West Building, the National Gallery of Art, between Third and Ninth streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. On the Mall.

Admission charge: Never an admission charge at the National Gallery of Art.

Metro stations for the National Gallery of Art:

Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Navy Memorial-Archives, or L'Enfant Plaza

For more information: 202-737-4215


Monday, January 15, 2018

Great (not Best) Picture, 'The Post'

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in The Post/20th Century Fox

A better title would have been:  I, Katharine , since it's all about her.

The Post is a lesson in history for all, one that every journalist will want to see.

The timing of its release to coincide with the pub date of Michael Wolff 's Fire and Fury is prescient or just lucky (likely, the latter), to say the least. That we are dealing with the same issues today, almost 50 years after the publication of the Pentagon Papers and the effort by the President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, to silence publication of critical documents important for the livelihood of the union, is alarming.
The actual Nixon tapes are used effectively in shadowy scenes at the "White House" while Curzon Dobell, who portrays the president, stands with his back to the camera and speaks into a telephone.

The movie becomes a bit soppy when "Ms. Graham" sits on a twin bed and talks with her daughter while her granddaughters sleep together in the adjacent bed (?). The inclusion of this scene and too many references to "Oh dear, I am a woman and no one takes me seriously" was annoying.  Please.

The screen writers seem to try to bring some modernity to the piece and we can thank them for omitting the suggested, what-would-have-been-a gratuitous sex scene with Benjamin Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and his wife at the time, Tony (Sarah Paulson.  Was she really the fluff bunny the writers made her here?)

One can't help but compare the 1971 U.S. Supreme Court membership (which voted 6-3 to release the papers)  to today's group and predict a vote now on the public's right to know:  With Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and probably Roberts voting to suppress, and Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor voting to release, the outcome might depend upon Justices Breyer and Kennedy, ending in 5-4 affirmation, one can hope.

Congratulations to the screen writer, Liz Hannah, age 32, whose original idea was immediately snatched up by Amy Pascal and Steven Spielberg who happened to find the leading stars, Ms. Streep and Mr. Hanks, available on short notice to film. (Funny how things work.)

I doubt that many millennials have any familiarity with the Pentagon Papers since it preceded their births, and with the increasing demise of history taught in school, this ignorance may reduce the film's attendance.  But, there are still many old journalists around who will rush to see it

I am happy Daniel Ellsberg, 86, is still alive to see himself again preserving the union.

Tom Hanks is outstanding, natch, and there is no one who can top Meryl Streep's acting ability. Never mind that the screens are saturated with her and that, egads! Another rendition of Mamma Mia! (groan) is due out this summer.  (The first one cured me of any affinity for Streep in a musical.)

At Rotten Tomatoes 88% of the critics liked The Post (no surprise) but what is surprising is the far lower "liked it" score (70%) by audience members. 

The 4:40 p.m. screening at Tysons Corner on opening day was almost sold out with audience applause and gasps (the opening of a door) at the end, but that's the last time I feel compelled to see a movie on its opening, given the outrageous prices for entrance and treats. Cinema Arts is well worth the wait.

Oscar nominations:

Best Actor:  Tom Hanks

Best Actress:  Meryl Streep (should win but I don't want her to win since she's been nominated 20 (!) times and won three!  Please, can the judges bestow Oscar on someone else?)

Best Picture (which is Shape of Water, but since this is the "Year of the Woman," Lady Bird probably will win)

Best Director:  Steven Spielberg

Best costuming:  (Oh, those dresses looked really, really bad but nicely done by Ann Roth.  I never thought of Katharine Graham as being overweight like portrayed by Streep.)

Best Set and Production Design: Rena DeAngelo and Rick Carter (The recreation of the printing press process from 50 years ago is staggering.)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Free noon French organ concert Jan. 10, St. John's, Lafayette Square

 Julie Vidrick Evans by Tommy Jordan

Prize-winning concert organist, Julie Vidrick Evans, will play French music in a free concert Wednesday, January 10, 2018, at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square beginning at 12:10 p.m.

Ms. Vidrick Evans is the director of music for Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church who followed her grandmother's and mother's practices of organ playing, according to a 2016 article in the Washington Post. Ms. Vidrick Evans earned a master of music in organ performance from Catholic University and a bachelor of music from James Madison University.

The program: 

Piéce héroïque -- César Franck (1822-1890)

Suite de deuxième ton -- Louis Nicholas Clérambault (1676-1749)

- Duo

- Basse de cromorne

- Récit de nasard

- Caprice

Suite Brève -- Jean Langlais (1907-1991)

- Dialogue sur les mixtures

- Cantilene

- Fête 

The presentation is one of St. John's First Wednesday Concerts, always performed without charge and lasting about 35 minutes.

St. John's was founded in 1815 and is known to Washington residents as the yellow church at Lafayette Square. It's often called the “Church of the Presidents” since beginning with James Madison, who was president from 1809 to 1817, every president has attended services at the church, and several have been members. A plaque at the rear of St. John's designates the pew where President Abraham Lincoln often sat when he stopped by the church during the Civil War.

Benjamin Latrobe, known as the "father of American architecture" and the architect of the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House porticos, designed St. John's Church in the form of a Greek cross.

The church bell, weighing almost 1,000 pounds, was cast by Paul Revere's son, Joseph, in August, 1822, and was hung at St. John's that November where it has rung since. Wikipedia says two accounts report that whenever the bell rings on the occasion of the death of a notable person, six male ghosts appear at the president's pew at midnight and quickly disappear.

St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

Dolley Madison, wife of President Madison, was baptized and confirmed at St. John's, according to the National Park Service, which calls the church "one of the few original remaining buildings left near Lafayette Park today."

Following inaugural tradition, President Donald J. Trump and his family began his presidency on January 20, 2017 with private services at St. John's.

For those on lunch break Wednesday, food trucks are located at Farragut Square, two blocks away.

Who: Julie Vidrick Evans playing music by French composers

What: First Wednesday Concerts

When: 12:10 p.m., January 10, 2018

Where: St. John’s, Lafayette Square, 1525 H Street, NW, at the corner of 16th, Washington, D.C. 20005

How much: No charge

Duration: About 35 minutes

Wheelchair accessible

Metro stations: McPherson Square (White House exit), Farragut North, or Farragut West

For more information
: Contact Michael Lodico, St. John's director of music ministry and organist, 202-270-6265 or or 202-347-8766

Future First Wednesday concerts, all beginning at 12:10 p.m. and lasting until 12:45 p.m., are:

February 7:
Soloists from St. John's Choir

March 7: Preludes and Fugues from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier by Mak Grgic, guitar, and Stephen Ackert, organ

April 4: The premiere of Paul Leavitt's Fanfare for Trumpet and Organ by Lisa Galoci, organist, and Chuck Seipp, trumpet

May 2: Music for Angels, including Craig Phillips' Archangel Suite by Michael Lodico, director of music and organist, St. John's

June 6: Music by Women Composers, including Margaret Sandresky's Dialogues for Organ and Strings by Ilono Kubiaczyk-Adler, organist, with the U.S. Air Force Strings

Monday, January 1, 2018

Best Picture! 'The Shape of Water'

Sally Hawkins, left, and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water/ Photo by Kerry Hayes, 20th Century Fox

Dear Movie Fans,

I'm not a sci-fi lover but this movie wowed me! And those  at E Street, too, where most audience members clapped at the end. 

What does that tell you about its entertainment value?
Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water/ Photo by Kerry Hayes, 20th Century Fox

 It is super fab!  I loved!  Loved!  Loved it, and it's been eons since I've seen a movie this good, one that belongs in the genre of Fargo and Pulp Fiction.

As my friend, Claire, said, "It's magical realism" (?) and, "brilliant."

A woman who is mute (played by Sally Hawkins) uncovers a deep, dark mystery in the research lab where she works as a cleaning lady in Baltimore in the early 1960s.  Her best friend and helpmate is played by Octavia Spencer who showers us once again with immense talents she brings to the screen.

Elisa's nearby neighbor in her apartment building (Richard Jenkins as Giles) has been mentioned as a Best Supporting Actor nominee but I've got another idea.  Please read below.
 Michael Shannon, Sally Hawkins, and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water/Photo by Kerry Hayes, 20th Century Fox

 Michael Shannon has a filmography almost 25 years old, with titles like Man of Steel, The Iceman, and Wolves. His presence in Shape scenes almost steels (sic; sorry, couldn't resist) the show with his clenched jaw lines, the ability to speak through locked teeth, frozen expressions while he grips arms and transfers pain, all the while threatening lives and draining the audience of any semblance of rationality. 

He's going to explode at any moment Hold on. He's a monster in human skin who can breathe out of water, and he's rather convincing.

Yes, there's water involved!  But what does the title mean?  There is no "shape" of water; everything is fluid (ahem), changing, and it's time to go with the flow?  Down, down, down we go?  
In an interview with Rachel Martin of NPR, Guillermo del Toro, the masterful author of the tail tale, says the film is about communication, how two mute beings connect "beautifully...I think that this is a movie that is incredibly pertinent and almost like an antidote to a lot of the cynicism and disconnect that we experience day to day."  

Del Toro's story was shaped by fairy tales (but don't let that deter you) and his latent Catholicism.

Shape is a thriller, a romance, a comedy, a crime story, a keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat mix to flood your senses.

Yes, there are real sex scenes, masturbation, female frontal nudity (natch: Has there been male frontal nudity?  Show me), and the Parents Guide says the F bomb is used 12 times, but honestly, since we have become immune to these words, why use them at all?  To show we can flow with the rest?   

Throw in blood, gore, a "R" rating, and this is not a movie for children.

It's one of those rare creations which I wish I had not seen so I could see it again for the first time.
Here's a link to the trailer for Shape of Water and a few Oscar nominations:

Best Actress:  Sally Hawkins as Elisa

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer as Zelda

Best Supporting Actor:  Michael Shannon as Strickland (with  nods to Michael Stuhlbarg as Robert Hoffstetler and Richard Jenkins as Giles)

Best Original Screenplay:  Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor

Best Original Score:  Alexandre Desplat

Best Cinematography:  Dan Laustsen 

Best Costume Design:   Luis Sequeira

Best Film Editing:  Sidney Wolinsky  

Best Production Design:  Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

Best Sound Design:  Nathan Robitaille

Best Sound Mixing:  Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern