Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Quiet Diversions

The North Korean regime may seem completely alien to First-Worlders, but it must have an instinct for self-preservation. North Korea is in the position of the hostage taker who is completely surrounded by a SWAT team; he knows that if he fires a single shot--which may or may not kill his hostage--he will be dead in a second. That's why I'm not worried....much.

On my list of havens from the world are art museums. Viewing an artwork online is an imperfect substitute for visiting one, but the advantage is that virtual escape is but a click, not a plane ticket, away.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit

The Wall Street Journal to its credit will occasionally devote space to a lesser-known work of art, in this case ‘The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit’ (1882) by portrait artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925).
He set his large-scale composition just inside the main door of the Boits’ Paris apartment. The girls, in the foreground, are in a theatrically lighted space that melts into a darkened interior. Much of the painting’s allure lies in its careful balancing of color. Warmth slips in sparingly, through the caramel tones of a wall and the red of a dagger-shaped screen. Blackness holds the center, drawing the eye beyond the riddle of these four self-possessed children.

The most we can be confident of is their relative ages. The youngest, seated on the floor, holds a large, pink-cheeked doll and glances slightly away. The eldest stands in the shadows, in profile, next to her second-born sister. Daughter number three, distinguished by her blond tresses, is planted on pipe-cleaner thin legs at the far left, and seems to gaze inward. It is only the second-born daughter, dead center you suddenly realize, who truly looks back, her eyes alert with expectation.

Her older sister leans against an outsize vase, one of a pair. Flanking the passage into what appears to be a well-appointed parlor, the vases lend a sculptural quality to the three standing figures. A ruffle at the neck of the blond child echoes the fluting on the vases.
The WSJ art reviewer points us to a Velázquez from two centuries prior:
He borrowed his structure from Diego Velázquez’s “Las Meninas,” which he had copied on an 1879 visit to Madrid. Both works feature young girls and, unusually, are large and square. Like Velázquez, Sargent overcomes the square’s potentially deadening symmetry with a pleasing off-balance arrangement enhanced by deep space. And, also like him, he upends the conventions of group portraiture by giving each figure room to breathe. A viewer of the Boit daughters could seemingly join 4-year-old Julia on the carpet.
Las Meninas
There are beautiful aspects of the world that will long outlive our current "urgent" concerns. Quiet diversions can remind us so.

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