Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Back in the USSR

Outside the Winter Palace (aka Hermitage)
I knew when I set out on the 30 paintings in 30 days challenge that it would be a . . . well, a challenge. For me, the biggest challenge was a trip to the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) and St. Petersburg, which my octogenarian mother invited me to accompany her on as part of her bucket list tour. Who could say no?
Optimistic as I am, I brought along art supplies, not accounting for the cold, rainy weather, which was not conducive to painting outside. Inside was not a good option either, as we were quite busy.
However, we saw fabulous art and architecture and contemplated deep history and culture. As much as I love watching football, nothing surpasses the thrill of standing in front of an incredible work of art and sensing firsthand what the artist saw as he or she stood in front of it, whether recently or 1,000 years ago. Masterpieces are undeniable in their execution, their composition, their color, their bravura – qualities that define them. For me, it is a sensation of awe, of desire, a visceral experience that defines a masterpiece.
Matisse's Dance, larger than life.
The pinnacle of the trip (from an art perspective) was the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. There can never be enough time there, what with 3,000,000 works in the collection, but our small group had the good fortune to be admitted two hours before opening time. We were alone in those great galleries, having a tête-à-tête with Rembrandt’s soulful portraits and Matisse’s giant, joyful dancers. From Caravaggio to Rubens to Picasso we wandered through brilliance and it was exhilarating.

I always love Cezanne's
still life & landscapes.
I studied in what was then Leningrad for a summer in the USSR as a student in 1985. To quote Paul McCartney, “Been away so long I hardly knew the place,” and it was remarkable to see the changes in the post-Soviet era. As a reminder of how powerful art can be, Wikipedia reports that the Beatles were labeled in the 1960s as the "belch of Western culture," and the Soviets denied permission in the 1980s (!) for Paul McCartney to play there.

My favorite floral painter, Henri Fantin-Latour.
Of course there were far more serious ramifications for displeasing the Soviets, including torture, murder, and exile to Siberia. Unfortunately, it seems as if the current Russian administration has not fallen far enough from that tree, in spite of significant improvements in daily life for many (but definitely not all) the Russian people. Still, the art alone was worth the visit, not to mention being with my intrepid and ever-curious mother, from whom I have inherited a deep love of travel and art, among other things.

With Mom at Peterhof, the Summer Palace on the Baltic.