When I was staying in Eindhoven, for three months, I went to Brussels with my colleagues. Once we were there, we parted ways. I went on my own, sometimes, the best way to see a place.
My trusted Lonely Planet guide to Europe, "Europe on a Shoestring" gave me some good tips but not much information. For instance, I knew that I wanted to visit the Royal Museums but I had no idea what to expect there.
As I finished going through the rooms on the ground floor, I climbed the ornate stairs to the first floor. At the landing of the stairs awaited something that I would love to see. Rodin's Thinker. The unexpected pleasure felt like a gift! The awe-inspiring details and the coiled muscles of a man in deep thought, the texture of the surface would be impressive in any setting. Here, it was enhanced by its setting. It was illuminated by the sun fairly low in the southern sky. Light streamed through a window but no direct sunlight. It enhanced the contours and shadows cast by the taut and superbly defined muscles. I have not seen the replicas of this iconic statue placed in the open air (having missed Musée Rodin in Paris seventeen years earlier). I, however, felt that no setting could do better justice to it.
I reluctantly moved on, certain that on the way back I would have a last look at the Thinker.
I did not expect what was to come next. I turned into a room much longer than wide and in this alcove was a painting that had always affected me strongly - even in small and often black and white pictures I had seen of it. The uncluttered view, the total silence, the empty room at the end of which was this superb work of art – Jacques-Louis David’s painting, The Death of Marat (La Mort de Marat or Marat Assassiné in French) - took my breath away.
I enjoyed viewing it from a distance - through the door from outside the room, stood close to it to view the brush work and better observe the colours and soaked it all in.
In most people's minds, modern art is equated with abstract art. It means all that is not figurative, not realistic. I am sure that people who think so will be very much surprised if they are shown this painting and then told that art historians mark David and his works as the beginning of the modern era in art!
The impact the painting and the Thinker has been such that I hardly remember the other works I saw in that museum! Perhaps it is to be expected - that the sheer beauty and impact of these works, my personal affinity towards them, and the art-historical importance of the works should overshadow the other works. I hope I will visit Brussels once again and do justice to the other works.
Art Abroad VI
Art Abroad VI