July 3, Friday
While we did not see these museums all in one day, it makes sense to put the stuff no one cares about in one place so that it can be easily avoided, like sheep shit on a…well, about every meadow, pasture, hillside, hiking trail, and lawn in the northern UK. The pano photo above is of the National Gallery, not to be confused with the National Portrait Gallery not with the National Museum of Scotland. Such inventiveness!
The National Gallery
Free to the public (donation encouraged), The National Gallery is in all ways marvelous. The works from the 1400s and 1500s are far less comprehensive than what one finds in Italy, but those that are here are in significantly better condition. The temperate Scottish climate over a few hundred years is probably the cause. Anyway, here are a few favorites:
This Titian depicts, if one believes the wall card, “The Three Ages of Man.” It was painted in 1513, give or take a year. The first scene of babies climbing over each other foreshadowed the rise of Google, Yahoo, and Facebook and their hiring practices. The winged baby is Cupid, presumably FB. Yahoo is on the bottom.
The second phase, and doubtless the one that caught my attention, is of “young lovers staring ardently into one another’s eyes,” though I see a naked, eager man showing concern that the maiden has been practicing with tiny flutes.
The old man in the background seems to have forgotten from whose head he had removed this skull. Regret, dementia, or both?
Landscapes are rarely demanding. Sometimes they offer mystery, often they lack focus. This great white tree simply leaped off the wall at us. It is a commanding painting [click to enlarge]. Normally, I think that a tree with white bark is a birch, but this seems too large to be birch. Perhaps it is (was) sycamore.
The artist did not paint a tree, else he would no more have cut off its canopy than a photographer might crop a dancer’s feet. This is a painting of the space in the forest commanded by the might and success of single member. All competition is vanquished and the lesser trees huddle together at a safe distance. Like high school.
Pas Mèché is the French equivalent of our expression “no way.” The subject is thought to be a barge boy, holding a whip for the horses and a bell to alert the lock masters. These painters of peasant life give us more value than do the portrait artists who painted rich people for commission. When you’ve seen one ego on canvas, you’ve seen them all.
Exactly what the boy is rejecting is left to the observer’s unsatisfied curiosity. He appears alert, confident, and optimistic. Lepage seems to admire his common subjects.
National Portrait Gallery
This magnificent museum does not allow photos from its primary galleries—where the paintings are. The building has a grand entrance hall with these busts, acknowledging in order of their appearance: architect, writer [to paraphrase Saturday Night Live, With a name like Cockburn, he has to be good], journalist, novelist, scientist, abolitionist, joke, publisher, poet, and painter. The selection demonstrates the Scots reverence for intellect. My purpose was a somewhat lower. I could not resist a Cockburn joke, like Didn’t he marry Sandy Vagina?
Edinburgh maintains this museum in a condition superior to the day it was built. There are modern touches, such as gift shop and lavatories, but as they were added, no expense was spared to make the new blend in. The love of architecture is ingrained. Everywhere in Edinburgh where the modern world has intruded on the past, great pains have been taken to keep from diminishing the old with the new. The Scots have a respect for open space. Americans treat civic buildings the same way Rod treats empty space on a dinner plate—why do you need a spot to rest your fork?
National Museum of Scotland
We spent little time here because we arrived about 45 minutes before closing. What we saw felt like a museum of natural history or a science museum.
The character on the right looks like a blind carpenter tried to crucify him.