October 22, 2018

A travelogue of Museums and Art Galleries


As an adolescent I dreamt of nothing more than a visit to the metropolis of Bilat my dreamland. In my imagination, I saw London as a city besieged by tragedies, great fires dating from 1300 onwards. The 1666 Fire swept across and destroyed half of London, the devastating Plague of 1665, the Dickenson era, whose writings brought social changes thru the emergence of the industrial revolution and so forth. The horrific aerial bomber Dog fights over London by the Germans in 1944 destroyed much, but London came out of all and shines as the home to the finest art galleries, museum and one of the most visited cosmopolitan city in the world, an epicenter of historical heritage and culture.
My first visit to London was in mid 1970. My husband, Reza educated me to appreciate art. He took me to one of his very special and favorite art gallery, the National Art Gallery in Trafalgar square, to see Claude Monet’s Water Lilies in oil. We sat on the polished mahogany bench facing the painting. Feasting our eyes on the mesmerizing endless whole of a water surface with no horizon and no shore. We were art struck. The limitless expansion of water and the delicate lilies dominated the canvas.
National gallery has a rare collection of other water lilies of Monet,’ the Water garden at Giverny’ and ‘Water lilies in Pond’, delicate and rhythmic stokes of white on the water from his palette was hypnotic, Monet’s canvases of cafes and theatres in the 19th century adorned other walls . Another caught my attention was ‘A Woman seated Sewing ‘by Johannes Vermeer 1655, an illusion, like real life, distinctive in clarity, sharp in composition like a photograph. The other divine ones were of Renoir and Degas.
A year later were in Paris and stayed close to the Louvre so that we could visit the museums several times during our stay in Paris. Built in the 12th century it dominates the heart of Paris, overtime became the residences of kings of France and later a museum in 1793. The Louvre takes one breath away, unparallel in its magnifence, gilded and baroque in character. It displays works of western art from middle ages to 1848, ancient civilization and Islamic art works. It has the single most impressive collection of art on planet, dates back to the reign of Francis 1 of France.
The most viewed, sung, written and admired art work at the Louvre is the portrait of Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, 1503-1506 mounted on a poplar wood panel. It is thought to be the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a business man. It is expressed as ‘illusionism’. The museum hosts paintings of the ‘Coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte’ by Jacques-Louis David. The virgin and child with St. Anne by Leonardo ‘ liberty leading the people’ by Eugene Delacroix ‘la belle jardinière’ by Raphael, also much admired are art works by Peter Paul, Rubens, Johannes Vermeer and many others master painters.
The first time we were in the Hague was in 1976. We went from Frankfurt to The Hague by train to meet my brother-in-law, Saiyyid M Hussain who was on a GOB scholarship at the Institute of social studies to do a Diploma and a second masters in international relations. Another reason was also to see the art works of great Flemish masters. Holland is the home of old Flemish masters , unique art galleries, the Mauritshuis and Gemeente museums. Most amazing was the’ Panorama Mesdag’, one of the largest panoramas on the planet. One experiences magical optical illusion at 360 degrees angle a full circle every hour, Holland painted in one moving canvas created by Scheveningen. The Hague is the home to the famous painting by Johannes Vermeer,’ Girl with the Pearl Earring’, it is high light of the Mauritshus museum since 1902 .
Autumn sun shone over the canals In Amsterdam, small stone bridges connecting streets, doll like houses along the waterways, chatter of shoes on the cobblestones, bicycles whisking between pedestrians. Paintings everywhere. Shops, offices homes and eateries had paintings of known and unknown artists. A nation of art lovers. The Van Gogh museum stood tall amongst all, an entire museum dedicated to him alone. A much misunderstood genius who became famous only after his death. His most versatile and impressive is that of his self portrait, sunflowers, painting of cafes and irises. He was an impressionist artist, his work has dynamism, exuberant brush strokes and individual vision. His canvases are heavy in texture of colour almost protruding out of canvases. His most vibrant are the seasons and harvests which are predominated in bold colours. What I loved besides the paintings in Holland was their pickled fish, cheeses and Dutch pea soup. Finger licking afternoon teas! We walked to Rembrandt square and visited the Anne Frank House.
In 1986 I was hosted in Italy by our dear friends Ambassador Waliur Rahman and his wife Shahrukh. Wali arranged my visit to the Vatican, officially a city state, walled enclave within the city of Rome. Wali so generously and with articulate precision and care arranged visits to other historical sites.
The Sistine Chapel was breathtakingly magnificent and unparallel in grandeur, ceilings adorned by Michelangelo’s frescos. He painted the history of mankind before coming of Christ. It is a masterpiece and considered one of the most important painting in the world. It covers 800 sqm of wall ceiling and took 4 years to complete. Between 1508-1512 under the patronage of Pope Julius 11, Michelangelo painting of the Sistine chapel frescos changed the course of western art, came to be known as the Renaissance period.
Over the years we travelled to so many other countries and had the opportunity to see some of the finest art galleries and museums,” The Metropolitan Museum ‘in New York, others in London, Germany, France and most importantly the museums and Mosques in Iraq and Turkey. I have yet to translate those experiences into memoranda.

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