A few weeks ago the Beav and I went down to Rochester to see what we could see. Our first stop was at the University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery, a museum for students, put together to demonstrate periods, styles, and themes. (That’s not a criticism btw. I wish I’d spent more time in museums like this when I was younger.)
Of the galleries in the permanent collection, the one covering American art was the most interesting, and Mortimer Smith’s painting is the best thing I saw all day.
This painting is the seed of a story and a trap: I start looking and can’t stop. My eye goes from fire to door to window to man to the boy’s silhouette and then round again without stopping, but the image is completely still. It’s a tableau, evocative, enigmatic and menacing. Yet details like the hams and the gun hanging from the rafters or the way the colours and lines in the doorway are distorted in the window are beautiful and reassuring. So just what exactly is going on here? I love it.
I also liked this painting by Winslow Homer. He’s a late-great and I’m often drawn to his moody seascapes, but this one really moved me.
Clearly there is something in me that wants to spend my every afternoon by the sea on rocks like these under a bright cool sun hanging in dim, quiet air. I swear I can hear gulls calling to each other (rudely of course) just above the frame.
Hale woodruff’s painting of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln stood out for being topical: Rochester is where Douglass and Susan B. Anthony are buried, and the city is steeped in the history of the Abolitionist and women’s movements. But context aside, the stark, graphic contrast and the arrangement of the figures remind me of a relief carving done in bright colour and I really liked it. Good hands and feet too.
Finally, some proof that kids were kids even back in the day: a dog named Gun.
Little Edward also rocks the red slippers and black pant suit.
(All images from the Memorial Art Gallery site.)