27 November 2013
I was 17 when JFK was murdered. At first I didn't believe the news, since I imagined that such a thing would not be possible. But the agitation of my fellow high-schoolers and our teachers soon convinced me. For the past week or so, there have been many programs on radio and television about JFK's life and death, about his killer, and about the physics of the event itself. All this has brought the period back to me. At the time, I was impressed by the drama of the succession, the grandeur of great events in high places. The human dimension of it, its meaning for his family and others, reached me only later. Ever since, I've had a strong sense of the unpredictability of life, of what the old Prayer Book calls "the changes and chances of this fleeting world."
15 November 2013
This afternoon I took myself to the Legion of Honor, to look at the Anders Zorn exhibition, and a much smaller display of works by Matisse. The Zorn pieces are technically very impressive and interesting. There are many of them, watercolors, etchings, and oils, and a few small bronzes. The paintings are conservative in technique and subject matter: rich Americans and such, and a dollop of Swedish and other lower class types, and waterscapes and so on. Zorn clearly intended to make money, and he did. Pots of it, which he and his wife used to create a museum of his works and Swedish folk art. The pieces showing promise of becoming real art, since they weren't made to flatter rich patrons, are the small bronzes. Some of the paintings looked familiar to me; I must have seen them in Stockholm. The Matisse paintings are joyful, colorful, playful even, unselfconscious products of a free, creative mind, unbeholden to social ambition. A huge relief after the too-perfect Zorn pieces. I will see them again. And, as I always do when I visit the Legion, I went to one of the permanent galleries, to look at Konstantin Makovsky's 'The Russian Bride's Attire,' a piece from 1887. This massive work is a riot of interest, to me at least. Although it portrays well-to-do women (Romanov royalty of the 1600s) preparing for a wedding, it has none of the slickness of society portraiture. It has cultural depth, charm, and dignity. There is action in the picture: a mother combing her daughter's hair, a woman shooing the bridegroom away from the doorway, young women singing, and so on. The work is rich in historical detail, in the clothing, furnishings, headdresses, and more. A joy to behold.