THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO by HPW

Thursday, 23 July 2015

from a letter written by Dad in Chicago to Mum in Notting Hill, 1959

Note: the art gallery here is stupendous.  At first, I was angry at the thought of all this splendour, the Rembrandts & the Picassos, the El Grecos and the Utrillos, all the wealth of pictures being here in this brutal town.  And I sneered at the hanging, the spaciousness, the smooth money-no-object presentation, and saw it as being based simply on the fact that this picture is worth three million dollars, that another cool million.  But gradually the snarl & the criticism died down & became irrelevant.  I would prefer to see Velasquez in some dirty gallery in Italy or Spain, where the glory is not abstracted, conscious, but a fact of being, like the glory of the sun and the whiteness of dust – but all the same all this was trivial & petty because in fact the artists forbid you through pure power to do anything but realise that you are in the presence of people whose vision & authority is so enormous that you are only a mangy mongrel anyway & you had best keep your trap shut.  So I wandered about, as you do in a gallery, at a loss even for emotion or thought which could match the guessed-at glory, and in the dim and ignorant way, paid my respects and yours to dozens of pictures I had seen a hundred times in reproduction, notably the double-picture landscapes by Monet, one at sunrise & one at sunset; to strip cartoons by Goya; to Picasso after Picasso (mainly blue ones – that old guitar player, those three desolate figures on a foreshore) to Bosch (Paradise) El Greco (the gigantic assumption of the Virgin) & to Rembrandt who towers so humanly and is really damn and blast all words and ignorance and stupidity (one’s own) so undeniably, bugger the gas works, bloody marvellous.

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Published
Publication date: May 2017
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