A last moment with a master...
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
I have spent twenty years talking about extraordinary works of art at The San Diego Museum of Art. The last time was eight months ago on a Tuesday morning when I gave of tour titled Women Artists-Women in Art to a large group of women visiting from Orange County. Georgia O’Keeffe, Käthe Kollwitz, and Nancy Lorenz among my favorite artists.
Because of Covid, docents like me no longer tour in art museums.
There is more than enough art to appreciate virtually, but for me, not being with the art is difficult. Beyond difficult. I have missed it terribly.
San Diego has been ordered to close down again, moving to the purple tier. No dining inside at a restaurant or bar. No gyms, churches or movies. And once again, no museums.
In the short period of time that The San Diego Museum of Art re-opened after the initial shutdown in March, I have not gone back. Waiting for I don’t know what...
Not long ago, Rembrandt’s first great self-portrait painted in 1628 was installed, on loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The painting, one of only forty that exists in the world today, is due to leave again in January. I had to see the portrait by the Dutch artist considered to be one of the greatest painters in European history before Covid closed the museum once again.
I couldn’t believe how emotional I became the moment I stepped into the rotunda with its elegant coffered and beamed ceiling. Such familiarity and comfort inside the icon of Spanish Revival architecture at the center of Balboa Park.
How many hundreds of times have I shown my docent badge to enter without having my temperature taken like today? 97.2 and I could proceed.
I climbed the massive grand staircase, running my hand along the blue tiles of the balustrades and made my way into the Fitch Gallery. The velvety russet red walls—a perfect backdrop for the Renaissance and Baroque collection. Goya, Rubens, Zubarán. I paused in front of Murillo’s The Penitent Magdalene, my first assignment to research as a trainee in the docent program so long ago.
I moved slowly to the middle of the breathlessly quiet gallery not wanting to rush this. Across the vast space, the dramatic intensity emanating from a striking small canvas mesmerized me drawing me toward it. As I stared at the radiant light on the young man’s right cheek, I let out a long sigh and crossed my hands across my chest grasping my shoulders. My heart beat calm and steady. Rembrandt, the talented twenty-something, gazed directly at me. I didn’t move.
I’m not certain how long I stayed with the stunning Rembrandt self-portrait. I do know it was long enough to take me away from my cares and concerns of the contemporary world.
Leaving the museum, I agonized over why institutions like this need to be categorized with drinking establishments and places of worship where people sing hymns. There is no talking in a museum, at least not as long as curators and docents aren’t allowed to give tours. There is no touching. Viewing works of art in a museum is a private experience. Like my time with Rembrandt van Rinj. We were alone. No masks needed.
I am very sad that he is now in quarantine. On view for nobody to see.
Read it with my coffee this morning. Put a smile on my face:) Rose
You have expressed what so many of us feel, so beautifully! Mary G.
I AM VERY SAD THAT WE ARE UNABLE TO AT LEAST JUST WALK AROUND AND VIEW ART FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD IT WOULD BE A BIG UP BEAT ACTIVITY ESPECIALLY NOW I UNDERSTAND HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS TOO LOVE FROM REALLY OLD BROAD IN P V
Oh this one made me tear up Marilyn. I feel the same.
I am so totally with you. They are bunching our museum's crowd with Oktoberfest revellers, and it's not fair. With good organization it should not be hard to move reasonably sized (small) groups of people around these ample galleries . Yet, the benefits would be enormous (better than therapy)RS
I sure hope Rembrandts painting is available for viewing before its departure date. My procrastination !!😬MP
I read your story during the night, so touching! I guess our emotions are on the surface these days! You capture the moments with your thoughtful touch of a visit to SDMA.