This is Post #1 from London and Paris.
We land at 11:15 am at Heathrow Airport and, after going through Customs, catch the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station, a short walk from our hotel. A huge pot of English Breakfast tea is sent up to our room, which helps revive us after the long flight. Even so, we look a bit bedraggled, for it is now 4 am in Los Angeles. Too excited to take a nap, we catch a cab to the National Gallery. We’ll see if looking at beautiful paintings helps overcome jet lag. Following a hearty lunch, we actually feel almost normal and set off to tour the galleries.
The National Gallery is a treasure trove. One of the paintings I wanted to see was Renoir’s “The Umbrellas.” While in film school (25 years ago!) I had a poster of “The Umbrellas” in my kitchen over the stove. I used to study the woman in the foreground while I stirred the contents in my pots and pans. Now, as I walked into Room 44, I saw the real painting across the room. A wave of unexpected emotion engulfed me as I approached the woman in the black dress. “Wow, what’s this?” I wondered. Then as I approached to look more closely at this woman I remembered so well, I saw myself standing in front of a stove at a different moment in my life, when I was on the brink of change (choosing between “uncertain happiness” and “certain unhappiness” as I write about in Two in the Middle). That’s what this is, I realized. Renoir’s painting had magically transported me back in time, to a pivotal moment in my life story, making me appreciate the distance I had travelled.
We learned interesting details about Renoir’s painting. The outfits worn by the young girls on the right side of the frame reflect the fashions in 1881. Renoir’s painting technique is also looser on this side of the frame. In contrast, the woman in the foreground is wearing a dress that would have been worn in 1885, when Renoir had moved on to a different painting style. This is also when he added the umbrellas and completed the painting.
The National Gallery has a wonderful website, which allows you to take a Virtual Tour, making it feel like you’re walking into 18 of the museum’s galleries. You can even “step closer” and see brushstrokes. Although “The Umbrellas” is in Room 44, which is not part of the Virtual Tour, you can have a look inside Rooms 43 and 45 that include paintings by Van Gogh, Cezanne, Manet, Monet, and other Impressionists. If your cursor goes wild (like mine sometimes did), you’ll even glimpse views of the hardwood floor and skylights in the ceiling (which are actually interesting to look at). Click here to go to the page with the Virtual Tour link on the left side of the frame. And stay tuned for Post #2 from London and Paris.