Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Paul Mellon and the Queen's Skirt... and an exception!

We went to the Yale Center for British Art, a compact, but wonderful collection of work from Paul Mellon's collection. We were lucky, someone told us, because there were no large special exhibitions, so more of the collection was on view than is normally the case. And what a collection ...  I took notes and photographs. Back (in this blog, in some detail) on June 7th, I had written about my Queen's skirt theory, where I argue that, often, portrait painters are more taken by the silks, the pearls, the furs, the embroidered details of dress, than they are by the wealthy or royal sitter's face.  And I found a couple of paintings that seemed to confirm my theory, nicely. The first is by Frederick Sandys, from 1866, called "Grace Rose":

She's lovely, but the vase and the roses and her necklace outshine her rather distant expression. Here is another, by Thomas Gainsborough, "Mary Little," from 100 years earlier, in 1763:

Again, lovely, a little more facial activity, but still, look at where he lavishes his attention:

The hand is like marble, perfect, but the poseys and the lace are alive. But, now, for the exception to the rule, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, "Mrs. Robinson," from a few years later, in 1784:

The clothing is, you should pardon the pun, immaterial.  Even the elaborate wig is scrubbed of extra details... what matters is this woman's profile.  She is herself, alone. She lived to be 42, and was painted by everyone .... but this has to be the definitive work. Go and see her. (There are hourly trains from Manhattan to New Haven, and the museum is free).

No comments:

Post a Comment