Rain, I can handle. Wind—in the usual amounts—I can handle. The combination is difficult, since the wind makes an umbrella impossible. Rain makes for gloomy paintings anyway, which one can sometimes recast as moody, but not always.
The organizers of this weekend’s event had given us two days for one painting. So when Saturday was both windy and guttering rain, Brad Marshall and I decided to take pencils to the Met instead. We thought we’d look at Max Beckmann, follow him up with some lighthearted Fragonard frivolity, and then find a bit of Roman statuary to draw. But as Brad held the elevator door, a gentleman turned to him and said, “Did you see the Caravaggisti? Really excellent.”
There really being only one Caravaggio, I’ve never been that interested in his followers. There’s a fine line between emotionalism and being just plain silly. So I was pleasantly surprised at what a fine painter Valentin de Boulogne was.
I found myself in a group of three ladies querying me about Judith and Holofernes. (Brad had neatly sidestepped.) “How do you know this stuff?” one finally asked.
“I’m an evangelical Christian. We learn this stuff,” I answered. But regardless of faith, these stories are a powerful part of our cultural legacy, since the books of the Bible are the greatest collection of literature surviving from antiquity. There was a time when everyone learned them, and they learned them predominantly through paintings. As Brad said later, “I know them from Art History.”
Valentin also turned out innumerable morality paintings, as per his time. All those fortune-tellers-with-soldiers put me in the mood to draw armor, so we made our way to that Hall. Since there were no benches, I asked a security guard if we could sit on the floor.
“Absolutely impermissible,” he sniffed, in the refined tones of a descendent of ten generations of Norman knights. “Not allowed… Still, if you promise to not tell my supervisor that I allowed it, go ahead.” Later, he walked by again and muttered, “Impermissible,” at me. He would have his little joke.
So we drew horses and armor, Brad sketching away lightheartedly and me fuming and cursing and complaining that I didn’t understand how the mannequins were seated.
“Stop drawing what you know and start drawing what you see,” Brad said, and it was, of course, good advice. I was rather surprised at the stature of these warhorses. In my mind’s eye, I’d seen them towering like modern-day Friesians. Instead, if the armor is any indication, they were about the size of my old quarter horse.
Suddenly it was 7 PM and time for us to head back, since Sunday promised to be a long day. We picked up a pizza as we exited the subway. That made it a perfect New York evening.