Travels with Bryan Memorial Gallery

By Mickey Myers, Executive Director

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

I’ve always loved this quotation by Ralph Waldo Emerson, ever since first coming across it in the days when travel was but a dream.  There was something about its impetus to find beauty in the ordinary that stirred my stay-at-home soul, sending my imagination soaring whenever I read it.

Like everything else, travel means different things to different people: business trips, family vacations, destination events, finding new places to paint and escape from just about anything. At the conclusion of these winter months, there are days when it seems that everyone is going somewhere, even for just a change of winter scenery.

This year, travel seems to be a theme among many things we are doing at the gallery.  We didn’t really plan it this way, but it developed out of exhibits we wanted to offer and programs we considered providing.  All of a sudden, we found ourselves with a thread of an idea, twisting through the programs on the schedule, and the theme of travel was born.

The travel theme has landed squarely in three major Bryan Gallery undertakings.  They are:

TMNicholas_ItalianHarborTraveling Artists, the Main Gallery exhibit, opening May 4 through June 25.  When originally suggested, we wondered if we could get any of our artists to share their travel pictures, and after we announced this exhibit were we surprised, in fact dumbfounded!  There were more entries to this exhibit’s jury than to most exhibit juries, and the countries represented were more far away and exotic than ever, some we had not heard of:  from Provence to Portugal, from Croatia to Argentina, to the Kjollefjord, the Black Desert in Egypt, to Myanmar.  Traveling Artists will take you around the world several times over. To say the least, our bucket list just grew in response to the checklist for this exhibit.

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Chagall: Colour and Music:  Little did we expect when we looked around to see “what’s playing” nearby, that the largest exhibit of Marc Chagall’s work ever mounted in Canada was a bus trip away at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal.  Remember when Charlie Nardozzi came last year to speak about the gallery’s ROMANCING THE GARDEN exhibition?  He dazzled us with the story of his upcoming trip to the gardens of the British Isles and one of our board members took the trip with him.  She came back, singing the praises of Goodspeed and Bach, the Burlington-based travel company that organized the trip.  So we approached G + B, and we’re going to Montreal.  Deb Flanders of Goodspeed and Bach is planning our trip and coming with us, and I’ll go along to fill in with stories about Chagall – a man of many countries, many talents and many colours – spelled the international way.  The trip is May 23.

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Frank Mason:  Artist and Teacher:  Frank Mason (1921 – 2009) left his mark on art and artists in so many varied ways, it is a toss up to know where to begin his story.  In Vermont, however, we can begin his story in Vermont.  Frank loved Vermont.  He loved to teach in Vermont.  He considered the rolling vistas perfect for how he wanted his New York City-based Art Students League students to think about landscape and paint landscape.  So every June for 40 years, Frank and his Art Students League students would come to paint for the month in Vermont.  It created such a momentum that today, 8 years after his death, the students – now many established painters – are coming to the same rural communities to paint in a group.  Vermont and its mystical perspective does it again.  This exhibit represents travel from the point of view of the destination, which Vermont wears proudly.  22 of Mason’s Vermont paintings will hang alongside the works of at least 40 of his students.

L476_Goodrich Silos, Peacham, VT

Finally, as the year comes to a conclusion around the various holidays, an exhibit is in the planning stages that represents a different kind of travel – the travel of the imagination – the twilight zone.  Fantastical Landscapes and Imaginary Places (November 9 – December 30) will represent works, limited only by the dreams of our artists.  More will be available about this exhibit soon.

So this exhibition year will conclude as it is starting, with visits to places that are new to us:  new landscapes, new light, new terrain, new ideas, with the thread of skill, tying it altogether.

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Haar

Some of my favorite books and movies are art related.  One of the first art novels I read was Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracey Chevalier.  It’s a novel about Johannes Vermeer, life in 17th century Delft, Holland and the girl who sat for his famous masterpiece.  The movie starring Scarlett Johansson & Colin Firth was also very well done and seemed to employ Vermeer-type lighting.

Since Girl with a  Pearl Earring, many other art novels have been written.  One of my favorites, is The Lost Painting, by Jonathan Harr.  Harr is the author of A Civil Action and professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.  In this book, Harr weaves a detective-type fictional story, based on solid documentation, about a priceless Caravaggio masterpiece, The Taking of Christ c. 1602, which had been missing for two centuries.  As you may surmise from the title of the book, the painting is discovered.

lost painting cover

The book revolves around Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Caravaggio scholars (I was not aware, but there are thousands), conservators and the incredible records from the European archives.   It also gives an inside look into the dealings of museums and galleries, as well as  the conservation process and it’s associated pitfalls.

As the story unfolds, a clue discovered by a graduate student while scouring some European archives, leads to the search for the painting.  The archived documentation indicated that the painting was located somewhere in the UK.

In addition to the original Taking of Christ, there were also 12 known copies of the painting, some believed to have been painted by Caravaggio, his students, or his  “studio help”.  One of the copies was stolen in 2008 from the Odessa Museum in Ukraine and later recovered when the thieves tried to sell it in Germany.

damaged copy stolen from Odessa, Ukraine in 2008Caravaggio_-_Taking_of_Christ_-_Odessa,_damaged

As the search for the original  painting intensifies, a Caravaggio scholar/conservator is called by a monastery in Ireland to look at a painting which required cleaning and restoration.  When the conservator sees the painting, he immediately knows what he has found, the long-lost Caravaggio, the Taking of Christ.  The conservator does not reveal his discovery to the monastery.

The story now changes direction and delves into the analysis of the painting to prove it’s authenticity.  To completely verify this, the conservator wanted to acquire  another Caravaggio and take a minute fleck of paint for analysis and comparison to confirm the painting was painted by Caravaggio himself.  Acquiring another Caravaggio to make this comparison was a difficult task which took many months of negotiations with the museums of the UK.   Finally, another Caravaggio is acquired on loan.   However, when the painting arrived, any material analysis had been cleverly precluded by the loaning institution.

Eventually, a conclusive determination is made that the painting is indeed the original Taking of Christ, and the conservation process is started.  During the initial restoration, improper materials were used which caused major, near catastrophic problems.  The painting required a second restoration in a more appropriate manner using the materials of Caravaggio’s era.  Astoundingly, this restoration was also seriously botched again and a third and final restoration was required.

Today the painting resides in the National Gallery of Ireland, on permanent loan from the monastery.

For me & many others, the book is a page-turner. Learning about Caravaggio, the scholars, the archives, the conservation process and some of the dealings between museums,  was very interesting & informative.

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The image of the Taking of Christ.  Caravaggio painted himself in many of his paintings.  The man at the far right with the dark beard holding the lantern which illuminates the scene is believed to be Caravaggio.

 

by Jim Gallugi