I did something rather wonderful this morning. It involved Grand Masters and there was not a golf ball in sight.
Golf is a whole other story: I once went for a golf lesson. I have no idea how blind people make a go of this inscrutable game. I found it impossible to line the iron up with the ball and spent a frustrating hour beating the hell out of thin air and terrifying my coach. After the lesson ended and he mopped his brow, he told me not to come back.
These Grand Masters would not have been seen dead, let alone alive, in the coveted Masters Green Jacket. It’s a truism of just about all paintings in Charles 1 collection that green doesn’t make much of an appearance. It was an unstable color. You couldn’t just drop a blob of blue into a blob of yellow and hope for the best. Reds predominate.
I gave up going to art galleries a long time ago. It’s not that it’s impossible to appreciate the beauty and sentiment of great art. Good magnification can make it worthwhile, but it’s the crowds that do it.
If you are trying to check out the art work with a pair of binoculars clamped to you face it makes it tricky to move to the best vantage point when the dear old public stand bang smack between you and the picture. Every time you move you have to refocus the binoculars and then bang, someone loses their patience because you are in their way. A neatly positioned nudge to the elbow delivers a nifty blow to the eye socket and game over.
I’ve had more injuries in art galleries than on golf courses.
What a treat it was then, to have “Charles 1 King and Collector”, at the Royal Academy, to myself, with only the hardiest of art lovers for company, at eight o’clock in the morning. There were no crowds, just a group of very polite people quietly waiting their turn. No risk of a black eye.
My host for this uplifting start to the day, had invited me to a private view that I had never seen, and as we wandered from room to room, she shared her extensive knowledge of King Charles 1 and his appetite for buying up the the art of less fortunate royal bankrupts when they were forced to sell up. She read the catalogue notes out loud and gave me a wonderful description of the brush work of Van Dyck and Titian.
It beats the last time I had the joy of such an enthusiastic guide: I went to the Tracy Emin at the Hayward. The notes were not accounts of the representation of noble ambition, but of earthier pursuits like sex and drugs and alcohol, all read out loud. I can get this at home. I can even manage to avoid making my bed, or possibly getting out of it, without too much trouble at home. Charles 1 collection, on the other hand, was well worth getting out of bed for.
What would have capped it all off, was to be allowed to touch the few sculptures that were there. I did this at a Jacob Epstein exhibition years ago and it was wonderful. What the dark dense material of a sculpture couldn’t convey to my eye, fingers did. I might not have seen what the casual, or not so casual, viewer saw, but the picture in my head was fulsome and the effort worth it.
We all filter our understanding of what we see through the lens of experience and where we’re standing at the time. Just because I happen to have a less visual experience of such delights does not mean it’s not worth it. It is.