Recouping Lost Artistic Opportunities

Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene
by Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1625, oil on canvas.
All images courtesy the Allen Memorial Art Museum,
Oberlin College.

It’s often the case that when you live somewhere, you don’t take full advantage of the opportunities that the place affords, and only after leaving do you realize how valuable those opportunities were. This can be true for artists, who, after moving, may regret not utilizing a strong local community of artists, not frequenting their former city’s art institutions, or not painting great parts of the local landscape as much as they would have liked. Because I have moved across the country several times in recent years, I’ve often felt this way. Recently, though, I was lucky to have a second chance to appreciate an artistic aspect of my life that I had once taken for granted.

I attended Oberlin College, in Ohio. Among Oberlin’s notable institutions is the Allen Memorial Art Museum. The Allen houses a formidable collection of Old Master paintings and is often listed among the best university art museums in the country. The museum is a vibrant part of campus life, and it’s particularly loved for its semesterly art rental at which students can borrow certain paintings from the museum’s permanent collection to hang in their dorm rooms. Among the artists whose works are loaned out to students are Picasso, Renoir, and Lichtenstein.

During my time at Oberlin I visited the Allen, studied there, and was familiar with the permanent collection. Nevertheless, I didn’t give it nearly as much of my attention as it deserved. Even then I knew that I wasn’t taking advantage of the museum as much as I should, and as soon as I graduated I wished I had spent more time there.

The Allen recently closed for a yearlong renovation, and it was announced that while the museum is closed, selected pieces from the Allen’s collection would travel to museums across the country. Their first stop was The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, where I now live. The exhibition, “Side by Side: Oberlin’s Masterworks at The Met,” opened in March and will be on display through August 29. It comprises 20 pieces that have been hung throughout The Met’s galleries, alongside other paintings from the same artists, eras, and regions.

When I recently walked into the European Painting wing at The Met and saw the 16th-century Spanish painting The Fountain of Life—one of the Allen’s most memorable pieces—I was struck by a wave of nostalgia, combined with a new appreciation for the painting itself. Surrounded by other masterworks from the same era and region, the painting looked more luminous than ever and took on new layers of meaning.

View of Venice: The Ducal Palace, Dogana,
and Part of San Giorgio
by Joseph Mallord William Turner,
1841, oil on canvas.
Dovedale by Moonlight by Joseph Wright of Derby,
ca. 1784–85, oil on canvas. 

Among the artists on view in the exhibition are Turner, Monet, Cézanne, Kirchner, and Rothko. Perhaps the highlight of the exhibition is Hendrick ter Brugghen’s Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene—a painting that radiates empathy and sadness like few others. At The Met it hangs across from another painting by ter Brugghen. The two paintings form a dialogue with each other and resonate even more powerfully than either does alone.

I was led through the exhibition on a whirlwind guided tour that was extremely informative but also extremely rushed, covering almost 20 galleries in 40 minutes. Fortunately, the Allen’s paintings are on display for five more months. I’ll be returning to The Met more than once to study these masterpieces and soak them in. When I left these paintings years ago, I regretted not having spent enough time with them. But this year, when they leave me, there will be no regrets.

Have you been able to recover a lost artistic opportunity? Leave a comment and let us know. To see more works by master artists from around the world and learn various painting mediums and techniques, subscribe to American Artist today.

Austin Williams
Associate Editor
American Artist

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Austin R. Williams

About Austin R. Williams

Austin is an associate editor of American Artist, Drawing, and Watercolor magazines. His interests include a number of artistic subjects, in particular contemporary drawing, and he is also a lover of literature and movies.  His favorite artists include Durer, Guercino, Degas, Menzel, Cezanne, and Blakelock. His favorite book about art is Michael Frayn's Headlong, and his favorite movie about art is Orson Welles' F for Fake.

10 thoughts on “Recouping Lost Artistic Opportunities

  1. I recently moved back to Denver,from living in Southern Spain for twelve years. I can’t tell you you lucky and privileged I felt being able to live and paint in Europe, but moving back to Denver, I realized how much I’d missed in terms of not studying with some of the great landscape painters of our time. The work of the Rocky Mountain artists is stunning, to say the least. It sometimes takes being away to appreciate what you really have at home.

  2. My lost artistic opportunity was myself. Discouraged by a harsh and demanding teacher in college, I laid down my pencil and brush for 45 years. In my 60’s a friend insisted I join her in a watercolor workshop. I went knowing I would be a great failure, but out of loyalty to my friend. My heart began beating the moment I squeezed the colors onto my palette. I felt as though I was returning to the country of my birth after a long absence. I’ve been painting now for six years, with joy, passion, and unexpected success.

  3. So true. I have had the privilege of visiting the Oberlin gallery and viewing the wonderful works there. I have often used this experience to encourage my students to visit galleries in our local area. I often think how many times I could have revisited the Allen gallery and have put it off for one reason or another.
    How much more are we missing out on?

  4. Mine is not the story of a lost opportunity but rather a “found” opportunity. Fifty years ago, at the tendre age of 12, I remember Sister Constance Marie explaining the idea of perspective based on the the “Annunciation” by Fra Angelico. In the day of holy pictures, we were also given small prints of the masterpieces that we studied and i kept mine for many years… Imagine my disbelief when I visited a tiny museum in the town of Cortona in Italy in Sept. 2009. There, before my very eyes in a small, non- descript room, hung the “Annuciation” in all its splendor for my eyes only. I pulled up the guardian’s chair close enough to the painting and feasted my eyes on this unexpected treasure. In the quiet of that moment that i never dreamed of experiencing in my lifetime, a memory that will remain part of me as long as I live was born.

  5. I don’t have anything lost quite like that – I guess I’m blissfully ignorant of what I missed. I do have a few parallel stories. My favorite sculpture in the entire world is Rodin’s “Bust of Camille Claudel Wearing a Bonnet.” I first saw this sculpture as a child at the Tel Aviv Art Museum, and every time I go to Israel (I have family there, so I’m there a lot), I go to the museum to see it. I’ve gotten to know the rest of the collection pretty well, by sprinting past it to Claudel. One time, they had rearranged things and the sculpture wasn’t on display. To my relief, everything was back to normal a couple years later. Recently, I finally found a plaster reproduction for sale from the Musee Rodin and it lives in my living room as well now…

    I regret not being back to Chicago in a long time. I lived there when I was ten, and there was a room in the Art Institute that had, not only Sunday in the Park, but a perfect grouping of other paintings. I hear that that room has since been broken up.

    I regret that my painting skills were only half-formed when I lived in Los Angeles, because I worked with wonderful models there, and I never did them justice with my work. I feel the same way about the models I work with now, in New York. I am not good enough yet, but I only have what I’ve developed so far, and they offer me so much more than I can give back artistically.

  6. Daniel, say it isn’t so! I grew up about 90 miles northwest of Chicago, so trips to the Art Institute were a regular part of life. I remember that room. I know they’ve done some major renovations and expansions at the Art Institute, but I haven’t been back to spend any significant time in the city, much less any of the museums, since around 2001.
    Another great museum is the art museum in Cleveland.

  7. My biggest lost artistic opportunity, was due to a medical condition, that doctor’s felt compeled to give me heavy doses of medications. This took away my ability to persue my lifetime dream of becoming a professional artist, for more than 20 years. I grew up in Phoenix, Az., and often visited the Phx. Art museum, the Scottsdale art galleries, and sometimes museums when traveling. I took some scattered art courses and studied books on the Old Masters and magizines like yours. I am now 61 and began painting and showing my work locally and was recently accepted into a juried online exhibition. I am excited to have a chance to persue my dream again. I give alot credit to Am. artist magizine and others like it, for the great articles with artist demos, that has helped to learn and be able to do what I’m doing now. Thanks, Judi

  8. Kisu –

    I’m not sure, but that’s what I heard. I’m glad you know that room! I’ll have to go to the Cleveland museum sometime. Such as if I get to Cleveland!

  9. What a brilliant opportunity. I’ve never heard of a museum lending pieces of work like this. Are you aware of any other institutions that do this?

  10. My favorite place is the National Gallery of Art in DC. Every time we’ve been there ,though, it made hungry for more. even after spending a whole day there, it felt like leaving dear friends behind. On my first visit, our kids were too young to stay more than a few hours. I was not painting at that time. We went back last year and going in each gallery was a real feast for the eyes.

    Kisu, I’ve been to The Cleveland Meusium of Art twice in the past year since we’ve moved to the area and I would have to agree with you. Although it was not The National Gallery of Art, it certainly had much more than I expected.