Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene
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.