Friday, May 29, 2009

Unseen Masterpieces

I had a few moments to spare on a recent visit to New York. I dashed over to the Metropolitan Museum. After a quick walk through the glorious monochromatic rooms of Greek and Roman antiquities, and a sprint upstairs to take a closer look at Monet’s great ‘Bridge Over a Pool of Water Lilies’ (one of his most lyrical Giverny paintings, it’s a reminder of a solo early summer morning visit I made to Monet's Japanese bridge and lily pond)—I took a quick spin into the bookshop, and then a final flourish to grab a handful of postcards of art I love.
Portrait of a Woman by Antonio Benci ( 1431-1498)
I’ve always avidly collected art postcards in museums around the world, as a way to take a closer look at a portrait, as a way of remembering a detail of a favorite painting, as a memento of a happy day in a gallery or museum or city.
Portrait of a Young Man with Medallion by Sandro Botticelli (painted c. 1470-1475)
Through an art postcard, it’s possible to learn more about the genius and bravura of each artist and the humanity of the subject. It’s always a way of studying the fashions and textiles of that era and inspecting jewelry and mannerisms and relationships. For me, even a small postcard, viewed years after encountering a painting, offers a way of approaching the detail of a masterpiece, its artistry, and the majesty of color and technique. Glancing at art postcards, it is possible to be captured, long after leaving the Uffizi or the Louvre, the Correr, the Tate, or the National Gallery (London or Stockholm).
Portrait of Bia by Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572)
Yes, a $1 postcard can offer so much. At the Met on this particular day, the fantastic wall of postcards was not in its usual place. Most of the collection at the Met—from Egyptian to African to neoclassical and impressionist—have always been arrayed in splendid postcards. I asked for its new location, and the assistant indicated a sad corner with a few indifferent postcards.
Portrait of Eleanora of Toledo with her son Giovanni by Agnolo Bronzino (painted c. 1545)
“We don’t sell as many postcards now,” explained the kind woman behind the counter. It became instantly clear. All those gallery-goers who lean in front of others to take digital images of paintings (instead of looking at them) are sending their friends quick pix of Monet or Ingres. Who needs a postcard?
Portrait of Francesco della Opere by Pietro Perugino (1445-1494)
All of the above postcards were collected by Diane at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.


Grant K. Gibson said...

I hope that the post card doesn't get lost like the art of letter writing and how email has tried to kill that! We can start a new foundation: SAVE THE POSTCARD! I just love getting postcards from friends trips around the world and then putting it up on the fridge (tacky sounding I know)...

Brillante Interiors said...

This is a very sad story since I also always buy a few postcards in Museums (my father's habit) not to mention catalogs of special exhibitions (the most treasured are the ones for the same artists but decades apart). Digital is great but only if used properly.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

I acquired the art postcards all over the world (Edinburgh, Sydney, Delhi, Rio, Los Angeles, Lyon, Versailles, Arles, Madrid (Prado) and Barcelona, for example, for my own enjoyment and reference (and occasionally I send an envelope full to an artist friend to enjoy.)

I suggest buying postcards with images of your favorite paintings when you see them. It looks like digital images could make them obsolete.(Loved your posts on Milan.)

Rose C'est La Vie said...

I 'd have had a fit at the Met since looking at/buying postcards is integral to the whole museum experience. Thank you for these
stunning ones from the Uffizi, particularly the Bronzinos. I am tempted on my blog to join you and GRANT GIBSON in a Save the Postcard campaign.

Susan Lang said...

Hi! First time to visit your blog. I am a post card fan. In fact, when I use to travel for my job, I always sent my two children each a post card letting them know I was thinking about them. The post card also taught them something about the city from which it was sent.


I adore postcards...I will join the Save the Postcard club.