Ripe, a kiss
Drenched with timeless time
Just dots, strokes,
In a trance,
It says all that matters
A portrait-present to a woman
Wounded and majestic
Fleeting and boundless.
This picture belongs to the Musée d’Orsay
The girl is turning her back to you. She is sitting in wild grass and leaning forward, her black hair loosely tied. She is so graceful, you may well not notice her crooked fingers, the slightly deformed shape of her bones. She is a single pale poppy in a field, on a late summer afternoon.
Though you don’t see her face, she draws you in, because she seems at once still and in movement, eager and earnest. She is gazing so intently that like her, you start looking on. You feel the anticipation, the exhilaration.
This puzzles you a little because all you see is a large expanse of green and gold, a wooden farmhouse and some shacks, and they don’t mean much to you.
So you understand the thrill lies beyond your immediate physical perception. Because this is about dreams and why they are necessary. About considering prospects that the inattentive heart will miss. Prospects, and the promise they hold.
This picture is on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York –
You are in a park. You are not in a position to hear but you can imagine it is very quiet. Night has fallen, the birds have stopped chirping, the alleys seem empty. The park is neatly landscaped and you can make out squares of grass, trimmed hedges, lots of trees (sycamore?). You can tell it is well tended thanks to the floating lights.
They could be searchlights held by giants taller than the trees. Or they could be full moons hanging from their foliage. You might also believe that realistically, they are probably just the most visible part of lampposts.
Perhaps it is the fact that you can’t be entirely sure that makes you feel at once uneasy and excited. Or it might be the impossible calmness of the place, or a combination of both.
It is a face-off between what is real and what isn’t. And thus the beginning of a new dialogue with your own imagination.
This picture belongs to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Aristotle quoted on the wall of a house in Athens. Is immortality within reach? Twenty-five centuries on, we haven’t figured out a verifiable answer. Follow the advice though, it still makes perfect sense.
The light is a warm yellow and does not embrace the whole space. It is an eatery of some kind. The wall is cracked, the place has a musty smell, yet the only visible table is covered with fine linen and precious tableware. In the dimness, you perceive a woman at the back of the room, on the left. Her body is bent, she seems to be rinsing or piling up dishes. It is the end of the day and she is tired. The fact that you can see her means that she is important in her own way. She should not distract you from the issue at hand though. Facing you (to the woman’s right) and a little closer is a balding middle-aged man, near-sighted perhaps, eyes and mouth equally half-open. He is sitting at the table, his back curved, as if recoiling in fear or in awe. His features are plain and he seems quite ordinary: it could be anyone’s face after a long day’s work (a coal miner, a computer technician, a nurse even). He is staring at the man who is sitting, sideways, in front of him. This third figure is the largest of the three and appears in the foreground, on the right. You just get a backlit left side view of his silhouette, the light source is located on his right-hand side. He is reclining comfortably in his chair, but you sense he could have gone off balance. Something extraordinary has happened.
I can’t take my eyes off this scene. I try to get closer to grasp what is really going on. I might understand it better if I stand back. Or if I close my eyes. Try to fix in my memory the light, the tension, the position of the reclining man which moves me so much. Maybe because this man exudes an irresistible combination of vulnerability and quiet confidence.
The magic has worked, again, it does every time I go through the process.
I am at the scene now. Like the balding man, I too stand in amazement, fascinated and speechless before a miracle.
Thousands of other people have experienced and many more will continue to undergo the same transformation, basking in the genius of a young man.
His name was Rembrandt. He was 22 years old when he painted this version of the Supper at Emmaus. And managed to capture on a piece of wood a little larger than a square foot the mystery of an encounter of man with God.
(This picture belongs to the permanent collection of the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris)
It’s like not having to choose between to be or not to be, having the cake and eating it. I am sitting in the garden of our house in Portugal. We don’t live here, but we come often and sometimes for long stretches. I love the light, the sound of the trees bristling in the wind. The warmth that reverberates from the stoned yard onto my feet.