As a young man something I’d read of Hemingway and never understood until the day I spent yesterday looking at paintings in The Cone Collection at The Baltimore Museum of Art, something autobiographical, stayed with me all these years: as a young man living in Paris, very poor of course as his own story goes, Hemingway visited The Louvre daily to look at the paintings there, especially Matisse as I remember it, and made a point of saying so in the memoir he wrote as a much older man about his time in Paris.
All these years I’ve misunderstood what I’d read in Hemingway, thinking then he was meaning to say that he was getting something to feed himself as a young writer from looking at the paintings. It wasn’t until I looked at the Matisse’s in Baltimore that I saw how wrong I was: Hemingway was simply hungry, starved for what was in the pictures, for if you stand long enough in front of them they fill you up.
At The National Gallery in Washington D.C, for where else could the national gallery be, I discover Cubism again. It happens in the West Wing in the presence of my wife Lea Ann and the museum guard Marylyssa Smith.
There’s a beautiful Picasso and an even more beautiful Braque there. I go up close to one of the Braque’s, “Harbor”, as close as I can without touching it, and see what I’ve never seen about Cubism before: that it breaks down the beauty of a thing into its component parts, and then invites the viewer to reassemble the broken thing into a new thing of his or her own making.
Looking at the painting I remember reading somewhere that Braque would never answer the telephone without first putting on his gloves. I’ve always loved that story, whether it’s true or isn’t true.
(below) Marylyssa Smith, museum guard, and Lea Ann Roddan, in front of a Picasso at the National Gallery, June 22, 2019. Marylyssa says she likes Cubism but prefers the Vermeer's and Rembrandt’s in the West Wing.