Thursday, October 30, 2008

three on an easel

Since I've been home from my trip I've started three paintings:
•a shelf of vellum-bound sketchbooks in Rembrandt's studio
•my sketchbook propped open on a red velvet sofa in the Kunsthistoriche museum
•a cello lying on its side behind the gilt chair of the musician in the ballroom of the Palais Leichtenstien
The first is nearly finished, the second is halfway done and the third is barely started, but paint is on the canvas.
They each have companions waiting to jump on the easel - an image of books in the Leichtenstien library goes with Rembrandt's shelf. The cello speaks to two other images - a gypsy band's instruments (two violins and two guitars) leaning against the wall of San Paolo's in Venice, and a battered violin for sale in a market in Amsterdam. The sketchbook on the red velvet sofa connects with the sketchbook next to the San Marco chair.
It feels so good to have this well of inspiration to dip my cup into.

'Rembrandt's Shelf' in progress.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


1.People zip out of nowhere on bicycles, often texting on their phones while pedaling at manic speeds. Jump out of the way, or die.
2. Rembrandt. Vermeer. Jan Steen. Hals.
3. It's a young town. About half the people look under forty and 90 percent of the street population looks twenty-ish. The other 10 percent is pregnant.
4. Sausage plus croissant makes a brodje, the national food. Unless you are into raw herring.
5. Staircases are carpeted spirals that go straight up - or down, if you are unwary.
6. You can cross without warning into the red light district. A clue – street level picture windows that feature a metal kitchen chair with a handy stack of towels and bored looking women wearing lingerie. The red neon light overhead was another tip off.
7. The tram conductor that piloted the tram to Central station called out the various stops along the route using different voices and sound effects. At the end he sang a little Frank Sinatra ('My Way'). He was either a man happy in his work, or one who took his break in the local "coffeeshop." Fortunately he didn't have to steer, just stop and start.
8 At a local street market I bought a set of cards, drawings done of the canal row houses. The artist who made and sold them, a big, burly guy with a full beard, wore a lumberjack LL Bean type shirt, tights and a denim skirt.
9. Vermeer's maid pouring milk painting absolutely glows. It is in a room with nothing but masterpieces, including other works by Vermeer, and it is radiant. It shines. You can't take your eyes off it because you don't want to.
10. The Dutch have their own style. Nothing like the sleek, slightly sinister Italian bella figura. More Oilily than Armani. Colorful, cheerful, practical. Good for pedaling bikes and painting. I like it.

Seeing Rembrandt's studio has changed my life. And I'm in love with Breughel.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


10 things about Vienna

1. If it moves, paint it cream. When it stops, slap some gilding on it.
2. This town runs on caffeine and nicotine, making the quaint cobblestone streets one big ashtray.
3. The Kunsthistorishe museum is paradise. It is like hanging out in a palace covered in wall-to-wall masterpieces all day long for ten measly Euros. There are plush blue velvet sofas in every gallery room, eight in the big rooms.
4. The Germans have a different philosophy about photography in churches. They are methodical and businesslike; as long as you pay, you can play.
5. Breugel! Durer! Vermeer! Rubens!
6. Einschlammer is an espresso under a pile of whipped cream...a double espresso
7. An amazing number of women have hair exactly the orange red color of Bozo the clown.
8. You can ask directions from Mozart –or a guy dressed just like him in a white powdered wig, buckled shoes and a blue silk frock coat.
9. Leaving the Albertina museum one evening, I heard a black southern woman singing the title song to Cabaret in German.
10. Sunday at the Liechtenstein palace offered the royal art collection, a special exhibit on their family estate gardens, and a Bach concert on antique instruments. I sat on a gilt chair in a ballroom and sketched away. They threw in lunch and a melange (espresso with whipped cream) Pretty much heaven.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Home at last, with so much I want to paint. But I'll start by updating this blog, one city a day.

Ten random things I like about Venice
1. Hearing church bells strike the hours.
2. Getting very very very lost, but always able to find my way at last. Getting lost meaning finding things you otherwise would miss. I got lost, ended up near a church, turned left, and walked into a gallery filled with original Tiepolo drawings.
3. Drawing lions, because stone lions, especially winged ones, are everywhere.
4. Having an espresso in the campo San Barnabos, then riding the vaporetto down the Grand Canal to the Rialto, where a fish market has been in continuous business for 1000 years.
5. Eating luscious figs and jam croissant for breakfast.
6. Sitting on a bench in San Polo, and drawing the church façade (badly) for three happy hours.
7. Watching the crowds of tourists come through, wave after wave, like fish in shoals.
8. Having risi & bisi for lunch and then taking a three hour nap.
9. The city smells like an aquarium - not bad exactly, but pungent. The tourists smell worse - lots of hot people sweating perfume.
10. The masks Venice is famous for comes from a day when the city spent six months of the year in revelry under the cover of masks, doing things that they otherwise might not. I thought how the internet offers a similar veil of anonymity today.

Two stories

Nephew William took me for a boat ride. The boat he uses is a loaner and an old wallowing clunker, kind of like rowing our old black Volvo station wagon, if you can imagine. The oar looks like a Yule log. Gondolas are like Ferraris. If you collide or scrape one, the fine is 60,000 euros, so the objective is to never never touch a gondola. Drowning is preferable. William manned the oar, and his fiancée Elsa and I sat perched on the boat’s right side so it would go straight. William assures me it’s all physics. He moves the oar with a motion like stirring turtle soup, or folding in egg whites. We went down canals so narrow we could touch both sides. We pulled over when any other sort of boat came by. We yelled ’oy’ at all the canal intersections, kind of like golfers yell ‘fore’. Gondoliers had no problem maneuvering past us without touching, their dexterity is amazing.. We even went down a stretch of the Grand Canal which seems as big as the Mississippi when you see it from the vantage point of a small boat.

Walked into the famous San Giovanni & Paulo church. Noticed about halfway down the aisle that organ music was playing – ah, I thought, a concert, how lucky. A little farther on I saw a seated group in the pews, and a priest wiping the rim of a chalice. Oh, I thought, a mass. I slipped into a side chapel out of respect. More music, lots of incense and a violin solo of Ave Maria later and the congregation stood. That’s when they rolled the carnation-covered coffin down the aisle and I realized I had crashed a funeral. All the time other tourists in cargo shorts and backpacks and maps had wandered around. It must have been someone important to rate a funeral in the second grandest church in the city, but not powerful enough to stem the tide of tourism.