Dear Museum of Fine Arts Boston,
Why is one of my favorite paintings hanging so high? And among a million other paintings in the same room. Why? And why is it crammed in a corner? Why, MFA?
I need the world’s most powerful binocular to see it.
The salon-style hang
I get it. You wanted to make the room look like a French salon, back in the day. Way back. A gazillion paintings hanging together in a big room with soaring ceilings. The salon-style hang.
The French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture started this in the 1600s to fit in all students’ work. (If you’re so inclined, everyone’s best friend, Google, can direct you to a more detailed history lesson.)
When London’s Royal Academy of Arts also did this in the 1700s, many artists were unhappy. They protested their work hanging so high that it was impossible to see. And worse, more prominent artists’ work hung at the bottom, while others were high up — “skied.”
I saw it close-up in 2006, at a special exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Breathtaking. Didn’t want to leave it and went back another day for a second viewing. I kept staring at the brush strokes, peering so close that the guards were on alert, hovering, watching me.
It’s a big 58 x 82 7/8 inch painting. (I do like to get lost in a huge painting, like this one.) In part because my work is small-ish and I have not yet painted on such a large scale.
Do I have a longing to make gigantic work of art? Yup. (Any day now.)
William Lamb Picknell
Who is this artist? He’s not well-known. I didn’t know who he was until my close encounter in 2006.
William Lamb Picknell was born in Vermont in 1853, and died in Massachusetts in 1897. A short life. The work I love so much is Morning on the Loing at Moret, painted in 1895, two years before his death.
Who knows why certain paintings leave lasting impressions on the viewer? It’s about the feeling. I remember staring at Picknell’s painting and imagining that I stood there on the banks of that river in France. Nothing else around me mattered for a few minutes. It was intoxicating. Enveloping. Not to mention, the brush strokes were outstanding.
Why is this magnificent masterpiece of his not in a room by itself for people to enjoy and admire. Why?
High and dry
It’s unlikely that I’ll have an intimate relationship ever again with the Picknell. But I’ll always remember our special time together.
The good news though is, MFA, that you hung this magnificent painting. It’s no longer hidden in your basement, or wherever you keep the art hidden away.
Which makes me ask, what else do you have stashed away? Do we need more rooms with salon-style hangs? Kidding.