The Sense of the Beautiful

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
– Johann Wolfgang van Goethe

It has been some time since I went out of my way to see something beautiful, but this past week provided a wonderful opportunity to do so.

You see, my dear baby girl has been teething and, as a result, has been savouring the consolation found in her mama’s arms.  Poor little love, she’s sad and somehow my presence is like a dose of analgesic to her.  I’m sorry to say that my patience with my 3-year old son has been running short as a result.

So I called on a friend, who sent me the most marvellous Facebook message a mom can ever hope for: “I would love to have J. How about Thursday? I’ll pick him up. He can stay all day. And then why don’t you all come for dinner?”  O my!  A day with just my little girl!  No need to drop off James! And dinner prepared for all of us!  That thoughtfulness is the mark of a friend who well remembers the little years!

While twenty-five sensible suggestions popped into my head the moment I started thinking of all that might be accomplished during June’s naps, I found myself remembering a part of Sally Clarkson’s book for mothers of young children . . . the part where she emphasized the need for beauty in our lives.  It’s really so impractical, and yet, beauty feeds our souls.  I felt a need to use this time well, and to nourish that ‘sense of the beautiful’ that van Goethe refers to.

So after waving goodbye to James, June and I ventured out to the Art Gallery of Hamilton.  I tucked her into my baby wrap and she snuggled next to me, content to be close to her mama . . . so content, in fact, that we spent a full two hours exploring the gallery.  She even dozed in the wrap, which she hasn’t done since she was a newborn.

Here are a few snippets of loveliness from that refreshing morning.

(To be honest, there were quite a few really awful paintings and instalments at the gallery, too, like the exhibit in which part of a broken filing cabinet twirls around in a circle, looking half submerged in the floor.  Which I think most of us would call rubbish.  But I’m going to focus on the beautiful things I saw.  If you’re interested in reading more about the calamity that is modern art, I’ll refer you to this post.)

This painting is called The Apple Gatherer.  I love that Helen McNicoll saw such beauty in the ordinary, everyday tasks of life that she painted them.

The Apple Gatherer by Helen McNicoll

The Apple Gatherer by Helen McNicoll

I decided to go to the Art Gallery because of its exhibition on 19th Century European Landscapes; that turned out to be disappointingly miniscule (nine paintings).  So, we mosied on to the vast, sprawling exhibit dedicated to a Mr. William Blair Bruce, a former Hamiltonian who darted off to Europe in the 1800s and painted many, many landscapes.  So, I suppose in a roundabout way we did end up seeing quite a fair number of 19th century Europeans landscapes after all!

Like this fine one . . .

Field of Poppies by William Blair Bruce

Field of Poppies by William Blair Bruce

Later on in life Mr. Bruce began including people in his paintings.  He was a man quite enthralled with the beauty of his wife, and so she is included in many of his paintings.  Isn’t that delightful?  I loved knowing that about him.  The painting on the left (Summer Day) is nearly life sized and is quite splendid to see in real life.  I must say it does look like rather a perfect spot to read a book (though I think I’d prefer to lay on a blanket as I don’t care for ants crawling on me).  Sauntering through the gallery with June cradled against my chest, I found the Mother & Daughter painting quite lovely.  There’s a pleasantness to their quiet company.  But more than that, there’s also a dignity to the mother’s bearing and dress that I find quite enchanting.  It makes me wonder about what our modern ways of dressing (I’ve a fondness for jeans and t-shirts) say about us . . . 

Summer Day and Mother & Daughter by William Blair Bruce

Summer Day and Mother & Daughter by William Blair Bruce

This painting by Tom Thomson was neat to see in person, because each stroke of the brush stands out vividly.  And even though every brush stroke seems uniform in width and length, there’s a wonderful energy about the painting.

Autumn Birches by Tom Thomson

Autumn Birches by Tom Thomson

I found this painting by Lawren Harris quite interesting because the simplicity of the middle of the painting (the hills, road and buildings) contrasts so sharply with the energetic busyness of the periphery of the painting (the clouds, sand and ripples).

Ice House by Lawren Harris

Ice House by Lawren Harris

There were also a number of paintings based on biblical texts, like this one of the dream of Pilate’s wife (I think this is a woodcut based on the painting found in the art gallery – I couldn’t find a photo of the painting itself online).  Isn’t it so dramatic?  I stared at this painting long enough for the same security guard to walk by three times.

The Dream of Pilate's Wife

The Dream of Pilate’s Wife

Sigh.

It was so refreshing to drink up the visual feast waiting at the art gallery!  And now that we’re home again and fine paintings are not featuring regularly in our visual fare, I’m hoping to at least to keep up my appetite for the beautiful things of the world – like the flash of red as a cardinal flies by, the delicate blossoms of a white hydrangea in bloom and the merry sparkle in a child’s eye. 

 

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