Mary Rose Cook's notebook

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The Frick

On Sunday, I went to the Frick, which knocked me sideways. It was like being in the Wallace, except even more intimate. Seeing those paintings in a (relatively) every day environment made them much more moving.

There was Adoration of the Magi by Bastini. Everyone looking at Jesus but bad-tempered Joseph, and Jesus looking at Mary. That wonderful circle of red from smock to armour to blouse to hat.

One of my faves was Lippi’s Annunciation. I like the fact that he decided to make both Mary and Gabriel deferential to each other. I like the great pillar between them. And I found it so interesting that, like so many medieval and early Renaissance paintings, the events take place in a weird, barren, classical room with a wall missing that reveals nothingness.

Mrs Baker.

My favourite Gainsborough was of Frances Duncombe. Her expression seems the exact image of a newly married woman.

There was a terrible one of St James’s Park. The landscape was bad (as always), but the little people were indefinite and bad, too.

There are a number of Vermeers. This one left me rather cold, but for the iridescent window that the reproduction below completely fails to convey.

I much preferred this Vermeer, Mistress and Maid. I liked how the expressions of the mistress and maid matched so well that they looked like they were actually at a particular moment in their conversation, perhaps a discussion of some accounts. I liked the fineness of the painting of the mistress’s curls and the folds of her cloak.

I discovered Ingres, who I had never heard of before. I was surprised to discover he lived in the nineteenth century. Comtesse d'Haussonville. Good chair with yellow drape. Good folds of dress. I liked how the Comtesse is being watched in the mirror. It’s a shame Ingres didn’t get the reflection quite right.

There was a good Veronese, the Choice of Hercules. A wonderfully classical face on the woman in green.

What was funny was that all these fantastic paintings lived in the same house as miles and miles of horrendous, drossy, sentimental frescoes. There were whole rooms of floor to ceiling wall paintings of young girls and boys with rosy cheeks leaping in gardens and handing each other roses.

Finally, there was Whistler, who has always left me rather cold. But, Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink was oddly moving.

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