A weekend in a work of art


In September 2015, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston Twitter feed asked which work of art people would spend the weekend in if they could. I’ve been musing this one for a while, because it’s not immediately obvious to someone whose spiritual home begins and ends with A for Abstract.

On one level, there’s slotting oneself into the scene depicted in the painting. So, I’d prefer cheerful to sad, sunshine to cold or rain and comfort to destitution.  This ushers in Monet haystacks – particularly Grainstack, Sun in the Mist in the Minneapolis Institute of Art – and gently but firmly rejects any Impressionist work that’s more than three-quarters grey and white.

I’d also prefer to hang out in a painting where the subject matter looks like it says on the tin. Put differently, I don’t want to be left crashing around with deconstructed or re-assembled images.  So, no cubism or any of its off-shoots, and no Van Gogh.  Oddly, a work by Seurat might make the cut because of the positive, uplifting feeling I have when looking at his paintings.

Then there’s the period you’d be living in. As a Historian, I feel as though I should be more adventurous, but I’d prefer to spend a weekend in a time when plague isn’t rife.  If disease is the only option, I’d prefer to stay home.

And while we’re on the subject of definite No’s:

  • I’m not interested in spending my weekend on a battlefield or in any conflict at sea;
  • I won’t have anything to do with cherubs – that’s non-negotiable; and
  • Myths, legends and gods – Greek, Roman or otherwise – needn’t apply.

I’m sure these lists would produce a logical and appropriate choice, but the painting I’d choose sprang to mind a few seconds after seeing the tweet: The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger in the National Gallery, London. Why? Because I’d have an opportunity to find out what on earth it’s about and because it would be a chance to root around in one of the most tumultuous periods in English history with a good prospect of getting home before being arrested.

It breaks all the parameters that I’ve so carefully set out, but art, to me, isn’t about logic; it’s about instinct and emotion, which is why I prefer abstract works. But a weekend in the world of The Ambassadors would be too tempting an opportunity to pass up.

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