May 05, 2011

"Rooms With A View" at the Met

One exhibition that has been high on my "to see" list is the very popular "Rooms With a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century" now being presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And this glorious spring afternoon seemed like the perfect time to walk through Central Park to visit the museum and see what everyone was talking about.

This small but very elegant show presents the work of about forty artists, mostly Northern European, many of whom are practically unheard of on this side of the Atlantic. A real pity it turns out as these exquisitely rendered drawings and paintings are not only quite beautiful but are at the same time intriguing and extremely intimate.

The exhibition explores the Romantic theme of the open window - a metaphor for longing, for escape, for the unattainable. Almost voyeuristic in nature, the visitor experiences an intimate peek into a private domain with the added perspective of a glimpse into the world beyond. There are paintings of decorated rooms with figures sewing, reading, working and looking out at the world, of spartan rooms with no distraction but the view through an open window and of artists' studios with painters working at easels or drawing on sketchpads. All convey the same feelings of confinement, contemplation and division.

The star of the show is the German artist Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) (see "Woman at the Window" top right) whose mastery of the genre inspired followers such as Georg Friedrich Kersting (see "Caspar David Friedrich in his Studio" right), Adolf Menzel and Martinus Rørbye (see "View From the Artist's Window" upper left). All aspired to convey the "picture within a picture", or "story within a story" that captivated the imagination of the 19th Century, and now the 21st Century audience. Which goes to show that some themes are always modern, no matter what the circumstances. The interiors and the fashions may change but the view from inside looking out remains. "Rooms With a View" can be seen at The Met until the Fourth of July.

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