Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Hispanic Society of America

Yesterday afternoon I journeyed to Washington Heights to visit The Hispanic Society of America. It sits in a complex of buildings designed in the classical style & decorated with bizarre over-sized statues. The museum is a bit decrepit, & they obviously haven't had resources to update the exhibits for decades. The collection ranges from Neolithic bronzes to a decorative charger from the 1920's with a flapper girl painted on it. But the core of the collection comes from 17th century Spain, & I was shocked to discover myself at the feet of Goya's imperious & bold Duchess of Alba. My museum companion thought she could be Carmen's sister. Upstairs were more Goya & excellent samples of El Greco & Velázquez. I was especially taken by Velázquez's warm Portrait of a Little Girl, with her wary & intelligent look. Unfortunately the viewing conditions in the upstairs gallery are less than ideal, & it is impossible to find a good place to stand to view the finest paintings.

I also marveled at an exquisite Silver Filigree Casket from 17th century Goa. I can't imagine that there is much jewelry worthy to be stored in such a thing. Most surprising of all is that I & my companion were the only visitors the whole time we were there. So it is actually possible to go someplace in New York that is not swamped with people. I'm sure the Duchess of Alba would love to have more visitors.


Stephen Smoliar said...

If you have never seen The Naked Maja, I suggest you give it a try. Goya's relation with the Duchess of Alba gets the unabashed Hollywood treatment. However Norman Corwin wrote the screenplay, and he probably had a lot to do with guiding us through Goya's works in the course of the film. Needless to say, the Duchess bore no resemblance to Ava Gardner; but, if we are to believe some catty observations by Kenneth Clark in The Romantic Rebellion, she did not bear much more resemblance to the images in Goya's paintings!

Axel Feldheim said...

I don't know the movie version of the Naked Maja, but it sounds a bit like "A Song to Remember", the fanciful movie version of the affair between George Sand & Chopin.

Whatever the historical background, one of the pleasures of this picture is that it is impossible to look at it & not imagine some kind of relationship with the artist & the subject.