Saturday, May 28, 2011
This afternoon Peter Brooks in a back issue of the New York Review of Books reminded me of a passage Henry James wrote in The Tragic Muse (a personal top favorite Henry James novel). The character Nick Dormer, who has sacrificed a career in politics to pursue a vocation as a painter, confronts several great portraits in London's National Gallery –
As he stood before them the perfection of their survival often struck him as the supreme eloquence, the virtue that included all others, thanks to the language of art, the richest and most universal. Empires and systems and conquests had rolled over the globe and every kind of greatness had risen and passed away, but the beauty of the great pictures had known nothing of death or change, and the tragic centuries had only sweetened their freshness.
I don't suppose anybody knows which exact National Gallery group of portraits Nick Dormer was using as a lever for his meditations back in the 1890s, but chances are it included some of these, which all remain in London where they were when he saw them, and look fresher than ever if my own London memories are anything to go by.