An Art Collection in Pasadena contains some great Art.
Sondra and Jane and I went to see the Art Collection at the Norton Simon Museum of Art here in Pasadena last week. Norton Simon was an industrialist who amassed a great fortune creating companies like Hunts Foods, Canada Dry, and Avis Car Rental, etc. Similar to many men of great wealth, he also had a passion for art collecting. When the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art was floundering financially in 1972, he brokered a deal to combine his collection with it, and also took over it’s management. In 1975, after a new makeover of the building constructed by architects Ladd and Kelsey, the collection reopened as the Norton Simon Museum of Art. This Art Collection has thrived ever since.
I had seen this museum with Tara Singh, back in 2002. But my recollection was dim, as we had not really explored too much of the Art Collection on that trip. So on this visit, I was determined to get the whole scope. There are two main wings, and a lower level for Asian Art. Western painting is well represented in the two main painting wings: 14th Century — up through 20th Century. This Art Collection contains the only Raphael painting on the West Coast.
As usual, one is mesmerized by the order and beauty of a Raphael. The lines, the character, the color, the setting, the perfect dynamic geometry all come together in a masterpiece of classical Renaissance perfection. What a treasure to behold. Raphael’s babies look like babies—not little men on small bodies. Raphael’s women look like the Madonna, in all her innocence and compassion. It is a view into another holy dimension, and the reality of this transcends the fame of it being a Raphael. It emanates exactly what it is, as it is—the Divine Mother and the Divine Child.
A Meander Through the Ages of Art
What had been a museum of modern art before Norton Simon took over, the Art Collection was rounded out considerably by this merger. Mr. Simon had already been collecting art since the 1950’s and also amassing a very good body of Old Master paintings, all the way back to the 14th century. When a person meanders through this medium sized collection, he/she is not overwhelmed by the massiveness of a larger body of artworks — such as in more major Art Museums—but given a manageable amount of paintings that represent Art through the Ages, through which anyone can meander in the span of an afternoon.
The Modern Painters are well represented at the Norton Simon. Here is Sondra Ray standing by a Picasso, as if blessed by his colorful Muse. One can appreciate the vitality of this work, painted during his love affair with Marie-Theresa in the early 1930’s. A colorful and bold work, this modern masterpiece shows us the tenacity of Picasso to create graphically compelling paintings, which stretch our notions of anatomy, pictorial space and design.
Prior to the advent of Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh was stretching these parameters as well. He was a style all to himself—using bold hues, dimensional brushstrokes, and swirling conglomerates of color. These all come together in Van Gogh’s paintings. This is why we love them. They are a stream of paint and the painting process. They are unabashed in their directness of application. We want to eat them, almost, and we can. Looking at a Van Gogh is like having a visual feast of the very ingredients that form the basic recipe of painting itself.
Fast forward—the liberation of painting from the representation of the external world was a long time coming. This Art Collection takes us all the way into the Abstract Expressionism of the 1950’s. The painter, Sam Francis, is represented in a whole room of his works. His large canvases take up whole walls in a room all by themselves. Color, Line and Shape now compose a purely lyrical visual opus. This is an opus long accepted in the tones and sounds of music, but had not yet been freed from the confines of representation until the greats of the 20th century, starting with Kandinsky, completed their liberation. A breath of fresh air, and a relaxation can culminate in the works of this Californian native son. The enormous room does them great service.
A Great Art Collection gives you Joy.
The various ways of seeing through the ages of art may vary, and the distinctively different painting styles and choices of subject matter too widespread to cover in this article, but one common denominator any great work of art transmits can be, “How much Joy does it bring to you in its presence?” One cannot underestimate this meeting with Joy. We are accustomed to the dull monotones of everyday life, and in the presence of a great Art Collection we come out of our stupor into a realm where we are actually taken seriously. The eyes of the artists who painted or sculpted these great works are upon us. The artists meet us directly in their objects. They would have to. We are their audience; we are their patrons; we are their followers toward the great JOY of human expression that we share. Art is sharing and sharing is art. The two are as intertwined as the paint to the brush, the line to the surface of the canvas, the color to the spectrum of visual existence.
The Muse of the artist lives on.
One thing is for sure, the Muse of the artist lives on, and for many painters this is most apparent in depicting the female form. Matisse was a master of this. And also Modigliani. The Norton Simon Museum of Art has some fine examples of this adoration of the Muse. Matisse painted a lot in Morocco. This standing figure—clothed, yet provocatively exposed as well—brings us to the height of a visual crescendo. We are full of the pictorial tones, colors, shapes and patterns that round out our experience of this exotic, yet palpable scene. We feel actually entertained by the beat of her tambourine, and engulfed by the sensuality of her see-through garments.
Modigliani creates the presence of female grace with a more austere and elongated form. In this Seated Girl, the hand gestures play as important a part in the overall mood as the long neck and oval face of his seated female model. Head, neck and hands spring off in dynamic diagonals to compose a cascading effect of perfect pictorial balance. It is like a dance in shape and color, so true to the heart of a classical adoration of the Muse. We are mesmerized, almost, by looking at her quintessential gestures.
A great Art Collection brings thousands of people unprecedented Joy. When Norton Simon came to the end of his life in 1993, he knew that he had left something significant to posterity. Twenty-five years after his passing, the Norton Simon Museum of Art is still spreading its inner light to the people who are art lovers with a yearning for this inner Joy. He (and others like him who amassed billions of dollars collecting art) left priceless treasures to the community—uplifting countless generations into the future.
I hope you enjoyed this ART LOOK into Norton Simon’s genius that put together this premier Art Collection on the West Coast in Pasadena.