Norton Simon Museum Without a Camera

Today I so wanted to climb up into the Hollywood Hills above Studio City to locate Detective Harry Bosch’s home on Woodrow Wilson Drive, but I was outvoted and we went to Pasadena instead.

Pasadena? Pasadena? Why Pasadena? Because Pasadena boasts the presence of the Norton Simon Museum, which in turn boasts the exhibit of a Vermeer on loan from the National Gallery.

Twenty-eight miles of laughing at vanity license plates and we were parking (FREE!) at the serene, low-slung and somehow secluded Norton Simon. Once inside I discovered I’d left my trusty Kodak EasyShare™ at home. Despair was quickly followed by determination. A dash into the gift shop put me in possession of a hard-lead pencil and 3 x 4.5 inch pocket notepad. If I could not bring you a photographic record of the Norton Simon, then I would bring you doodles.

The cover of the notepad features a painting by Henri Rousseau.For example: Here’s my hasty sketch of a painting — itself sort of hasty and sketchy — by the Dutch Master, Rembrandt van Rijn. It’s entitled, rather generically I think, Portrait of a Boy, but everyone with an MFA who has earned the right to an opinion on the subject agrees that the kid is none other than Titus van Rijn, the painter’s son. Me, I’m agnostic on the whole vext question, though, I must admit, the family resemblance is pretty hard to deny. Titus has that distinctive van Rijn chiaroscuro. Also the hat.

About the same time Rembrandt was barking at Titus to stand still, his compatriot Frans Hals was having a laff riot painting his Portrait of a Young Man:

Museum visitors kept looking over my shoulder. It made me nervous.I realize the titular young man looks kind of goofy here in my doodle — all puffy, wild-haired, and half-smiling — but, really, in the actual painting the guy does look all puffy and wild-haired and he is smiling in that weird way. Hals, the informative placard on the wall informed me, is known for the good humor exuded by his portraits. Well, okay, we’ll call it “good humor” if they insist, but it’s good humor of a Cheech and Chong sort I suspect.

You can see his whole figure in the painting. At his feet is a broken bottle.Two centuries later, and a many days journey south on foot, we come to this colossal figure study, The Ragpicker, by Eduard Manet. It’s over 6 feet (19,304,000,000 angstroms) in height.

I dunno… Something about the guy makes me think he’s not in fact a ragpicker. He looks too… perceptive, too aware of what’s going on. Watchful. I believe he’s really some kind of investigator in disguise; a Sherlock Holmes, or an Auguste Dupin; perhaps Allan Pinkerton himself. At least I hope so. Otherwise we’re left with the question Manet always leaves us with: Why on earth did he bother to paint that?

Finally, we’ll jump ahead another century or so and meet up once again with our old pal, Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), the British sculptor. You may recall her big-as-your-average-walrus sculpture from the Milwaukee Art Museum featured earlier on this site. I thought it was a Brancusi assemblage.

This one — or this group — is not very tall. Even raised as they were on the foot-high stainless steel base the bunch of rocks were only maybe four and a half feet at the tallest. The gang is called Assembly of Sea Forms. The pieces are all bright white marble, smooth as old soap and polished to a gleam. Each stone has a name. In back are the Sea Mother and Sea King. (I think dad is the squarish guy with the hole.) Up front are lil Embryo and Seabird. The middle group are named Shell, and Young and Rolled Sea Forms. Oh… listen! The kids are singing like the von Trapp Family!


One response to “Norton Simon Museum Without a Camera

  1. Maybe the reason Manet painted the Ragpicker was BECAUSE he looked perceptive.

    Or because the Ragpicker was in real life over six feet tall. Perhaps he was a giant, a fact which made Manet laugh and laugh.

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