Rachel Cohen

El Greco

Morning Search

Palma Il Giovane St Lawrence Giving the Wealth to the Poor San Giacomo dell039Orio Venice

Palma Il Giovane, St. Lawrence Giving the Wealth to the Poor, San Giacomo dell'Orio, Venice

This morning, the urge to draft. Paged through some photos from the summer. A blurred and distorted picture, from inside a church in Venice.

Had I seen this painting? By the other photos, it must have been from San Giacomo dell’Orio, across from the apartment where we stayed. But I could not recall it. So beautiful, though, and familiar as if through other paintings. The colors and tones like Veronese, mauves and golds. I had taken a picture of the diagram the church provides of its riches. There were two Veroneses, able to find pictures on-line, no, not those.

I went to the church several times, like a small museum, so close, took S with me once. I went especially for the Lotto, which I loved and was thinking about. But this other painting, so striking to me now, but I can’t remember why I noticed it.

The child with its hand out, pointing, indicating. Another child I have looked at often, in El Greco’s The Burial of the Count Orgaz. And the face of the young man in richly embroidered robe.

Consulting the church card again, I see there are a great many Palma il Giovanes, and I try searching that way. It comes up. St. Lawrence Giving the Wealth to the Poor.

Can see so much of what El Greco admired – seems he must have seen this painting, completed between 1581 and 1582. But no, he arrived in Spain in 1577, so it is just a shared development, both Palma Il Giovane and El Greco using what they had learned from Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese. But the verticality. The sense of those higher up gesturing downward.

The white ruffs around the faces of the children, and their somber attention.

In Chicago

In Chicago
We have moved to Chicago. I went to the Art Institute soon after we arrived and was happy to see that the museum has a wonderful Berthe Morisot. I have wanted to keep thinking about her. I find that I remember vividly each experience I’ve had of her work in the last few years: two watercolors from the Clark, an exhibition at the Met that had several of her paintings, a visit to the Musée Marmottan while M played with S in the public gardens. The peculiar density of atmosphere that Morisot achieves seems like something to learn from. Perhaps I am affected by knowledge of her biography, and her early death, but it feels to me as if she knew there might not be much time, and that she put everything she knew, about a person, a child, a garden, a hat, into each painting.    

rcohen 174


One thing, I think, is that she is able to keep everything in motion.  This morning, a first day of school, the perpetual motion of everything and everybody – all our objects, all the four of us, all our places and people – feels overwhelming, but look at how she brings the garden to the dress, the fan away from and toward the dress, the dress itself toward blue, toward purple, toward the body and the air.  

rcohen 174


I don’t think it is a photographic accident that the face of the woman becomes clearer and more meaningful when looked at with the hat and figure of the child behind her. Morisot has done something with the beige and white shades of their two heads and hats that allows my eye to make a relation between the two figures. The woman’s face becomes less ghostly, I see what she thinks about and how she feels happiness and even love across those green strokes to the child.

rcohen 174


When I look back at our pictures of the summer, I see that we were often sitting where sand or green plants or water made a continuousness between us and the children. I feel I will miss this in the greater distinctness of fall.

In summer there is the challenge of making meaningful and definite that which is blurred by heat and continuity and abundance. Morisot has not forgotten the work of it.  This morning, I am especially fond of that rake, like a paintbrush, like a pen, to one side.  

rcohen 174