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Rachel Cohen

Boudin

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.    

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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.  

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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.

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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.  

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Summer of Hokusai

Summer of Hokusai

Hokusai, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, Snail Hall at the Temple of the Five Hundred Arhats, about 1831-1832, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


The summer of Hokusai at the Museum of Fine Arts is over.  I made four brief visits, most with children; they were interested in their own ways.  I was only able to stand really still in front of perhaps twenty of the pieces altogether.  But I have the photographs and from those I can look back and work out something of what my eye and I were interested in.  Edges.

Here is “Night Moon at Izumizaki.”

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Here is the stone bridge in detail.

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The places where people walk – the bridge, the sand in the foreground – have a sharply outlined edge.  When we ourselves stand near the water, the edge of the land is very definite to us.  But the land in the distance meets the water with a different, softer edge. The figures are tiny, and far below us, but we see with them because of the rendering of the edges.    

This was the bridge along which one walked from the pleasure quarter at Nakashima to the center of Chinese learning at the Confucian temple in Kumemura.  That is another way of thinking of the edge between summer and fall.

Here is “Fuji View Plain in Owari Province,” with the signal double-edge of Mount Fuji, tiny within the barrel-in-progress, but present as it is in each of the thirty-six views.

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The barrel is a circle, but it has several kinds of edges. There are the edges of each plank of wood and the lathes that join them:  

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There are the edges on our left, with their relationship to the curve of the tree trunk:

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And those on the right, with the textured binding and its relationship to the leafy band at the foot of the mountain.

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Out of these edges Hokusai and the barrel-maker achieve unification.  That unification seems intended to bear on how we, the viewers, are meant to unify the thirty-six views of Mount Fuji into an understanding of Mount Fuji.

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It was a summer of edges – of arrivals and departures, the loading and unloading of suitcases, the edges of wading pools and of wooden docks pointing into the water, and of the distant edges of ponds which we never swam quite all the way to.  Rounded and mellowed by the turn of the year, it stands whole.