Not to early this morning I bundled up in my down coat and hat.  The last couple days here in Dublin have made me think that I might see some snow before I leave for Poland (which I can hardly believe is just over a week away).  For myself, traipsing through snow is old hat but I have met a few fellow travelers who have yet to see their first falling flakes.  Besides, those first few are always a treat.  It’s the billions that often follow that force even the toughest of animals into hibernation.  So enough about the snow.  There was an adventure to be had and I was going to have it.

I crossed the River Liffey and, as I always seem to do, stopped to look down it at the bridges that recede into the distance.  Before long I found myself in another area of Dublin I had never seen.  The stores were much smaller than I have become accustomed to seeing in Dublin.  These were clearly the mom and pop shops of the city.  The wafting smell of croissants and doughnuts lured me into a tiny bakery for a quick snack before heading to the museum.  And, by “heading to the museum” I mean that eventually I would make my way there.  See, I didn’t bring a map and for some reason I had confidence that I would remember to go left, right, right, left, left, and then right on the correct streets.  At which point I would arrive at the main entrance of The National Gallery of Ireland.  As I circled through the unpopulated streets in what I thought was perfect order I  soon realized that I was deciding which direction to turn based on a cheat code to an old Nintendo game that closely resembled my memorized directions.  When I got to the corner and thought to myself, “Ok, now just hit select and start,” I realized I was lost.

I may not have known where I was but I recognized the people that were populating these new streets.  They hustled by me with their head in the air, carrying briefcases and wearing suits.  One thing I have come to learn is that business people everywhere look the same.  A block ahead I thought I saw the museum but it turned out to be a bank of epic proportions.  Two streets later I had finished my croissant and was standing in front of the National Gallery.

I climbed the stairs to the first room and out of the corner of my eye I saw a oil painting brooding on the wall.  It’s pitch black chiaroscuro and  deep red accents told me that this was my main man, Michelangelo Caravagio.  I took a closer look, only to realize that this large as life painting had thus far eluded me entirely.  This struck me as odd because of the (admittedly inordinate) amount of time I have spent pouring over this master’s works.  This painting, it seems, has a history of being quite elusive.  For nearly 200 years “The Taking of Christ” was thought to have been destroyed, until it was rediscovered in a dining room in the home of the Dublin Jesuits in 1990.  Since then it has been on an indefinite loan to The National Gallery.  Just to set the scene, the painting captures the moment that Judas identifies Jesus to the Roman soldiers by giving him a kiss.  The soldiers are grasping for the betrayed Christ as John flees in the background.  One other interesting tidbit about this painting is the presence of Caravagio himself.  He painted himself holding a lantern as he watches the duplicity unfold.

I left this first room and anxiously approached the others on this floor.  Then I went to the special exhibition on the top story of the museum.  I had never heard the name of this artist before but surely the hype surrounding the exhibit meant that it was a must-see when visiting.  Now, let me be honest.  The moment before I entered the three room special exhibition I was extremely disappointed.  I saw the word “watercolor” and my heart dropped.  I know that art is subjective and we can all have our own point of view on it.  That being said, I just plain do not like watercolors.  To me, they are dull.  I find Easter eggs more exiting than most watercolor paintings.  These rooms, however, changed my mind about the possibilities of this medium.  The artists name was Joseph Mallord William Turner.  The collection of 31 of his works arrived at The National Gallery in 1900.  The story of their arrival begins with the son of a wealthy hat maker named Henry Vaughn.  Vaughn was an avid art collector and when he died in 1899 his collection of works by Turner were left to the National Galleries of the United Kingdom, under two conditions: 1. All the works must be shown together during the month of January only, and 2. The exhibition must remain free to the public.  The Gallery in Ireland happily acquiesced to these conditions and began exhibiting Turner’s magnificent watercolors (along with one pencil sketch and six monochromes) every January over one hundred years ago.  These paintings sparkle with the life of the places they depict.  All of his works portray the real places he visited to paint them, including Scotland, the South Coast of England, and Venice.  For me, what sets him apart is his use of color to heighten the drama of the scene.  His dark blue oceans crash with whitecapped waves.  His fiery suns burn from the center and illuminate the seascaped coast.  His style is powerful and gives life to the environment it captures.  The way he described it, after being lambasted by his contemporaries for “improperly” using watercolors, was to say that “atmosphere is my style” and I couldn’t have said it better.

This was not all the Gallery had to offer and I highly recommend that when you travel to Ireland you make this a stop on your own adventure.  In particular, the exhibit on the Irish painter Jack Yeats alone would make the trip worthwhile with his vibrant, thick-layered paints and great name.  Well, it looks like the sun is going to shine like a Joseph Turner watercolor for a little bit this afternoon so I really must get out to enjoy it.  Until our next adventure…

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