According to my mother, my first visit to a museum happened on the very day I was released form hospital a few days after birth. My father triumphantly carried me fro room to room through the Rijksmuseum. Rarely did a week pass by that we were not in one great museum or another. One of the perks to being an Amsterdammer.
My father had inherited the painting gene in his family. He did for a time when I was about three try supporting us on the sales of his paintings. He had also luckily inherited the sales and marketing abilities which had long kept generations from having to pursue “real” jobs. Collecting rent is a long cry from a real job. It must have been a crushing brush with reality, washing bottles and lab equipment at Shell Oil’s laboratories. both my parents had been cheated of a high school education, both were just 17 when WWII ended. Dad took night school and worked to bring himself up to where he could attend University, nothing was handed him. My mother either, she worked as a nanny and private nurse to underwrite her nursing studies.
On this particular day I was the daughter of the Artist. I had no notion, no idea if we were rich or poor. I knew I was loved and cared for. My parents took a great deal of time to point out the wonders and beauty of the world around me. I hung on every word, I was a sponge. I loved everything about my parents’ interests, it was our bond. I shared painting with dad, opera with mother. I studied every stitch my mother performed with her patient and talented hands. I sat excitedly by father as he painted, I can see them still if I close my eyes. It explains, perhaps why my paintings, without any intent, look so much like his work.
The museum, in particular Boyman van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam,was and always will be my favourite place on this earth, my holy place, it is in my heart even when I cannot get there myself. That is where my tiny hand touched the bronze foot of Degas’ ballet dancer. It is where, in my opinion, the most beautiful clocks ever made, tick harmoniously now as in centuries past. These are the survivors, valuable enough that war and fires did not destroy them. Nothing chronicles history as well as paintings do. There for me to see in one room the Armada fights at sea, and in another, Bosch’s Tower of Babel’s staggering detail (the painting is barely a square foot in size) speaks of an artist sparing no amount of his very spirit to put on canvas (actually I believe it is on wood) all of what one moment in time could possibly mean. Within the one story of the painting there are dozens of smaller stories. I’ve spent hours with this painting and still have not fully taken it all in.
Of course little girls cannot keep up with adults, their legs will get tired. This day there were paintings on loan from another gallery — the specifics I do not know, just that it was very special — with a great deal of excitement my parents had gone room to room. When I became tired the first time I was allowed to lie on a bench in the grandfather clock room. My parents could then spend some time in the adjoining room which had remarkable seascapes. My father’s and also my mother’s family had been in the shipbuilding business for centuries, it follows they had some considerable knowledge and interest in the subject. At age four or so the details of one ship versus another are not terribly interesting. It was by far my favourite place in the world to take a nap, watched by the timeless timepieces, hearing them tick tock with a sense of the infinite.
On the second floor in the room with the blue walls I did my best to show how tired I had again become. Why? Because I still did not like mandrills, and in this room there was an intimidatingly large painting of a mandril by Kokoschka. Daddy picked me up, while he admired the Kokoschka I looked out of the window, where below in the courtyard large zaftig bronzes looked pensively at each other. The window was a welcome view, I did not like blue walls, I still don’t. The next room had green walls. Some very nice landscapes.
I lay down on the bench in the green room I imagined myself walking through each of the landscapes. I was very tired, there had been a lot of walking, my shoes pinched. I sat up to look for mom and dad. I was alarmed when I could not find them. Maybe they had gone for another look in the blue room, being how fond they were of those awful mandrills. I turned my little groggy head around. There, directly behind me was the most ghastly nightmarish sight I gasped, gurgled choked by the fear of what faced me. I let out a scream. I think I had everyone’s attention. My dad swept me up, my mother grabbed me. An apparent lapse in parental judgment had put me down for a nap facing away from Goya’s “Saturn Eating One of His Children.”
I loathe that painting, even more than a mandril. How could a father eat his child, or any child. What monsters were there in my world? I held on very tightly to my mommy. That was the very last time that I ever took a nap anywhere at Boyman’s other than the clock room.