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Ahhh, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)

Yesterday I intended to go to the blockbuster exhibition at the NGV. When I got there I thought “Monet can wait”, and I went on a guided tour of the general collection instead. A great decision! The guide, Julia, was wonderful, very knowledgeable and interesting. One of the things I really appreciate about tours like this is that the guides show me paintings that I would walk past. I might not always like them, but guides like Julia give me so much more, explaining symbols, the history of the work and so on. They explain why that work should there with all the other glorious things.

Before I take you to two that Julia showed me yesterday I have to show you two exhibits in the foyer.

The blockbuster I didn’t see (but will!) is ‘Monet’s Garden’. As we know he is famous for his water lilies. Celeste Boursier-Mougenot has reworked this concept to create a stunning, zen-like acoustic installation.

Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen
Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Here it is as the whole. Yes, they are simple white bowls.

Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen, in the foyer of the NGV
Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen, in the foyer of the NGV (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

It is a circular pond. A pump moves the water, which causes the bowls to float and move. If that graceful movement was not enough, there is the sound that they make as they gently collide, like the bells in a temple. As you can see from the photo so many people were entranced, sitting, watching, listening. If you are passing by, pop in and have a look. You won’t be disappointed.

Also in the foyer is this gorgeous creation. Again it was very eye catching!

Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer
Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer

This (taxidermic) deer is covered in various sized glass beads. I loved the effect, but found it a little disturbing.

Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer
Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer

Now our tour continues up a few levels of the gallery, to look at two very different paintings of the Virgin Mary. First, the paintings:

Sassoferrato: 'Madonna in prayer' (Italian, painted about 1640-50)
Sassoferrato: ‘Madonna in prayer’ (Italian, painted about 1640-50)
Bernardo Cavallino: 'The Virgin Annunciate' (Italian, painted about 1645 - 50)
Bernardo Cavallino: ‘The Virgin Annunciate’ (Italian, painted about 1645 – 50)

They were both about the same size, painted around the same time, both Italian. While they are paintings of the Virgin Mary, they are very different interpretations. (And I have walked past both paintings a number of times without stopping to look!)

The sign next to Sassoferrato’s Madonna (the first painting) said “a classic example of the Catholic Church’s emphasis during the Counter-Reformation on reaffirming devotion to the Virgin Mary.” It is a beautiful painting, showing Mary as she is usually portrayed, demure, devoted, and wearing blue robes.

Then there was the second painting. It would have been paired on an altar with a painting of the Archangel Gabriel announcing the dramatic news to Mary. Cavallino has painted this work so wonderfully. He uses highlights to emphasis his message. The light falls onto Mary’s face. Her expression is somber, and I think the red around her nose indicates that she has been crying. This is not the usual portrayal of the Annunciation, which show Mary ecstatic and filled with joy. Instead she is a young woman who has just received some overwhelming news. She is human, her emotions are real.

However, her hands are also highlighted. They are held in a position that shows acceptance, acceptance of the news from Gabriel. For me, it is a very moving painting. She   is challenged but also courageous and dignified.

I am so glad that Julia made me really look at these two paintings.