Underway for the Musée des Beaux-Arts, I passed before a series of murals, for which Montréal does not lack. Two elements of a series, of which I found only half, particularly held my attention. They depicted Montréal’s parks in different seasons. Although I could not determine with any certainty whether the park was the same in both nor whether the view and section of the park held true from one iteration to another, this owed perhaps to my rain-specked glasses rather than a shortcoming on the artist’s part.
Regardless, I stood for a time to take in through said rain-flecked glasses the wash of colors: in one case, notable in the fall foliage and, in the other, a sort of wintry mist. The colors in each seemed not so much blurred as stretched into horizontal bands, as if the air were absorbing the city or the city the season, I could not tell which, to the point of being entirely suffused with the other’s properties. Red, orange and gold, violet, blue and white alike subsumed by the city intent on expanding into the air itself.
Though I had not planned for such, the day of my visit coincided with the museum’s monthly free entry, and so, in addition to the collection, I also had the pleasure of taking in slamming doors and children racing through forests of columns, a security guard in slow pursuit. Unsure of where to begin, I opted for the tried and true, if uninteresting, chronological progression.
The Middle Ages exercise a strange fascination over me, of which I can make little sense. For I am at once bored, repelled and bewitched by the exploitation of the same few religious scenes and motifs, their repetition itself a sign of just how much closer was their world to another, even though I know such to be false. This repetition or definition of canon might prove rather nearer those galleries of Pyongyang said to hold nothing but endless variations on Kim family portraiture.
So I ambled between carvings of saints and stained glass windows, some rescued from Paris’ Saint-Germain des Près and its Virgin Mary Chapel and presenting scenes of a shepherd and a priest which were perhaps never shown together in the proximity that they found here, in the echo of a chapel, the solemn simulacrum. A trio of others hailed from the private chapel at Hampton Court, 15th century depictions of Anne, Winifred and Becket. Red, blue and white quite exhausted the range of color, and a decorative dais shielded each holy from a sea of white cross-hatched diamonds around and yellow tones obtained with silver salt.
Farther out, the occasional floral or geometric pattern surfaces for one unending moment upon the milky waters. So housed in marble and gold, the holies go about their work in all tranquility, as evident in Becket’s face, a few black brushstrokes lending human form to that same immutable white as without. The aureola, framed by crushed blue, did little to dispel the illusion, and a vaguely inhuman quality clung to the figure, no brows, no emotions, no movement. In it all, I detected the West’s own intuitions of what was to become the Japanese floating world.