Monday, May 7, 2007

Before I Die

Like Ernst Kirchner, I celebrated a birthday yesterday—the dreaded landmark of 40. My wife and I enjoyed a lovely dinner out Saturday night, sans Alex, and even managed to talk about some things other than him.

One of the many lovely art-related gifts I received was the book 1,001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die by Stephen Farthing. I’ve put it aside as “a few pages at a time” bedside reading. It’s only slightly more likely that I’ll ever finish it than I’d ever have the time to see all those great works of art. (Picasso’s Guernica, number one on my paintings I’ve yet to see, is above.)

Judging from a quick flip through, I would guess that I’ve seen maybe 8 to 10 percent of the works listed, thanks mainly to our trips to Rome, Florence, London, and Paris and our proximity to the PMA and the New York museums. It’s the homework assignment of a lifetime, if I choose to accept the mission. As the introduction to the book says, it’s more of a pipe dream than an actual goal to accomplish, but, oh, what a glorious dream in the undertaking.

The book offers indexes of the works by title and the artists by name, but sadly no list of works by museum or, even better, works by country and city. If they did that, we could cross reference it with 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz, which I bought for my wife years ago. We could kill 2,001 birds with, uh, 1,000 stones then.

I could argue selections for the 1,001 artworks all day, but here are a few sore points. Only two paintings by Thomas Eakins are selected, and neither is The Gross Clinic, whereas David Hockney gets 5 paintings in. I like Hockney, but he’s no Eakins. There’s an understandable English/European slant to the selections because of who the author and publisher are, but leaving out The Gross Clinic, perhaps the finest American painting ever, seems criminal. Plus, I’ve already seen it, so it would be one more checkmark for me in my race with the Reaper.

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