I went to LACMA last week and when the exhibition we planned on visiting wasn’t fully operational at the time, we decided to go up to the mysterious third floor of the Ahmanson Building, which featured a weird Rodarte exhibition where unappealingly 70s looking dresses were allegedly inspired by medieval religious iconography (hmm…) but was mostly sponsored galleries of artwork donated from private collections.
There was a lot of ornately carved marble, sandstone and alabaster, great, big Victorian portraits of unfortunate looking British people, various Rodins, Degas, Gauguins and Monets, and on a wall, next to a doorway to a gallery was a tiny, tiny canvas called Copenhagen: Roofs Under the Snow by Peder Severin Krøyer.
Everything about this painting should have made it fade into the background. It was really small, the colors were muted, the image was almost pedestrian, but when put together, all those things actually made the painting engaging.
The quirks make it feel alive and real, and not like a study of rooftops. The point of view draws you in and makes you want to know where he was when he painted this. You can almost feel the cold through the window or the heat from within. The light feels like sunset and it’s all so very small that there’s an intimacy, almost a voyeurism, to looking at it. More than anything, though, I felt a sense of safety and warmth and comfort looking at the painting.
I even attempted to photograph it with my own crappy little point and click camera, so you could get a better idea of what it looks like without the digital manipulation to show it in its best light. And believe it or not, it’s not even that much larger than my photo.
I might have responded more to it because winter was my favorite season while I was growing up on Long Island. I fondly remember feeling the cold wind on my face and smelling the burning wood from fireplaces as I’d walk home from my friend Helen’s house. The heat of summer makes me drowsy and stupid, but a cold, crisp Long Island winter day always seemed full of potential, opportunity. There’s a reason the phrase “Come in from the cold,” has so much emotional heft, while we just “go crazy from the heat.”
And it’s probably all those warm, nostalgic feelings I have for the Long Island winters of my childhood that makes me love this painting so much. But even with all the cognitive dissonance around it of galleries that didn’t seem so much curated as thrown together based upon collector, this humble little canvas was my favorite new painting at LACMA.
And if you want to see photos of other paintings, sculptures and what not that caught my eye, here’s the slideshow.