I think I'll add two more items to my list of items worth saving from London's National Gallery.
One ought to be a no-brainer. That would be Rembrandt's Woman Bathing in as Stream, probably Hendrickje Stoffels, his companion for 24 years after his wife died, and the mother of his daughter. Is it a stretch to say that this might be the sexiest painting in the building. Granted that you've got nothing like the acres of pink flesh you find in the Rokeby Venus or even the Tiepolo Venus. But for vibrancy and immediacy this one is hard to beat: it has the kind of electricity that you find in that grand speech of Mistress Quickly's that I was quoting the other day.
The other is perhaps more eccentric. It is the Portrait of Lord Ribblesdale by John Singer Sargent. At first blush it strikes you as the very essence of British aristocratic arrogance and presumption. But maybe not. Sargent was, after all, an American, however much time he spent abroad. And it was he who asked His Lordship for a sitting, rather than the other way round. And the costume is all wrong: apparently his Lordship himself felt queasy about hunting duds, and what is it with the cape? What we may have, then, is the esssence of British aristocratic arrogance and presumption as seen by an American who really doesn't know what he was talking about. Mrs. Buce passes on an anecdote that may through light on the subject: she tells me how the Sargents apparently carted around with them, at some inconvenience and expense, a cherished Chinese porcelain vase--except that it wasn't a Chinese porcelain vase, it was a fake. Could it be that Sargent was just not the sort of guy to spot a fake when it was in front of his eyes.
Maybe, maybe not. Arguing against my case, the Museum blurb reports that the London Times published a copy of the painting with his Lordship's obituary notice rather than the more conventional photo. Finally--maybe it is my imagination, but could swear that when I was last here nine years ago, Lord Ribblesdale graced the main foyer, where he greeted visitors as they entered. These days he occupies a more discreet, though hardly obscure post in the interior. Could it be that the trustees too decided that it was all a misunderstanding? Or could it be that they decided such a display of Britishness was just carrying a good joker too far?