Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The bill

Installation continues apace. This morning we unpacked, condition-checked, and hung the great self-portrait by Sir William Orpen entitled Myself and Venus that comes to us from the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At once I realized I have made an error in the relevant catalogue entry. The picture is very close to the artist’s nearly contemporaneous Self-Portrait (Leading the Life in the West) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which unfortunately cannot travel any more, and it contains the same conceit of the large, framed mirror facing the window of Orpen’s studio. In the New York painting Orpen showed various invitations, letters, opened envelopes, and other pieces of colored paper slipped between the vertical edges of the mirror and the wall, but in the Pittsburgh picture there is only one—which I took to be a newspaper clipping, perhaps a positive notice in one of the weeklies, or some such. That would be consistent with his steadily growing self-regard.

Instead I see now that this large piece of paper is a sizeable bill from The Café Royal, an itemized check, quite a long one, to which Orpen has added his notional and, I suppose, actual signature at the top, the souvenir of a bibulous evening spent with artist friends in that glamorous establishment at the bottom of Regent Street, hard by Piccadilly Circus, presumably in the opulent surroundings of the Domino Room. As it happens, we will have Charles Ginner’s view of the interior of that very room in the next bay but one, so this could not be a happier state of affairs. As well, the plaster cast of Orpen’s Venus is also present in his collegial group portrait from the Manchester City Art Gallery entitled Homage to Manet, but because in the Pittsburgh picture it is seen by Orpen reflected in the mirror with which he also sees himself it is naturally reversed. These two paintings will hang side by side, which is a rather neat curatorial stratagem, if I do say so.

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