Great Expectations


“River Landscape” – Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1607

Last week I mentioned that sometimes viewing artwork online sets up expectations in terms of size and viewing experience that turn out to be very different in person. This week, following that idea, I wanted to share an experience like this I had a few years ago when I was visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. I saw “River Landscape” by the Flemish artist, Jan Brueghel the Elder in person.

I couldn’t get over the size of the painting! It seems impossible that the painting is only 8 1/8” x 12 5/8” in size. The amount of detail he was able to create with each tiny little brush stroke was truly amazing. Breathtaking. I could have stood there for hours trying to exam each minute detail of that painting. (But, to the other people in my group’s delight, I kept on moving!)

It is certainly understandable why this artist’s nickname is the Velvet Brueghel. When I would look at a photograph of his detailed landscapes in a book, it just seemed unimaginable a painting that spectacular could be so small. I am sure I never checked out the size of the painting in the photograph and just assumed it was another one of those huge old master paintings you see in the museums that often seem to encompass the entire wall of a museum with its 12” wide gold frame. Well, it was wonderful to be reminded of this simple, overlooked source of happy surprise. I always remember to check out the dimensions of the photographs of the artwork I am looking at.

Now, with the art exhibits online, like the online exhibit I mentioned last week about the miniature show my art was in at the Mitchell Gallery,  it is even easier to forget about the size of the original piece of art. As in the “River Landscape”, you can just keep on zooming in, creating one humongous painting, which to me, is very exciting.


Jan Brueghel the Elder

I love examining his work and filling up my computer screen with his painting, sitting in awe over his intricate and precise brush strokes, so delicately placed at just the correct location. The details of his paintings–made hundreds of years ago–are able hold up to enlarging the image many, many more times than its original size.  What would Jan Brueghel the Elder say about all of that?

You tend to forget the size of the art when viewing it online or in a book. It may not be at all what you are imagining when you see how small this painting is in person. But for me, it is another added bonus that makes seeing art in person even more exciting–you get to marvel at it’s real size.

In my own personal experience, that realization–that the art is either larger or smaller than I originally anticipated–has never been a disappointment to me. In fact, it has always made my experience with that particular piece of art, even more fascinating, more memorable, and more remarkable! Like most art, nothing can replace being there in person.

Especially when viewing a small or miniature show. Sometimes you really do need those magnifying glasses the gallery provides its guests! That is what makes this type of show even more interesting-when you realize how small some of the art really is in person. Great expectations can be framed in all sizes.


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