On the eve of the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition, I arrived early enough to spend most of this afternoon at the Dallas Museum of Art. This has become an annual tradition, a relaxing and inspiring way to calibrate my perspective for the judging ahead. For example, I'm not instinctively drawn to the display cases of early-American table utensils any more than I'm drawn to the shelves of merlot at the supermarket. But soon after I pause to scan the cases of 19th-century silver tongs, forks and the like I realize I'm actually enthralled with the purpose, silent stories and intricate artistry of the sardine server, chowder spoon and cake knife. That realization reminds me that even merlot may have some surprises in store and deserve no less scrutiny than pinot noir, zinfandel and riesling.
My favorite reality check each year is in the gallery that houses both Childe Hassam's 1887 "Along The Seine, Winter" and Frederic Edwin Church's 1861 "The Icebergs." Both are as chilly as Dallas this trip. Hassam's small and spare painting is of a one-horse carriage on a snowy Paris street. It's a simple study in gray and white, compact and balanced, more elegant than its ornate gold frame, and so effective in conveying bitter cold you feel like pulling on a pair of gloves. Church's "The Icebergs" is just a few paces away, but it's so monumental it takes up an entire wall all by itself. Icebergs loom in a rosy light that while brilliant also is threatening. Everything about it is forboding, from the size of the icebergs to the fractured mast of a ship almost lost in the foreground. The painting is all mass and power, so forceful you not only want to pull on gloves you feel as if you should back up. While far different in scale, both are marvelous works, masterfully evoking a sense of place and time. Hassam's small, light landscape is easy to overlook in the cluster of neighboring paintings, in particular Church's expansive and dramatic scene. But both have their role, a lesson I'll have to keep in mind while going through flight after flight tomorrow.
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