‘The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I've never seen a moon in the sky that, if it didn't take my breath away, at least misplaced it for a moment”. Colin Farrell
I love this painting. I LOVE this painting. It is perhaps the most important painting I have ever seen in my life. I first saw it at the Philadelphia Museum of Art when I was in junior high school, and a few of us one afternoon, for some unremembered reason, decided to go the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I came upon the Boldini in the first floor gallery of European Art on a wall on the left of the gallery, and it literally stopped me. I was caught and amazed. I looked at it, moving closer to take in the all the beautifully crafted colors, the subtly changing shades of green and brown marking the highway, the scale of the carriage and the people, and the placement of the trees along the road. Then I noticed the sky in this painting-the varying shades of blue that seem to infuse the scene with magic, the way the background sky seemed to just arise and appear to slowly dominate the scene, and the marvelous clouds that seem to be quietly, majestically, and steadily in motion. The scene felt alive; real, and I was hooked. Every time after that whenever I went to the museum I had to see that painting. In my high school years, in my early 20’s- for some fifteen or so years I visited this painting as often as I could. It changed location during those fifteen years, but I had to see It and I tracked it down. When they took it off view for some 15 years I was saddened. And when I saw it back on view in the 1990’s I was astonished and joyous and-I literally burst out crying when I first saw it again. This is probably the single most important painting I have seen in my life. For this is the painting that has made me forever look up and marvel at the sky.
I was an urban kid and did not have too much experience being outside the city. Some summers we stayed for a while with relatives in Coatesville when I was a kid, but I really didn’t notice the sky then. I liked the trails we walked, the dirt roads, and the sounds of the freight train going to and from Lukens Steel. But I paid little attention to the sky. But in my high school years I had more outside experiences, and they happened after I had seen that painting. So I was much more aware of the sun, the clouds, the moon and the wondrousness of sky. I went to the Folk Festival and to Be-Ins and was listening to music outside in the day and in the night. I started going camping and birdwatching and could look at the sky away from city lights. Looking up became of vital importance to me. Fortunately, when I married Penny, she was a camper and birder as well. In fact we had a tent-camping honeymoon in Maine and Nova Scotia. And through our 40 year-long relationship we had so many incredible experiences with the wonders of the sky: seeing several eclipses over a lake at Montezuma State Park in upstate New York, watching full moons in West Virginia, Canada and upstate Pennsylvania; seeing dozens of meteor showers away from city lights and marveling at the sheer number of stars and meteors; waking with the sun numerous mornings in our campsites and watching many magical and colorful sunrises. And I will never forget the experience we had one night at one of her cousins’ house in Arizona: laying on sleeping bags for a couple of hours outside on the deck, watching a moose walk by the house, and looking up into the clear night sky at the Perseid meteor shower as a wolf howled. Watching the sky has become an important part of how I take In the world, and it brings me pleasure and joy.
I am thinking of that now because I am again doing more walking and specifically more early morning walking. If I leave the house around 5:30-6:00 AM I am catching the last of the nights’ darkness and watching the day coming into being simultaneously. If I look south and east, I often see the orangish, yellowish, reddish streaks that are beautifully announcing the day. And if I look to the north and the west I can still see the moon sitting shyly above the roofs. It is just hovering there, watching over us for just a little longer. No matter the mood I am in upon awakening, seeing day and night simultaneously improves it, if only for a while. It is quiet amazement that I can tap into as I start my day. It is glorious.
I owe all of that to Boldini and that magical highway in France. Encountering his work was the start of a lifetime of my “skyjoy.” The way experiencing his marvelous work of art has influenced me still astounds me, and I am so grateful. I think I will visit the Art Museum again in the next week and spend some more time in Gallery 155. I have to say, “Thanks” to a painting.