Rembrandt and the Cat
I posted yesterday about taking my daughter Louisa's old cat Clifford to the vet to be put to sleep and about how hard that was for all of us. Here he is in better days, sitting in our dining room on a favored chair. The trouble with falling in love is eventually every relationship you have has to end. Yet who would want to live a life without loves both large and small in it?
Why have humans always made some sort of art? Everywhere you go, any continent, any century you sooner or later just trip over the stuff. Fortunately some of it is pretty good and every now and then you'll see something from another time that just takes your breath away. A good Rembrandt can do that for me. Rembrandt was a man who experienced serious losses in his life. There's not much written record of what he said about art or living. Nonetheless he has a lot to say to us.
Here's a favorite of mine, one of his paintings of a windmill. It's the very end of a sunset, a time when the light is sliding rapidly towards the darkness . Obviously given its prominence in the painting, Rembrandt felt there was something of real beauty and great value in the windmill. Yet he chose to picture it just as it was about to disappear from view. I think he was telling us this was something we should look at and value while we can, and then hold it in our memory. Fortunately for us Rembrandt was a talented painter and could give his emotion a physical form. Rembrandt left us long ago, but his painting still remains, quietly radiating his gentle gift to us.
Cats don't talk much. A simple little soul, Clifford nonetheless was a cat of strong opinions. What would Clifford have to say to us now with the benefit of hindsight? I was actually wondering about this yesterday sitting in the waiting room at the vet right before going in to see him for the last time. A large black dog was brought out from the back by one of the assistants to be returned to its waiting owner. The dog's delight at seeing that familiar face just erupted through the small room. I imagined Clifford looking at this thoughtfully before turning to me and saying "Look- that dog is doing just what he is supposed to do. He's into this moment. He's being alive with all his heart. That's how we should live." It was just a brief little fantasy I know, but it felt very real. In its way it was real.
Here's Clifford leaving my studio after a hard morning of the brushes and canvas.