I stand still, amazed, in the Bernand Sunley Room. One painting catches my eye – Jan Van Huysum’s “Vase with Flowers” – and I inch forward to examine it. The beauty is in the details: the bee perching on a vine, the ladybug scuttling on a leaf, the subtly colored eggs warming in a nest. To me, it is not a boring still-life; it is an engaging portrait of nature. The more I look, the more I see, and the more engrossed I become.
And indeed, I feel the same way about all of Dulwich Picture Gallery.
As an English major and Journalism minor from the States, I may not have an art history background, but that doesn’t mean I can’t fully appreciate the works of art in the gallery. As an intern for Dulwich OnView, I had done my research: the gallery is the oldest public art gallery in England and houses collections of Roman, French, Italian, English, Flemish, Dutch and Spanish painters. I thought I knew what to expect. However, my hour-long walk through the gallery was surprising and exciting.
Paintings and portraits line the walls of the gallery, and artifacts like ornate chairs and marble tables add to the atmosphere. In Dulwich Picture Gallery, you’re transported to another world, where religious scenes float before you, small peasants leer at you, characters from mythology grin at you, and dogs look as though they’re wagging their tails at you. Portrait people sing, playing the clavichord or the organ as accompaniment, and you can almost hear their echos.
Everything in the main section of the gallery is pristine, beautifully laid out so that my eyes wander effortlessly from painting to painting. The temporary exhibit – “Murillo & Justino de Neve: The Art of Friendship” – is just as breath-taking.
The room in which Murillo’s paintings are displayed is dark. The immense paintings hang high on the walls and shine bright against the black walls. From religious paintings to paintings of children, Murillo’s work is detailed and beautiful. I marvel at “Three Boys,” which captures the innocence of childhood, as the boy on the left grins at the viewer. The painting is so lifelike, and so gargantuan, that I expect the characters to walk out of the frame and pass me a piece of their pie.
I’m delighted to see the X-radiographs of some of Murillo’s more famous paintings, including “Three Boys” and “Spring (?) as a Flower Girl.” One wall is devoted to different versions of “Three Boys,” from wallpapers to tapestries. A four-year-old points, tugging on his mom’s sleeve, and says, “Hey, that’s a little boy like me!”
When I leave the gallery, I am overwhelmed. Just like Van Huysum’s “Vase with Flowers,” the beauty of Dulwich Picture Gallery is in the details. And I am excited to work here for the next nine weeks and rediscover that beauty every day.
Look forward to my articles about local happenings in South London, including other gallery visits, theatre reviews and alternative events!