Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena



Have you ever had the privilege of standing before a work of art, a work you’ve seen a ka-jillion times in print, but never in person? I had just such an experience last week when my painting buddy Nicole and I headed to Pasadena’s Norton Simon Museum for an art outing.



For ages now folks have been telling me to visit that museum, and I’ve truly wanted to go. But you know how it is – life is pulling you in different directions, and then when you do have some free time, you forget you were even interested in doing that, so you end up doing nothing. But I digress… Nicole and I arrived at the Norton Simon at high noon – when the doors opened. We didn’t have much of a game plan, other than making sure we saw an exhibit about the accidental discovery of synthetic blue (paint tint). We just wanted to wander around. And so we began.



The museum itself is gorgeous and rests on almost 8 acres, which is pretty fabulous. The gardens are tremendously beautiful and the sculpture collection is amazing.



They have a casting of Rodin’s “The Thinker” and it’s pretty cool to walk around, studying it. They have several Rodin pieces, in fact, and they’re gorgeous.



It was fun to round a corner and see an original work that’s familiar, such as Vincent van Gogh’s “The Mulberry Tree.” I’ve seen this Diego Rivera painting – “The Flower Vendor (Girl With Lilies)” – on cards and in magazines forever. To see the real deal was crazy:



Same with this pair of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s “Adam” and “Eve” paintings.



Certain pieces seemed familiar, but I may be wrong about that.



Others were brand-spanking-new to me. And I was smitten.



As for that aforementioned exhibit about synthetic blues, it was fascinating! As I said, that color’s invention was an accident (the chemists were trying to develop a new red) and it changed the painting world. Before this new Prussian Blue, blue paints were unstable and their hues would change with time and exposure. This was no bueno for artists, as their vision couldn’t be fully realized in a fashion they could depend on. But suddenly, Prussian Blue came along and it led to a newer, more reliable blue. If an artist used it alone or mixed it with other colors, the hues remained more steady, more true. After Prussian Blue, the French government sponsored a contest for chemists to develop a new, stable Ultramarine hue. I was blown away, thinking of a government sponsoring and supporting the arts in such a fashion. I also learned why – to this day – the color is called French Ultramarine. Makes perfect sense now. All of these developments took place in the 1700s and the exhibit included beautiful pieces (like the detail above), representing the new colors. Again – I was smitten.



After going through the Asian collection of mostly sculpture, Nicole asked if I was getting museum-ed out. I didn’t hesitate in answering, “Yes.” We looked at our watches and realized the joint was nearing closing time. We had been there almost 5 hours!



Let me be honest here. I adore Nicole. She is an amazing soul and I respect her to the nth degree. She’s also smart and fun, and those qualities count – a lot. I share this because I know going on an outing with her played a role in my reception of the day, but there was something more. And I’m not quite sure what that something was. I think this may have been the most inspiring art outing I’ve known. I got super-duper ideas for future projects. I chilled out about some of the mistakes I make in painting, when I saw very similar occurrences in the works of masters. Nicole and I talked through certain aspects of painting, and my brain was spinning in the best possible way. It really was a grand outing. And I’m so glad we went.



I now want to take Mister to the Norton Simon Museum and I encourage everyone to go, if you’re in or around Pasadena. Don’t be like me, y’all. Don’t let decades pass before heading over. It’s just too wonderful to wait.