This isn’t anything about the Waterhouse exhibition per se, but more about how it juxtaposes against Groningen’s red-light district.
On the day I arrived in Groningen I spent from about 1pm until 5pm when the exhibition closed, absorbing as much as I could of the beauty on show. Even though I was to spend the whole of the next day in the museum as well, I was still loathe to leave. It reminds me of many of the walks I take around Lever’s Estates nearby where I live, especially during the late Spring and Summer evenings sitting watching the red setting sun as the shadows of the trees grow long over the shimmering wheat fields. I take in it’s beauty at a complete loss really for the words to grasp the true grandeur of these moments and I wonder if it’s ephemeral beauty is all the more awe-inspiring for it’s briefness.
So, as with such glorious sunsets, so with the John Waterhouse exhibition. I left as if I’d been blessed but with a longing that lingered and was hard to define. As I walked afterwards through the prosaic streets of the city I recalled the time I spent with Hyals and the Nymphs in Manchester last year; nothing compared to the pigmented world of myth and beauty I’d just left behind.
It was late evening when my perfect host, Dusko took me for a tour of the city, we both astride bikes that were the ubiquitous mode of travel seemingly for most people of the Netherlands. On our way back home Dusko took me through the red-light district which consisted of just two streets that were actually nowhere near as seedy as I guessed they would be, though I’ll admit to being a little dubious at first as we got off our bikes and walked along. Well, me being as unworldly as I am, had never understood why these places were called ‘red-light’ districts. Simply, the homes where prostitutes offered their services had a red light in their windows, usually beneath which a ‘Lady of the Night’ sat in bored vacancy or posed erotically for the hoped-for passer-by with the greedy eyes. Of course, seeing attractive, almost naked women, was bound to have it’s effect on me but that worked only on one level. The level that worked on the heart was a little dismayed and saddened and just couldn’t relate to it at all. Probably not a popular view, but there you go. I thought there was a kind of eerie loneliness about the whole thing, though I came away kind of thrilled by having seen some of the culture of the country.
Sitting in bed writing my diary later on, it struck me the contrast between the two portrayals of women I’d seen that day within the same city. I know with Waterhouse there is a certain amount of nakedness but, as Nino’s biographer Peter Trippi points out, it’s depicted with a certain decorum. There’s a romance about his depiction of women that works, for me, on the level of the heart which is why I’ve always been moved by them. The red-light district on the other hand simply lacks that heart and works on a level that is, shall we say, a bit lower down? 😉
I just thought Id mention it 🙂
Until next time,