I had an Alice in Wonderland experience at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s new Arcadia show. All of a sudden as I walked into one of the galleries, I saw the paintings that had followed me from house to house, from childhood to adolescence.
I had an Alice in Wonderland experience at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s new Arcadia show. All of a sudden as I walked into one of the galleries, I saw the paintings that had followed me from house to house, from childhood to adolescence. I was transported, so to speak.
But the small reproductions of Paul Gauguin’s, Henri Rousseau’s and Henri Matisse’s works that populated my childhood bedroom walls had grown in size. Now they took over entire walls — or actually what would have been my entire room and part of the hallways.
The scale and the colors of the paintings blew me away, and the details now in full scale revealed even better their beauty and harmony. I don’t know if it’s the way they’re placed and lit at this exhibit, but there were myriad details I never noticed before.
Lucky me, I was allowed to take a few pictures of the fragments of images and memory.
Standing in front of Rousseau’s “The Dream,” where a naked woman is reclined in a jungle sofa, surrounded by wild animals and plants, I recognized the gentle astonished eyes of the two lions who had become my friends on restless nights. They were enormous and even more gentle, but the pink snake remained as scary as usual.
Gauguin’s painting “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” was so minuscule in my bedroom that I invented stories as a child about a weird creature surrounded by yellow in the upper right-hand corner. At museum scale (the canvas is 4 feet by 12 feet!), it’s clearly a doe-like creature, basking in sunlight, underlined by the painter’s signature.
Maybe I’m also noticing all those because we all seem to be ready for a more Arcadian vision of the world, a place where worry-free, half-dressed figures frolic and enjoy the land of milk and honey in idealized landscapes. Maybe that’s why my parents picked up colorful pictures from museums along the way in our endless travels and moves, to adorn our many bedrooms.
It made me think of what we remember about our childhood bedroom walls and how, if at all, they shape how we look at things as adults. Over the weekend I asked my friends to tell me about one image, poster, photo, painting, drawing or medal they could remember. To my surprise, some drew a blank. Others couldn’t stop talking about the many magazines they tore apart to get that one picture they wanted. One spoke of a precious photo of a beloved grandfather.
What do you remember from the walls of your childhood bedroom? How have those images stuck with you to this day?