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Avenue At Middleharnis, Meindert Hobbema

Avenue At Middleharnis, Meindert Hobbema

On a rough day when I still worked at the gallery I’d take a specially curated walk. The gallery itself was a wonderful building to work in, my office was on one side beneath the religious iconography of the 13th century, my project space and teams were on the more contemporary side of the 19th century art collection, not too far away from the Impressionists and other visionaries. I knew so little about my art tastes when I started working there, over three years though I formed a daily habit for appreciating something beautiful and i built up a personal portfolio of sensory treasures. I needed to, the personal dynamics of the organisation made working there hostile and emotionally fraught but there was always a piece of work I could seek out to find comfort.

Needing to traverse the gallery space I could take the outside course, crossing the top of Trafalgar Square, side stepping stationary tourists and feed pecking pigeons, plowing through clouds of filthy bird feathers, delightful. By delightful I mean yuck, but that 90 second escape hatch brought me in to the fresh air of the day and was by far the most convenient route to the furthest of my project outposts in the East Wing.

On rainy days I could navigate the warren of internal, staff only passageways, a particular favourite was the straight path from the Sainsbury Wing beneath the Portico along the Directors’ Corridor exiting out in to the East Wing. I’m a heavy footed noisy stepper and the rhythmic echo of heel toe on the parquet floors would give me a little aural disconnect, like focusing on your breathing during an asthma attack. I’d sink in to the gaps between the footsteps and reorder myself internally, before pulling opening the heavy doors to reemerge in to the storminess of my day.

The granite flights of Sainsbury Wing staircase connect three floors on that side of the building, it was a route I referred to fondly as The Stairmaster, my thighs were amazing but I took it on the way up only if I had to. This was a crisis pathway and my least favourite, on a hard day the stone cliff held a lifeline when I made it to the summit which made the effort worthwhile.

It seems obvious in a way that a gallery like this one would be a magical place to get lost in, on early mornings, staff from varying parts of the organisation’s team would spend a bit of time truly alone with something they loved or were interested in. Forming a connection with a piece of art was normal and being able to feed that without the background hum of the general public was very special. I don’t care much for what the royal family do, but that Prince Charles would hold private dinners in one of the gallery rooms is the only thing i envy. Imagine it. No really, close your eyes and imagine what that must be like!

My first loves in that space were the two Turners bequeathed to be displayed alongside works by Claude, I would detour past them if I had time but more often than not I did not, and I would clip clop through rooms full of magnificence and concentrate on reaching my safe haven.

My quest would bring me to Avenue at Middleharniss by Meindert Hobbema, it used to hang in Room 22 until a deranged curator had it moved. Okay the curator probably knew what they were going for when it took up residence in Room 19, but the rehang irretrievably changed my experience of this painting.

My favourite art mirrors something back to me and I curated my art therapy tour, so that when I entered Room 22 Middleharniss faced me directly from the back wall. Hobbema does an interesting optical thing with the trees lining the avenue, so that the flow from foreground to background is a smooth elegant transition. I love how he manoeuvres me deeper in to the painting and I would walk an imaginary procession up to the back wall in a straight line with my eye drawn to the sweet spot on the horizon, it was a total and complete escape.