As a child I went with my mother and older brother to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. At the time, the museum, which resembled a Venetian palace, still possessed thirteen rare works which now have been missing for decades. These included Rembrandt’s only known seascape, Storm on the Sea of Galilee, and a Vermeer painting, The Concert.
I confess to having been disturbed by the Rembrandt painting, which was overpoweringly large and dark–and in which I recall only a fearsome smattering of white against roiling blue-black, and the horrifying tilt of a ship in a perfect storm (literally the stuff of nightmares for the young me, and possibly most children who grow up near a coastline).
I was drawn to the more Lilliputian Vermeer, with its checkerboard floor and straight, dependably even lines, and its soothing depiction of music being played.
These very paintings were stolen many years later in a brazen and notorious heist; one of the rumored players in the theft turned up as a figure of importance in two homicides in the county where I had by then gone to work as a prosecutor. Things can circle back in strange ways.
Other missing and unfinished artwork has meandered through our lives.
My mother has the likely rare distinction of having lost a Jackson Pollock painting—or, to be more precise, a joint painting by my mother and Jackson Pollock on a Sunday New York Times. (The circumstances of both the painting’s production and its loss are a bit fuzzy. . . and I perhaps should warn a handful of regular readers that if their memories on the subject persist in being unrefreshed, I may have to resort to my imagination to fill in the details.)
A daughter has a wonderful as-yet-unfinished oil painting of Jim’s and my brightly-painted folk art wooden wedding ducks, which were presented to us by my mother the painter (and, with Pollock, co-painter). They have accompanied us from home to home and remain on a fireplace mantle. My mother told us that the ducks were to be turned around to face away from each other if the couple possessing them became angry with each other.
The ducks have remained bill-to-bill, as they are in our daughter’s unfinished painting. The orange under-painting of those unfailingly companionable ducks never fails to bring me comforting images of our long (but not nearly as long as it was meant to be) marriage.
“In the Museum of Lost Objects,” wrote Rebecca Lindenberg:
The last photograph Jim took was of our youngest daughter. Whenever I am outside I see pictures he will not take.
In his photographic archives I recently found some artwork he did not have a chance to finish.
Jim was a fan of the panoramic form. (This seems apt, in many ways; Jim always looked at the whole picture, whereas regular readers and viewers of my photographs know that I am more of a “macro” sort of a person, isolating and intensely focusing on solitary components.)
I discovered Jim had started piecing together several sequences of images, works in progress. To varying degrees these assortments of pictures had uneven edges where he had begun to join images at their seams, creating a visual effect similar to broad strokes of a brush across a thin rectangular canvas.
Almost all of these were of Fenway Park, which happens to be a stone’s throw from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Jim did not leave many things unfinished. He left far, far too young, but not incomplete.
And when I finish cleaning out this home we lived in together, it will remain full of missing things. Its high-ceilinged rooms will have empty walls which would have held so many more pictures–photographed and painted–of what Jim loved. They will join the diamond ring my grandmother (like Lindenberg’s pirate) hid so successfully it will never be found.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon