The late, great Iris Murdoch, in her novel The Bell, narrates main character Dora’s visit to the National Gallery in London. Her experience of the art– and in particular, this painting– breaks through like a revelation:
“Dora had been in the National Gallery a thousand times and the pictures were almost as familiar to her as her own face. Passing between them now, as through a well-loved grove, she felt a calm descending on her…. She could look, as one can at last when one knows a great thing very well, confronting it with a dignity which it has itself conferred…. Dora stopped at last in front of Gainsborough’s picture of his two daughters. These children step through a wood hand in hand, their garments shimmering, their eyes serious and dark, their two pale heads, round full buds, like yet unlike.
“Dora was always moved by the pictures. Today she was moved, but in a new way. She marvelled, with a kind of gratitude, that they were all still here, and her heart was filled with love for the pictures, their authority, their marvelous generosity, their splendour. It occurred to her that here at last was something real and something perfect…. Here was something which her consciousness could not wretchedly devour, and by making it a part of her fantasy make it worthless…. She looked at the radiant, sombre, tender, powerful canvas of Gainsborough and felt a sudden desire to go down on her knee before it, embracing it, shedding tears.”
Great art cannot be commodified, reduced, and consumed. We do not take its measure; rather, it measures us.
via Thomas Gainsborough.