Of jungles and joy in Arcadia Scenes from The Perfumed Dandy’s American Adventure Part Four : Washington DC

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The National Gallery of Art is perhaps the most perfect example of the American neo-classical, not just in The Smithsonian, but anywhere in Washington, perhaps even America.

Its collection of paintings is exquisite.

It has a depth and range that few museums anywhere could even begin to aspire to. And unlike say, le Louvre, or even el Prado, its scale is determinedly human. A wing need not exhaust one if approached early and with care.

For The Dandy this treasure chest contained some very special pictures he had his heart set on seeing.

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Henri Rousseau the self taught tax clerk turned post impressionist par excellence, created some of the most outlandishly decorative paintings ever committed to canvas.

His naive shapes in bold yellows reds and especially greens combine to create urban jungles of a distinctly inviting kind. Here lions dance, tigers pounce and apes of all sorts go amiably about their business.

Kenzo’s Jungle l’Elephant is the perfect match for Rousseau’s Parisian rain forests.

Not only for it  too seeks  to summon up the spirit of great beasts, but because it is as well sort of innocent art comprising of vast bold gestures… too much spice at the opening a sumptuous superfluity of vanilla throughout.

Of course there is another fragrance that has had me calling for the Rousseaus before, I even borrowed one when describing Cacharel’s Eden

But that is another story…

Irises and sunflowers are the blooms most associated with Van Goch.

Perhaps because of their ever presence in prints I have always wanted to see his roses.

And here they were.

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In a room devoid of people a profusion of delicate white petals over brimming a simple stoneware jug.

The artist’s triumph to make a daring composition and the approximate figuration of the flowers seem, if not real, then entirely authentic.

No one could accuse Dominique Ropion’s Potrait of a Lady for Frederic Malle of being any the less artful or truthful than Vincent’s still life.

This is scent as tableaux vivant, a shimmering rendition of many roses mixed together in heavy early summer air thick with soft fruit, green shrub and light incense.

Sublime and transportive like the novel that inspired it and the art it echoes.

And I had come to the Gallery in search of an echo.

The mirror of one of my very most favourite pictures.

Fragonard’s Girl On A Swing lives in the precious Wallace Collection in London, but here in Washington on a vast canvas was another girl on a another swing by the same artist…

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Unlike her naughtier European cousin, thrusting herself skywards to give her suitor a better view of whatever lies under her endless petticoats, this innocent American is slicing through the air for her own playful and pre-sexual enjoyment.

A female friend and a small boy are her attendants, exchanging a flurry of flower petals with her. For a moment I fancy them to be the white roses of the room before decapitated from their thorny stems and made make believe confetti.

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Then I have a change of heart and my mind settles on the idea that they are tiny muguet.

And the scent that embodies her lacivious London relative will do for this jeune fille too.

For Dior’s Diorissimo is both innocence and experience, sacred childhood and profane youth.

It is the daintiest sexiest scent that one could ever hope to smell.

The quietness of Washington’s National Gallery sets it apart from the many other great museums I have visited.

Perhaps I was lucky to visit on a holiday that does not attract art lovers, but rather those who have come to remember their loved ones.Whatever the reason, the sense of stillness and peace was overwhelming for one such as I so used to Europe’s sardines in a can temples of art.

The luxury of being in a room alone with twenty great paintings is impossible to overstate.

Again, fantasies of being that railroad magnate tout seul with his private collection return.

The splendour of the Gallery’s winter gardens do nothing to dissipate my delusions of grandeur.

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Resting here on cushioned wrought iron furniture redolent of the orangery or conservatory of some stately home, I mold my musings to a more conceivable dream.

I am in the palm court of a great hotel, afternoon tea is about to be served, I am meeting friends and acquaintances as is our want of a Sunday to exchange witticisms and gifts of our own new poems and publications.

The air is weighed down with the aroma of the luxurious leather luggage that porters steer silently around us, the smell of tea sweetened with syrups and honeys and the light floral fragrance of the vast arrangements that adorn the lobby.

In short the fragrance is Van Cleef and Arpels opulent Midnight in Paris a perfume that some men find too feminine and most women would not think to wear but which is, in fact, pitch perfect for either sex.

I realise quite quickly that I could rest here in my reverie all afternoon, but there are other sights to be seen and I here the call of Congress bidding me to climb Capitol Hill.

Here I enter the fairytale Italian palace that is The Library of Congress.

A palazzo that owes its existence to two remarkable sleights of hand.

The first by a librarian who convinced a reluctant legislature that it should have the right to a copy every book published in the nation, and only when they had agreed in statute, reminded them that they would need a place to keep them all.

The second by an architect who interpreted a brief that stipulated “no unnecessary ornamentation” to mean that every conceivable decorative mode was “entirely necessary” when building the greatest library since Alexandria.

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Bless them both, for they conspired to deliver us a divine space of study and contemplation.

An almost holy home for America’s mountainous collections of the printed word.

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The Dandy feels at home here. My life is spent when not with scent in libraries and so their hushed tones and near silent rituals are as comforting to me as is the liturgy to a man of the cloth.

People often describe perfumes as smelling of old books, when in fact they mean relatively new books: volumes printed in the last hundred years. The real thing, tomes of two centuries or more in age, have no uniform smell, glues and papers and bindings all being so different.

Many will resonate of  hides of their jackets, others of dark undefinable dust. Most commonly though in my experience, incense or even tobacco smoke are the nearest synonyms to the scent of old pages.

Tabacco Toscano Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is perhaps the sweetest and most sincere tobacco fragrance that there is. It sits close to the skin unobtrusively itself, forming not a self-conscious scent but more an environment.

Honestly, this is The Dandy‘s natural habitat.

It is therefore with hesitation and much reluctance that I depart back into the bright sunshine to be greeted with a view that would have made Roman Emperors blush with humility.

Across the massive piazza The Capitol resides like the ultimate palace of a people’s Empire.

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Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “Of jungles and joy in Arcadia Scenes from The Perfumed Dandy’s American Adventure Part Four : Washington DC

  1. Lilybelle

    I’m very much enjoying your report. So much beauty all at once! My ability to absorb is limited. I become over stimulated unless I take everything in small bites. Which is not possible when time is limited and the visit is short. I admire your ability to recall it all – the flavor of it all – so clearly. I love Rousseau too. Jungle l’Elephant is perfect. And I love the Van Gogh white roses painting. I saw white roses yesterday at the botanical gardens. After viewing and sniffing all the colorful ones, I told my friend that I think the white ones are my favorites. They show up cool, serene and pure in the sun blanched air. The brighter colors look more washed out in midday. I haven’t gotten around to sampling Portrait of a Lady yet but I suppose I need to, as a rose lover. How lucky that had everything to yourself! That really is a luxury. The Capitol building looks amazing…wouldn’t it be great if the people in them were all of equal quality. The tobacco fragrance sounds lovely, too. I would love to visit the SMN perfumery in Florence some day (soon!). Have you been there, Mr. Dandy?

    • Dearest Lily
      I must confess that after Washington, the pace of art slipped somewhat for, as you so rightly point out, there is only so much the mind can take in before, like a sponge, it becomes saturated and can take no more in.
      Rousseau is a hero of mine, his unassuming mining of his of vein of art quite apart from even the counter culture of his time. His diligence at his tax collecting job while all the while creating pictures that would still enthrall a century later.
      In this sense he reminds me of one of my favourite poets Wallace Stevens, “The Emperor of Ice Cream”, an insurance broker all his life as well as the most prolific producers of verse of his generation.
      And those roses, yes, aren’t they wonderful. I think you are quite right about the whites being the most fragrant.
      I was told once by a breeder to be wary of the brightly coloured bushes with their abundance of petals as they are made for sensation and not scent.
      He advised that old roses are the sweetest smelling and most often pale and that yellow roses are the most fragrant for reasons even he could not explain!
      Do try Portrait of A Lady… a review is coming up shortly… it is one I am forever sneaking in to sample, though it has not made its way into my collection as of yet.
      I was quite simply blown way with the austere grandeur of The Capitol and impressed by the lofty ideals inscribed on so many of America’s public buildings. From the little I saw of the present political debate it seems as though many present day legislators fall short of these far admirable aspirations.
      Sadly, my travels as of yet, have never taken me to Santa Maria di Novela, though there is still time.
      Though I am one of a small number of folks who have journeyed to Caldey Island off the coast of my native Wales where the monks make what is reputed to be the finest lavender fragrance in all the world.
      Now in somewhat heavy weather I’m off out to make the best of a bad days wind and rain.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  2. rosestrang

    Rousseau! I love his work, it has this childlike exuberance and ignores all the rules, I agree – Eden, definitely something lush and green. And I think you’re spot on with Portrait of a Lady for Van Gogh because there’s something unsettling and almost aggressive (or spirited) about the rhythm of his painting and the persistent quality of POL.

    I really need to try Midnight in Paris since I like Bulgari Black and they apparently have similarities. I’d like to know the differences – for me Black is this pale green smoky/salty vanilla – I always think it’s a touch Film Noir actually and don’t see it as an aggressive asphalt/rubber tyre scent at all!

    And I’ve yet to try the Santa Maria Novella perfumes, Acqua Colonia sounds tempting, I too love the scent of old books! L’Air de Rien has that quality a little, but as though the parchment has been carried across a desert on an Arabian Horse!

    • Dearest Rose
      Yes. Rousseau is childlike, but never childish. His portraits for example, though less known, have a child’s innocent insight: able to see beyond the artifice of the adult world and into the truth of a person.
      Unsettled and unsettling are words that perfectly some up Van Gogh’s life and work, and indeed, you’re right there is something perpetually stirring inside Portrait of A Lady too, it is no still and calm scent.
      I too am a fan of Bulgari’s Black, which I think of as a cousin of Guerlain’s Shalimar and Habit Rouge. Midnight and Paris too is a member of that extended family with a gentle worn leather in the background, it is warm and luxurious and reassuring, like the best luggage. I find only things to like about it, and were it not for the endless fussing as to whether it’s for men or women imagine it would receive much more attention than it does.
      Luckily we now have in London a small Santa Maria di Novella store and so I have been able to indulge my liking for old style Italian colognes. The tobacco is amongst my favourites, though the amber is very pleasant and many of the florals just so too.
      Old books though, the smell is divine, my favourites are playcripts from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century often smelling of scented makeup, stalls tobacco and the gentle charcoal of the prompts pencil annotations.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      • rosestrang

        My all time favourites are Black and Shalimar and I agree there’s something similar in the construction, I’ve got to acquire Midnight in Paris (love the bottle too).

        Playscripts from the late 17th and 18th Centuries? – that’s very specific! They sound fascinating – and it must really conjure up lifestyle of an 18th century actor with those aromas. I recently bought one of the first editions of George MacDonald’s ‘The Princess and the Goblin’ (for nostalgic reasons – I had it as a girl and remembered the beautiful children’s book illustrations by Charles Folkard). It smells wonderful, slightly mildew-ish! And if you have a look at this illustration from the book –

        it summarises Portrait of a Lady rather well, I think!

  3. Rousseau! Do he ever do friezes in people’s homes?

  4. Beautiful pictures to illustrate this lovely post.

  5. batkitty

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your D.C. columns, this one perhaps the most. I haven’t been a tourist there in quite a few years, and having never visited the Library of Congress, I’m envious!! The moment I saw the LC photos I felt soothed and drawn in–a visit there must happen (I’d probably wear Eau Duelle for its papery vanilla and light incense. Always makes me think of quiet libraries….. although the SMN cologne you mentioned sounds wonderful).

    And the Rousseau! Love it!

    • Dearest Batkitty
      Hello! So splendid to read your lines again.
      I am so pleased that my diversions from DC have been keeping you amused… I fear that they are drawing a close today. Fear not for I have tales from the rest of America, along with the return of reviews this week.
      The Library of Congress is simply superb, and had me wanting to linger not a little while… another time. Yes Eau Duelle would be a lovely aroma to be surround with in there.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  6. Oh the Library! And, the almost transcendent joy of having the National Gallery to yourself — and the scents to take you there… Thank you!

    • Dearest V
      I can’t tell what a privilege it was to be in a room of Degas, Monet, Manet, Renoir and Rousseau and all alone. In London one would have an honour guard of 100 Italian exchange students as a very minimum.
      As to the Flemish masters, I fear no one in America must like them very much, for I not a soul in their whole suit of rooms!
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      • I’ve had that same experience, standing in an empty gallery surrounded by works of transcendent power and beauty — and it made me giddy, and truth be told, I had to suppress the urge to yell with joy while looking at one of Manet’s haystacks as the sun set. Sounds kinda silly, but there you have it 😉

  7. Aaah, the Holy Grail of Libraries – I would be content to live the rest of my days there … =)

    • Dearest Elfin One
      It is indeed a beautiful bibliotheque, though I must confess I still harbour a special passion for my seat in Rare Books and Manuscripts at The British Library.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

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