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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Perfumed Dandy.