And now for the first of my “musings.”
This week has been cold and snowy (by mid-Atlantic standards), which I love. I love it even though it screws up traffic and makes me late. Even though it’s a hassle to bundle up my toddler for daycare, and even though my hands freeze when I need to scrape the snow and ice off of my car, because I stupidly forgot to wear gloves.
People are often puzzled when I tell them I love winter, and I have a hard time explaining exactly why I do, beyond that fact that I think snow is beautiful and I love the coziness of it all. But there are a few works of art that encapsulate some of the reasons I love winter and they are able to express my feelings in a way that I never could. Take for example Vasily Perov’s “The Last Tavern at the City Gates” (1868, Tretyakov Gallery). Perov here has successfully captured the moodiness of a winter evening, and that moodiness is one of the many reasons I love winter. Yes, the warm light glowing from inside the tavern out onto the foreboding winter evening exudes a distinct coziness. But there’s much more to it. Perov, a leading Russian realist, faithfully depicts the harsh conditions of the snowy scene, with a setting sun that portends the approach of darkness and of even more severe cold. In short, there is something dramatic and stirring about Perov’s approaching winter night. Yes, you might even say this painting evokes the sublime.
But I see redemption in all of this foreboding. The tension between the threat of the elements and the safety of the tavern touches on something primal. Just as we can imagine the cold wind biting at the flesh of the woman waiting in the sledge, we can also imagine how wonderful it would feel to step into that tavern for a respite from the long journey into the cold, dark night.