If you haven’t heard of Stendhal syndrome, neither did I, until I experienced it one day at the National Gallery of Canada.
The purpose of my annual pilgrimage to Ottawa was to see the Gustav Klimt Exhibit. As an artist and art lover, I had been to many galleries and big exhibitions and over the years and I have seen many exquisite works of fine art ~ but this time was different…
The gallery was very busy because the Klimt show was drawing in large numbers. Walking into the Klimt exhibit, I saw large groups of people standing in front of each painting waiting their turn to view. I was a little put off by the crowds because when I am in a gallery, I like to flit about from piece to piece instead of filing into a regimented viewing procession, but the room was full, so I got in queue.
Later on when the crowds dispersed and there was an opening in front of a piece, I would go back for another look because when I view a masterpiece – I want to really appreciate it – sometimes with my nose inches from the painting, taking in the all brushwork, minute details and choice of pigments.
As I made my way through the exhibit piece by piece, I saw some really beautiful and amazing works by Klimt, but when I next came face to face with his Pallas Athene ~ I was floored.
It is still hard to describe, but my body and mind came to a full stop. I froze. My mouth hung open, my eyes were wide and vacant seeing nothing but the beautiful spectacle in front of me. The figure seemed alive. The stance was fierce, the gold mail armour glowed, the powerful watchful eyes gazed into my eyes.
Eventually, I noticed that I had stopped breathing. I pulled my head back, drew in a deep breath and blew it out. I was still stunned – oblivious of who was around me, or how long I had been standing there. I began to blink a little and stepped back from the painting. All I could think was “Wow… What was that?”
And now years later, every time I see an image of Klimt’s Pallas Athene, she takes me back there, to our first intense and enraptured meeting.