Saturday, June 21, 2008

The power and magic and mystery of art...

The other day I saw a painting on Fiona Harper's blog and immediately, in my imagination, I was back in my childhood, pouring over a book of works of art.
When I was growing up in Brisbane, there was a smallish art gallery, which we visited quite regularly. I can only really remember one Picasso -- La Hollandaise. I believe my fascination with art came from one book, which was part of a collection, and which my family simply called The Red Books. The official name for these books was The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls and how I loved them - a set of twelve - I would be here all day if tried to tell you about them all.

Possibly my favourite was the one filled with famous paintings -- no doubt chosen for children because they tell a story.

I don't have that book anymore (it resides at Lilly's house) but many of those paintings will stand out in my memory for ever and I'm sure that in some small way (maybe a huge way) they've shaped the person I've become. I wanted to share them with you.

First is "The Song of the Lark" by Jules Breton. I loved the simplicity of this painting. I was immediately transported to this flat field, where the woman pauses on her way home from her day's work. I love the way he's captured the time of day, the sturdy, rustic beauty of the woman and the concentration on her face as she listens to a sound we cannot here. Something earthy and 'right' about this painting has always filled me with huge satisfaction. (And I loved the woman's broad feet!!!!)

And then there was "The Princes in the Tower". I don't know who painted this, but oh, my it captured my girlish imagination. The young Princes, Edward and Richard, were supposed to have been locked away by their wicked uncle, Richard the third, and later murdered. I was horrified, of course, and I guess I was also in love with them. I mean, Will and Harry weren't around when I was a girl, but just imagine if something like this had happened to them...

Much later, I read Josephine Tey's fabulous book 'Daughter of Time' which gives a revisionist view, suggesting that Richard did not commit this crime. Riveting read. But that's no help to the boys, of course.

Then there's "Listening to the Sphinx" by Elihu Vedder. I love how the majestic size and the cold blankness of the sphinx contrasts so strongly with the intense concentration in the body of the listener. And of course, there's the mystery... what question did he ask? What was the answer?

Next, there's the painting that Fiona Harper showed -- which is "Carnation Lily, Lily Rose" by American artist John Singer Sargent. Has any picture ever been designed to entrance a girl? The beautiful flowers, the white dresses and the glowing lanterns... the gathering dusk and the sense of a party about to begin... simply, utterly enchanting...

And now the painting that affected me most -- "The Doctor" by Sir Samuel Luke Fildes.

Talk about emotional punch!!!

Apparently, Fildes painted this after his own son died, as an expression of admiration for the doctor who attended his child. Luckily, I didn't know this. I found enough pathos in the picture without knowing the background. I was fascinated by the child's bed, made up on two chairs, and by the gentle concern on the doctor's face. But, oh, what got to me most was the poor mother, lost in despair in the background and the silent, brave and suffering father, standing with his hand on her shoulder.

Perhaps it's my need for a happy ending, but I always imagined that this child recovered.
He did, didn't he?


Fiona Harper said...

I hadn't thought about it before, Barb, but you're right. I love paintings because of the stories they tell, or the stories I imagine they tell. Lovely pictures!

Barb said...

Imagination is the key, isn't it, Fiona?
When I was teaching, I often used pictures to inspire my students' writing. Worked a treat!