Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Waterhouse Exhibit, Montreal

The Siren 1900

Destiny 1900
Of all Waterhouse’s paintings, Destiny has my vote for sheer prettiness. It’s something about the beauty of her face, the red dress and background, which is both simple and complex. It’s one of Waterhouse’s tricks to provide views in both directions, a complete world, while only looking in one.

Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus 1900
I’m doing paintings of Orpheus too, but I think I’ll avoid the floating head which continues to sing theme. (Orpheus was torn apart by Maenads, worshippers of Dionysus, who basically went up into the mountains, drank too much and really misbehaved.) His body was buried, but his head and lyre floated down the river Hebrus to the (Mediterranean) Sea.
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The Waterhouse Exhibit, Montreal

Windflowers 1902
I want to paint grass like this.
Windflowers may just be a sort of anthropomorphic nature painting like his Boreas or Leighton’s Flaming June, or she might be Persephone out gathering anemones before Hades gallops up in his chariot and carries her off the to his gloomy underworld.

Pyche Opening the Door into Cupid’s Garden 1903

Echo and Narcissus 1903
Compare this landscape to the backdrop of the Lady of Shalott in her boat. It would be a beautiful place, if only it were real, but somehow, I just don’t think it’s real, no matter how many paintings it shows up in.
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The Waterhouse Exhibit, Montreal

The Danaides 1906
When one thinks of it, Waterhouse painted just a few pathetic women (The Lady of Shalott and Mariana), but mostly he painted frightening women (Circe, Medea, the Sirens). These Danaide each murdered their husbands on their collective wedding night and were condemned to pour water into a perpetually flowing vessel….for eternity. Wait until you hear about Lamia.

Jason and Medea 1907
Here, Medea, the daughter of the King of Colchis and niece of the sorceress Circe, mixes a potion for Jason, the adventurer of the Argo. It will protect him against fire-breathing bulls and warriors that spring from dragon’s teeth and help him seize the Golden Fleece.
“I will begin with that, ‘twixt me and thee,
That first befell. I saved thee. I saved thee —
Let thine own Greeks be witness, every one
That sailed on Argo — saved thee, sent alone
To yoke with yokes the bulls of fiery breath,
And sow that Acre of the Lords of Death;
And mine own ancient Serpent, who did keep
The Golden Fleece, the eyes that knew not sleep.
And shining coils, him also did I smite
Dead for thy sake, and lifted up the light
That bade thee live. Myself, uncounselled,
Stole forth from father and from home, and fled
where dark Iolcos under Pelion lies,
With thee….
Medea, Euripides
(translated by Gilbert Murray)

The Soul of the Rose 1908
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The Waterhouse Exhibit, Montreal

‘Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May’ 1908
(Click on any picture to view fullscreen)
“Throughout his career, Waterhouse closely associated women with the beauty, simplicity and decay of flowers, while valuing both as vessels of the seeds of new growth.” J.W. Waterhouse, The Modern Pre-Raphaelite
I, personally, don’t think of women as simple or flowerlike, decaying or otherwise, but rather as active, complex, fully-human, capable of the full range of human vices and virtues, as much a human norm as a man could be. Whether Waterhouse really thought of women that way, considering the number of temptresses and murderesses he painted, is food for argument. One cannot deny the beauty of the paintings though.

Lamia 1909

‘Listening to My Sweet Pipings’ 1911
“Reminiscent of the rural idylls in a similar format made by so-called Etruscan painters such as George Heming Mason and Nino Costa,” Listening to my Sweet Pipings shares “most resonance with the famous sequence of pictures of somnambulant women painted by Leighton such as Idyll, Cymon and Iphigenia, The Garden of the Hesperides and Flaming June. Leighton was long dead and in a world that was turning to modernism to express its spirit, it is as if Waterhouse werte expressing his belief in the eternal subjects of nature, myth and creation.” Amen, I say.
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The Waterhouse Exhibit, Montreal

Penelope and the Suitors 1912
Bronze Age (Mycenaean) Greece was imperfectly portrayed in the Iliad and Odyssey, since both poems were concretions of poetic material originating in the Bronze Age, but developed for at least four hundred years thereafter. However, the palaces of the Mycenaeans were being excavated in Waterhouse’s own lifetime. He clearly drew upon this new knowledge in his backdrop for Penelope, staving off her suitors until Odysseus (Ulysses) could return home.

‘I am Half Sick of Shadows, said the Lady of Shalott 1915
Notice upon the loom the tapestry from Waterhouse’s earlier painting of the Lady. Each picture is confined by the shape of the cirular mirror in which she sees reality reflected.

Miranda 1916
Waterhouse’s late Miranda is less restrained than his earlier Classical interpretation. She is now an active figure, less delicate; she strides rather than stepping demurely barefoot; she is perhaps a woman of the 20th Century despite her Renaissance costume.
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The Waterhouse Exhibit, Montreal

Tristram and Isolde 1916
(Click on picture to view the painting full screen)
Tristan (as I prefer the name) and Isolde are among my favorite subjects for poetry. Isolde appears to be staring over Tristan’s shoulder, as if the full consequences of their fatal draught are settling upon her.

The Decameron 1916
Boccaccios’s Decameron is set in a series of country retreats, where seven maidens and three youths, who have fled the Plague of 1348 Florence, tell each other tales as a form of mental and emotional escape. Waterhouse might well have wished for a similar idyll in the midst of the first World War, whichever destroyed the romantic preoccupations of Tennyson’s Britain. One can hear the echo of that (comparative) Eden in the words of Britains poets who knew both worlds, A.E. Housman, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen.

The Enchanted Garden: from Boccacio’s Tales c. 1916-1917
An unfinished painting by Waterhouse in the last year of his life. It portrays the fifth tale on the last day of the Decameron. A garden that blooms in January is certainly a hopeful theme of rebirth in the grimmest year of WWI.
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Our last day and evening in Old Montreal

Inside Notre Dame Basilica

Geneia and I spent our last day in Montreal visiting historical museums, the Chateau Ramezay and Pointe-de-Calliere, which takes one beneath Rue de la Commune to visit the oldest building foundations in Vieux Montreal.
A room from an 18th Century French Chateau, given to Chateau Ramezay.

Above I’m outside the Chateau. It was the 18th Century seat of Quebec’s Governeurs, once visited by Benjamin Franklin on a diplomatic mission. We went skating in the evening at a rink built on one of the quays thrusting into the St. Lawrence Seaway. We ended our evening with a glass of Pinot Noir in our room, next to our (electric) fire.

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Yesterday and Today

We learned just about three weeks ago that my husband, Matt, has lung cancer. He had been suffering from pneumonia for about a month and a half and it wasn’t responding to antibiotics, so he finally opted to have a bronchoscopy and find out what bug he was fighting.
Well, we did, and it was totally unsuspected. So this year we will be fighting cancer.
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