Edmund Dulac – The Entomologist’s Dream

26 Apr

Edmund Dulac, The Entomologist’s Dream, 1909, watercolour, 27.4×29.8 cm

This gorgeous watercolour by the French artist Edmund Dulac shows a scene from Gerard d’Houville’s story “Le Papillon Rouge” (The Red Butterfly) which was published in the December 1909 issue of the French art magazine L’Illustration. Typical for Edmund Dulac’s watercolours, the scene is bathed in mesmerising shades of blue which makes it alluring and mysterious; blue is the colour of dreams, as Miro’s artwork claims. An old man is seen half-lying and half-sitting up on his bed in the middle of the night. His face shows terror and torment; did he just wake up from a horrible nightmare, or has some trouble been torturing him until the early morning hours? His face almost looks comical in its state of torment; his hair is dishelleved, his eyes wide open, his nose big and long. The space around him is in disarray; the chair is knocked down on the floor and the boxes are opened, as if a thief had been there looking for something valuable to steal.

In the story, the cause of the entomologist’s torment is that he is trying to find a rare blood red butterfly to win the love of a lady he fancies. After years of searching and failing miserably, in one moment of delirium or despair, he ransacks his extensive butterfly and insects collection and – by some magic it seems – all the butterflies are freed! Once free, they fly away from their capturer, fly into the night and never look back. This brings the entomologist to the edge of despair and he is found dead in the morning. Dulac’s watercolour shows the climax of the story; the moment when the butterflies are freed and are dancing their one last dance in the entomologist’s room. Had this scene been played out during the day, it would not have had the equal charm. The nocturnal setting adds to the mystery and dreaminess of the scene and we might wonder whether the watercolour shows a real night scene in a real room, or, is it the dream that the entomologist is dreaming? Did he awake from a nightmare, or is this his nightmare? Every motif that Dulac’s brush touches turns into something magical and so it is the case with this scene. The blueness of the scene is enough to drown the viewer in its river of dreams and the ecstasy of the released butterflies vibrantly flying and dancing in the room is just stunning. The despair on the entomologist’s face adds a touch of mystery because it tells a story and it makes us wonder about the cause of his suffering; magic and sadness, a perfect combination.

4 Responses to “Edmund Dulac – The Entomologist’s Dream”

  1. sbmumford 26th Apr 2022 at 3:48 pm #

    A great watercolor: lots of details that add to the mystery, assuming one hasn’t read the story.
    That the entomologist is full clothed implies a nap, but one that went too long, into the night; the chair knocked over, a struggle, which one might think resulted in the broken glass of the cases, except that another broken case is hanging above the bed.
    Creepy.
    I have to say that given that guy’s mug, I’d think that even finding the blood-red butterfly wouldn’t help his suit much!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Alex Radeff 28th Apr 2022 at 2:39 am #

    Beautiful, thank you for sharing !

    Liked by 2 people

  3. JRQC 28th Apr 2022 at 1:22 pm #

    Wonderful! Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Arjun Shivaji Jain 2nd Nov 2022 at 4:29 pm #

    What an absolute jewel! You would gaze into liquid sapphire, it would seem, and see the ‘mologist’s dream.

    Liked by 1 person

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